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How Old Were the Founding Fathers?

Thursday, August 15th, 2013

While famous paintings of our America’s Founding Fathers typically portray them as middle-aged or older, most were actually much younger than we tend to think during the founding of the nation. Todd Andrlik, in a post for the Journal of the American Revolution, compiled the ages of the Founding Fathers on July 4, 1776, and the results may surprise you.

For instance, Benjamin Franklin, at 70 years old, was more than twice as old as Declaration of Independence author Thomas Jefferson, at 33 years old. Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, who would later go on to write the Federalist Papers, were just 21, 25, and 30 respectively at the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Interestingly, Marquis de Lafayette, the French citizen who became one of Washington’s most trusted generals during the war, was just 18 when the Declaration was signed–a full 26 years younger than George Washington.

Historian David McCullough explained the phenomenon of picturing our Founding Fathers as older than they actually were:

We tend to see them as much older than they were. 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.

A partial list of the Founding Fathers’ ages on July 4, 1776 can be found below.

Marquis de Lafayette, 18

Aaron Burr, 20

Alexander Hamilton, 21

James Madison, 25

John Jay, 30

Thomas Jefferson, 33

King George III, 38

Thomas Paine, 39

John Adams, 40

George Washington, 44

Samuel Adams, 53

Benjamin Franklin, 70