Think of Them as the Founding Twenty-Somethings

John Trumbull, "The Declaration of Independence" (1817), U.S. Capitol Rotunda

John Trumbull, “The Declaration of Independence” (1817), U.S. Capitol Rotunda

From Slate via a repost from the Journal of the American Revolution, Todd Andrlik asks us to consider an often overlooked fact about the Founding Generation: Many of them were younger than we think. Although there were plenty of the Fathers and Mothers who were as ancient as a certain mariner (Ben Franklin comes to mind), many of them were in their 20s, even their teens when the Declaration of Independence was signed.

Andrlik compiled a list ranging from youngest to oldest of the Patriots (and a few figures from the other side) of the American Revolution. He also uses a quote from biographer David McCullough to explain why we age our founding heroes.

“We tend to see them as much older than they were,” said John Adams biographer David McCullough in a 2005 speech. “Because we’re seeing them in portraits by Gilbert Stuart and others when they were truly the Founding Fathers—when they were president or chief justice of the Supreme Court and their hair, if it hadn’t turned white, was powdered white. We see the awkward teeth. We see the elder statesmen. At the time of the revolution, they were all young. It was a young man’s–young woman’s cause.”

It was a youthful revolution, particularly when it comes to the age of the men who fought in the ranks of the Continental Army or supported the war on the home front. Sam Adams or Roger Sherman added some gravitas to the ranks of the Second Continental Congress, but many members were still in their 30s, including luminaries such as Benjamin Rush and Thomas Jefferson.  Alexander Hamilton and Henry Knox, two future members of George Washington’s administration, were still in their 20s yet in command of soldiers in the field. Yes, people lived shorter lives and maturity was something grasped during one’s teen-aged years. But, just consider this: Could you have led a revolution when you were 20 years old? The future of the United States would have been doubtful if I were alive then and had been given such an awesome responsibility at so youthful a time in my life with little experience to guide my efforts. That so many young people guided this nation into existence when no other nation like the United States had ever existed before is another reason to be amazed by the American Revolution.




Filed under Commentary, History of the Declaration of Independence

2 responses to “Think of Them as the Founding Twenty-Somethings

  1. Harvey Martin

    That is really interesting Paul. Probably most of them had not spent 4 year being brainwashed by Liberal College professors. That really is surprising that so many of them were so young.

  2. The accomplishments of this group become all the more impressive when you consider the ages of many, like you did here, Paul. It gives a fresh perspective on their intelligence and how they used their age and determination to shape history instead of just being carried along by it.

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