Texas Liberal

All People Matter

Youngest Presidents And What They Did Before Reaching The White House


With much discussion of the relative youth of Senator Barack Obama, who is 46, here is a list of U.S. Presidents who have taken office in their 40’s with their age and year they were sworn in. Also included are the more notable aspects in the careers of our youngest Presidents before reaching the White House.

The links are to the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia. The information on the Presidents is first-rate and well worth taking time to review and study 

James Polk, 49, 1845

Polk served  two years in the Tennessee House, two years as Governor of Tennessee and 14 years in the U.S House. For four years Polk was Speaker of the U.S. House.

Polk was an aggressive President in terms of territorial expansion of the United States. He acquired Oregon by treaty and much of Mexico by force in the Mexican-American War. He was not very helpful if you were a slave or a Native American. Some say Polk was too quick to go to war with Mexico.

(The picture above is of Polk’s Tomb in Nashville. Youth is fleeting.)    

Franklin Pierce, 48, 1853

Pierce served four years in the New Hampshire House, four years in the U.S. House and five years in the U.S. Senate.

Pierce is considered one of our worst Presidents for his inability to deal effectively with the tensions between the North and South. 65 year old James Buchanan did little better as Pierce’s successor.

Ulysses Grant, 46, 1869

Grant spent 15 years in the army and led the Union army in the Civil War. Grant was also Secretary of War in 1867 and ’68 under Andrew Johnson.

The common view of Grant is that though Grant was not personally corrupt, he led a corrupt administration.  

James Garfield, 49, 1881

Garfield spent 17 years in the U.S House from Ohio. He was the chairman of a number of House committees over that time. Garfield saw combat in the Civil War and reached the rank of Major General.

Garfield was shot and killed nine months after becoming President.   

Grover Cleveland 47, 1885

Cleveland had been an Assistant District Attorney of Erie County New York, Sheriff of Erie County and Mayor of Buffalo. He was Governor of New York for two years.

Cleveland , in my view, should be known best for his refusal to aid struggling farmers and for his allegiance to Gilded Age politics. 

Theodore Roosevelt 42, 1901

The youngest President, Roosevelt had the experience of two years in the New York House, six years on the U.S. Civil Service Commission and two years as Police Commissioner of New York City.  He was also an Assistant Secretary of the Navy under William McKinley, Governor of New York for two years and Vice President for McKinley for just over six months before McKinley was assassinated.    

Roosevelt was our first “progressive” President. He expanded the reach of government into health and safety regulation. He also was a major behind-the-scenes player in a revolution in Panama that allowed the United States to acquire the land for the Panama Canal.  Roosevelt was always doped up on his own testosterone so it is hard to know if he ever matured at any point in his life.        

John Kennedy 43, 1961

Kennedy served in WW II, was elected to three terms in the U.S. House from Massachusetts and was a member of the U.S. Senate for 8 years. 

Kennedy’s Presidency was cut short. In at least some respects, Kennedy, based on reports in the years since his death of risky relationships with women after reaching the White House, does not seem to ever fully grown up.

Bill Clinton 46, 1993 

Clinton had been Attorney General of Arkansas for two years and Governor of that state for ten years.

Everybody has their own view of Bill Clinton. 

Our youngest Vice President was John Breckinridge of Kentucky. Breckinridge was 36 when sworn-in in 1857 to serve with President Buchanan. After his one term in office, Breckinridge served as a General in the Confederate Army. Before the Vice Presidency, Breckinridge had been an officer in the Mexican-American War and a member of the Kentucky House and the U.S. House.  

William Jennings Bryan of Nebraska is the youngest major party nominee for the Presidency. Bryan was 36 when he won the Democratic nomination in 1896. Bryan had served two terms in the U.S. House.  

Senator Obama would be 47 on Inauguration Day 2009. He served eight years in the Illinois Senate and by 2009 would have four years in the U.S. Senate.  

A few observations—

It’s interesting that six of the eight Presidents who assumed office in their 40’s, were sworn in between 1845 and 1901.

Since 1901, life expectancies have gone way up. A man born in 1900 had a life expectancy of 47. Senator Obama’s 47 is not the 47 of Grover Cleveland in 1889. Milestones in life and other accomplishments now often come later in life.

That said, Mr. Obama might help you when you are down-and-out while President Cleveland did little for people in his day who needed help.   

Bottom line? I don’t think the record shows a great deal of difference between older and younger Presidents. George W. Bush, now 60, is not mature and does not make wise decisions even after seven years as President.         

I don’t view Senator Obama as being either young or inexperienced for the job. Beliefs and ability are what matters. 

