John Harwood tweeted Wednesday: “When MLK spoke at the March on Washington, he was 34 years old.” This is a good reminder of how foolish and undemocratic the Constitution’s age minimums for federal office are.
Do people really think Martin Luther King Jr. was less able in 1963 to be president of the United States than any number of senators and governors of the time?
Consider that, on July 4, 1776, quite a few of the Founding Fathers who signed the Declaration of Independence were too young to have been president or even U.S. senators.
As John Seery (Professor of Government and Professor of Politics at Pomona College, where he teaches political theory) makes the case, there’s no reason in a democracy for a minimum age to serve in office. If a democracy is to be “by the people,” then limiting service in some elective offices to only a subset of those people doesn’t make sense. One is a full citizen only if one can take part in all the responsibilities and privileges of self-government.
Would allowing younger people to take a seat in the House of Representatives or the Senate or to hold the presidency leave open the door to some poor choices? Of course, but that’s democracy. And there’s no particular reason to believe that lowering the minimums would mean that young people would win all that many elections.
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