A Brief History
On February 10, 2007, Senator Barack Obama of Illinois announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for President in the 2008 Presidential election. Born in 1961, Obama was only 45 years old when he made his announcement. He would go on to win the Democratic nomination and then win the US Presidential election, sworn in as President of the United States on January 20, 2009 at the age of 47. Compared to our current President, age 73 at this time and potentially 74 years old if he is sworn in for a second term in January of 2021, and his potential Democratic opponents, Joe Biden (current age 77), Bernie Sanders (current age 78), Elizabeth Warren (current age 70) and Mike Bloomberg (current age 77), Obama was a relative puppy! Yet, Barack Obama was not our youngest president, and today we look at a few of those men (all men so far) that took our highest office at the youngest age. We note that any US citizen has to be at least 35 years of age to qualify for the Presidency of the US. The age of each of these Presidents is listed as when they first took office.
Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt, age 42, 1901.
Born in 1858, TR was only 42 years old when he was sworn in as Vice President to President William McKinley in March of 1901. Teddy had achieved fame leading the Rough Riders during the Spanish American War in battle in Cuba. In September of 1901, a month before Roosevelt turned 43, McKinley was assassinated and Teddy “Big Stick” Roosevelt became the youngest President in American history while still 42 years old. He served the rest of McKinley’s term and was elected in his own right in 1904, serving until 1909. Roosevelt did not run for reelection in 1908, but he did take another stab at the Presidency in 1912, causing a split in the Republican vote and allowing Democrat Woodrow Wilson to win the 1912 Presidential election. Sadly, this great American died at the age of only 60 in 1919. Roosevelt had 4 sons, all of whom served in the military. One became a General (Medal of Honor winner, died in Normandy in 1944), another became the recipient of 4 Silver Star Medals, another was killed flying in combat in World War I (the only child of a US President to ever be killed in combat) and the 4th served in both the British and the American armies in World War II. Seriously, compare this sort of family history with the combat history of our recent Presidents and the lack of military service by their kids!
John F. Kennedy, age 43, 1961.
Another war hero, Kennedy came to fame as the skipper of the ill-fated PT-109 in the Pacific during World War II, a patrol boat that was run over by a Japanese destroyer killing 2 of the crew and sinking the little ship. Kennedy, the son of a wealthy former Ambassador to Britain, heroically saved the rest of his crew and went on to a political career in which he spectacularly defeated the sitting Vice President, Richard Nixon, in the 1960 Presidential election. Kennedy became our youngest ever elected President and sadly died only less than 3 years later when he was assassinated in November of 1963. John Kennedy’s older brother, Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr., was killed during World War II in 1944 during a highly dangerous attempt to fly a radio controlled bomber laden with explosives. Tragedy struck the Kennedy family again in 1968 when JFK’s brother, Robert F. Kennedy, a Senator running for President, was assassinated. Sadly, family tragedy continued when John F. Kennedy, Jr. was killed along with his wife while piloting a small airplane in 1999.
William J. “Bill” Clinton, age 46, 1993.
Clinton came out of Arkansas to defeat sitting President George HW Bush in the 1992 Presidential election, and was our 3rd youngest president when sworn in at the age of 46 years and 154 days. Reelected in 1996, he became only the second US President ever to be impeached during his second term, over his lying about a sexual affair with a female intern, although Clinton was acquitted by a trial in the Senate. Clinton remained popular for years after the affair and impeachment, although in recent years in the “Me too” era his political stock has dropped somewhat. His wife, the former First Lady of the US, Hillary Clinton, became a US Senator and then served as Secretary of State for Barack Obama before winning the Democratic nomination for President in the 2016 Presidential campaign. She lost to our current President, Donald Trump, who coincidentally became our 3rd President to be impeached in 2020, although like the previous 2 Presidents that were impeached, Trump was also acquitted by the Senate. President Bill was actually born with the name, William Jefferson Blythe III, and did not adopt the last name of Clinton until he was 15 years old. A brilliant college student, Clinton was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship to University College, Oxford.
Ulysses S. Grant, age 46, 1869.
A hero of the American Civil War, Grant was put in charge of the Union Army and led the Union to victory over the Confederacy. He started a long list of Presidents with wartime experience in the Civil War. Age 46 years and 10 months when he was sworn in, Grant also was reelected in 1872. A graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, Grant is one of many American Presidents to have distinguished themselves on the battlefield, unlike recent years. (We have to go back to 1988 when George HW Bush was elected President for a successful Presidential candidate that was a combat veteran.) Grant’s birth name was Hiram Ulysses Grant, but he is said to have changed his name to avoid having initials that spell HUG. (Note: Several US Presidents did not serve under the name they were born with, including Gerald R. Ford/Leslie King, Jr., Grover Cleveland/Stephen Grover Cleveland, Calvin Coolidge/John Calvin Coolidge, Jr., and Woodrow Wilson/Thomas Woodrow Wilson. The same is true for many Presidential candidates.)
Barack H. Obama, age 47, 2009.
Who would have dared to think that only 7 years and a couple months after the horrific terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 our nation would elect a man with a middle name of Hussein! Elect Obama we did, and in a convincing manner. In fact, Obama was easily reelected in 2012. At the age of only 47 years and 5 months when he was sworn in, Obama was not terribly experienced, having only served as a Senator from Illinois for something over 3 years and as an Illinois State Senator for 7 years or so. Among these youngest of Presidents, he has zero military experience, although he can claim Columbia and Harvard as his alma maters and a Juris Doctor degree among his credentials.
The above 5 Presidents of the United States are the youngest men to take that office, and the other Presidents that were less than 50 years old when sworn in include James K. Polk age 49, Franklin Pierce age 48, James A. Garfield age 49, and Grover Cleveland age 47 and 351 days.
Among the candidates in the Democratic Party for the 2020 Presidential election are Pete Buttigieg (former Mayor of South Bend, Indiana), age 38 and Tulsi Gabbard (US Representative from Hawaii), age 38. If either of these candidates were to win the Democratic Party nomination and go on to win the 2020 Presidential election, they would be sworn in as President at less than 40 years of age, a first for the United States. (Note: Gabbard was born in American Samoa and would thus also be not only the first woman elected as President, but also the first person from Samoa.) Both Buttigieg and Gabbard are military veterans of the War on Terror with service in combat zones. While “Mayor Pete” seems to have a shot at the nomination of his party, Gabbard does not seem to have any realistic chance at this time.
The age of President Trump and his chief Democratic rivals has become an issue in the 2020 Presidential election, and the relatively young age of and attendant lack of “experience” has became an issue for Buttigieg and Gabbard. What do you think about the ages of these Presidential candidates and how their age affects their suitability for office? Or does it?
Question for students (and subscribers): Does there need to be a minimum age for US President? If so, what age do you believe is appropriate? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
For more information, please see…
Moore, Kathryn. The American President: A Complete History. Sterling, 2018.
Taylor, Franklin. Presidents of the United States of America: A History of America’s Leaders. Independently published, 2019.
The featured image in this article, a photograph by seiu_international of Senator and Presidential hopeful Barack Obama at Gallaudet University in Washington DC, is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. This image was originally posted to Flickr by seiu_international at https://www.flickr.com/photos/85131712@N00/374553965. It was reviewed on by FlickreviewR and was confirmed to be licensed under the terms of the cc-by-2.0.