Constable: Nation could use the youthful energy of the Founding Fathers
Now that the Independence Day fireworks are over, we Americans can get back to the business of keeping our nation going.
When the Constitution of the United States was ratified in 1789, Elizabeth Powel, a prominent Philadelphia socialite, asked Benjamin Franklin if our new country was a republic or a monarchy.
"A republic, madam, if you can keep it," replied the Founding Father, who worried a bit about our future.
"The first man put at the helm will be a good one," Franklin said of the U.S. presidency, aware that George Washington was assured of being the first to hold that title. "Nobody knows what sort may come afterward. The executive will be always increasing here, as elsewhere, till it ends in a monarchy."
Maybe we, the people, should look to the younger generation to stop that from happening. We have the oldest president and Senate in history, and the House isn't far behind. President Biden will be 80 this year. speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is 82. Minority Leader in the Senate Mitch McConnell is 80. Our average senator is older than 64, while the average member of the House is older than 58.
While people tend to think of our Founding Fathers as old and wise (with a few glaring flaws, especially when it comes to enslaving people and treating women as property), our nation basically was founded by the Generation Xers and Millennials of that era.
Washington was 44 when he signed the Declaration of Independence, and that was the average age of the signers, according to the National Archives. Franklin, at 70, was the oldest to append his signature to that document. Thomas Lynch Jr. and Edward Rutledge both were 26, and 20 more were younger than 40 when they added their signatures. At age 35, U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood of Naperville is the only Illinois member of Congress younger than Washington was at the signing.
Washington started his presidency at age 57. Pelosi has a child older than that. Presidents Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and John Quincy Adams also were 57. Donald Trump was the oldest and the only 70-year-old to move into the White House until he lost his reelection bid to 78-year-old Biden in 2020. If Trump were to win in 2024, he'd beat Biden's oldest mark by 159 days.
At 42, Teddy Roosevelt was our youngest president to take office, and James Polk, Franklin Pierce, Ulysses Grant, James Garfield, Grover Cleveland, John Kennedy, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama all assumed the presidency in their 40s.
In the first House of Representatives, John Steele of North Carolina was the youngest at age 24, and 68-year-old Daniel Carrol of Maryland was the oldest. At 65, Samuel Johnston of North Carolina was far and away the oldest senator, while James Monroe of Virginia was the youngest at 30. John Jay was 43 when he became our first Supreme Court chief justice, and he left before he turned 50. Today, not a single Supreme Court justice is younger than 50.
Age isn't everything. Octogenarians Pelosi and McConnell certainly maintain the ability to get things done, or stop things from getting done, depending on whose side you are on, and the Supreme Court certainly is changing our world. But maybe young blood would re-energize the rest of us.
After all, the famous painting by Archibald M. Willard of a trio of Revolutionary War soldiers in a fife and drum corps is called "The spirit of '76" in honor of the patriotic passion that led to the founding of our nation, not because the drummer boy was 76 years old.