5/3/12 - the reason we have a minimum age for the presidency

In today's encore excerpt - the United States Constitution established a minimum age of thirty-five years to be eligible to be president in part because the Founders sought to prevent the presidency from becoming a hereditary position:

From Article II, Section I of the United States constitution: No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any Person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty five Years and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.

"The phrase 'at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution' was added to protect the rights of would-be presidents [born outside the United States] who had proven their loyalty during the Revolution. Of the thirty-nine signers of the Constitution, seven were born in foreign lands, including Alexander Hamilton (the West Indies), Robert Morris (England), James Wilson (Scotland), and Pierce Butler, Thomas Fitzsimmons, William Paterson, and James McHenry (all Ireland). Edward Corwin has observed that Wilson, who served on the Committee of Detail, 'seems to have felt the need of such a clause in his own behalf especially keenly.'

"Nearly a quarter of the signers of the Constitution, including Hamilton, hadn't yet reached the age of thirty-five. This age requirement, Yale's Akhil Amar has suggested, was intended to prevent the presidency from becoming a hereditary position. A relatively high age minimum would diminish the likelihood that a sitting or ex-president would possess an eligible heir to run for the office. A nineteen-year-old favorite son might die before he could seek election at the age of thirty-five. 'In the course of nature very few fathers leave a son who has arrived to that age,' is what A Native of Virginia had to say in the 'Observations Upon the Proposed Plan of Federal Government' of 1788.

"The first son of a president to be elected president was John Quincy Adams, who was in his fifties. It is difficult to overstate how concerned some of the founders were that the executive branch would come under the control of a single family, and that the Republican experiment would devolve into a monarchy. In a part of the draft of his First Inaugural Address that wasn't included in the final speech, Washington dwelled on the fact that he was childless: 'I have no child for whom I could wish to make a provision—no family to build in greatness upon my Country's ruins.' In one passage in 14 Federal Farmer, arguing against permitting a presidency of more than a single term, the anonymous anti-Federalist underscores these concerns: 'When a man shall get the chair, who may be re-elected, from time to time, for life, his greatest object will be to keep it; to gain friends and votes, at any rate; to associate some favourite son with himself, to take the office after him: whenever he shall have any prospect of continuing the office in himself and family, he will spare no artifice, no address, and no exertions, to increase the powers and importance of it.' The Federalist Farmer argued that a man should not be 'eligible till he arrive to the age of forty or forty-five years.' " 


Seth Lipsky


The Citizen's Constitution: An Annotated Guide


2009 by Basic Books a member of the Perseus Book Group


Copyright 2009, 2011 by Seth Lipsky


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