Today’s “Reading Room” pulls from an article in “The Conversation” by historian Maurizio Valsania, Professor of American History, Università di Torino, and author of biographies of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. This is an interesting European perspective on an American phenomenon – the age factor in our elections.
As we know now, President Joe Biden – current age 80 – will be a candidate for reelection and it’s a sure bet that his slightly younger Republican rival Donald Trump (current age – 76) will also be on the ballot.
So, from an historical perspective, how important is age? Prof. Valsania titles his article:
80 is different in 2023 than in 1776 – but even back then, a grizzled Franklin led alongside a young Hamilton
He writes: “Americans have long nurtured mixed feelings about age and aged leaders.” But, he adds, “It would be wrong to assume that the founding generation simply despised old age. Young America admired venerable old sages.”
Old Benjamin Franklin, he says, was “universally recognized as a prophet, a Moses dressed in American clothing.” A “worn-out” Washington, even after the revolution and his two-term presidency, “was ready to serve again in a military capacity.” And Thomas Jefferson? What “he achieved during the last years of his life, in his late 70s, is extraordinary. In what he described as ‘the Hobby of my old age,’ he devised, organized, and built a public university, the University of Virginia.”
As Valsania points out, ”Old people today, so to speak, are much younger than they used to be, especially when they are wealthy. The field of anti-aging is waxing, and data suggests that science might be able to extend not only life span, but also the years a person remains healthy and free from disease. Furthermore, a youthful frame of mind can have a powerful effect, increasing longevity.
“But no matter what, 82 remains a high number.”
Read on, for more about venerable leaders of the past!