December 19, 2007 - Posted by | Campaign 2008, History, Political History, Politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. Obama deserves to be our commander in chief in every aspect.
    I beleive he will be excellent president.

    Comment by hamud | March 14, 2008

  2. I agree that he will be the next president, i can only hope he is as good as his talk. No one deserves anything in our country. To say that one deserves anything is assuming a whole lot. He is the cleanest of the candidates, he might be able to change the face of hatred our country lives in. But Deserving and earning and maintaining are three different things.

    Comment by bill brady | March 16, 2008

  3. my hearty congratulations goes out to sen obama on winning the long awaited presidential ticket for the democratic party..i strongly believe in his ideology..most especailly his positon as regards pulling out troops from iraq on resuming office as president of the united states..again i think him being president is a big victory for black folks as a whole..obama sure deserves to be the president..

    Comment by Adekoya Adedeji | June 4, 2008

  4. Adekoya–Thanks for the comment. After 8 lousy years, it’s a new day ahead.

    Comment by Neil Aquino | June 4, 2008

  5. Given the fact that for the past eight years, the Bush administration has not helped our country, especially the African American community. Although, Senator Barak is a man of color, I believe he wants to serve all peoples. I do not think he should be president of the Unites States because he is BLack; I think he is the best choice; the logical choice is not continuing the current administration agenda, which is what Sen. McCain will continue. I pray Senator Obama when this 2008 election.

    Comment by Rev. V. Williams | July 15, 2008

  6. Amen Reverend.

    Comment by Neil Aquino | July 16, 2008

  7. I am now 65 and have a great respect for John McCain and I voted for him because of ‘real’ unanswered questions of Obama. I have a couple of different viewpoints. First, I don’t think Obama’s ‘past’ is going to hurt our present or future as there are too many ‘checks and balances’ against ‘anti American’ behavior around him right now as the F.B.I. , C.I.A. , local police, and Congress’ impeachment powers. Even the Democaratic Party is not going to put up with or share in this type behavior or ‘associations.’ As far as foreign and domestic affairs go, I believe Obama is smart enough to sense, that as much as possible, American labor needs to ‘get back to work’, and foreign ‘duties’ should be made to ‘destroy the importers’ devious means of ‘getting around them’. I.E. a ‘Car’ coming into this country without the wheels on it.. should be paid as a ‘whole car’…! Loopholes should be ‘discovered’ and ‘untied’. War is Hell isn’t it ? We are tied of ‘lead paint’ in our toys, and ‘bad food’ coming in to our children and our bodies because it’s ‘cheaper’.

    Next point, I was born during WW II, and respect with all my heart that generation did to actually ‘save’ America. I will go to my grave with that pride. However, there has been for ‘too’ long a WW II ‘mentality’ in Washington and the men a little older than I have been in Congress ‘since then’. It has an effect on you. I was of the Vietnam era. ‘Wars’ have sucked our economic lifestyles and our young men and women from us.
    It is time to ‘reenergize’ the ‘face of America’ knowing now we have the ‘proper technology’ and ‘inventions’ to reinvent the ‘wheel’ so to speak and make our goods the highest quality and the lowest price. ‘Benefits’ of the workplace may also have to be looked at..’number of Vacation weeks may have to be ‘looked at’. Executive pays and bonuses have to be ‘adjusted’, and perhaps even Real Estate Commissions which are getting to be ‘ridiculous’ as the ‘computers’ may give us a hand in the paperwork and qualify our ‘own’ buyers. Today’s ‘generation’ can handle these things. I have faith in my younger generations talents. That’s why a lot of us went overseas.
    We had ‘then’, and I have ‘now’.. faith in all of you.. GO GET ‘EM’, and enjoy your life, take part in the ‘sacrifice’, fight for fairness’..develop a wonderful, loving, and ‘legal’ family, fight illegal immigration, and be ‘America’ once again. Be Well…. Frank Pignone, Stoneham, Mass.

    Comment by Frank | November 9, 2008

  8. franky baby do you think all the things you listed are the doings of dems or reps? they are both, our country has been controlled and handed over to special interest for decades. the trade deficit has ballooned over the years and its because whiney us wants everything cheap and at the cost of blood of other peoples children in other peoples countries. we can not survive as a consumption country that makes nothing and the things we do make dont work as well as the others. we need to understand that 40 hour work weeks and long vacations and kids going to school 5 days instead of 6 like most countries will keep us where we are on the slippery slope down, we need to wake up and face the facts that we are not getting a free ride of the backs of our grandparanets anymore. we have let this happen as americans and as voters. we must insist on more and this election is the first step

    Comment by bill brady | November 10, 2008

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