As you have discovered getting this far in the current edition of this magazine, we are partnering with the Greater Arlington Chamber of Commerce in recognizing 40 future community leaders who are under the age of 40.
Some may wonder just what is to be expected of those who are that young. Or asked another way, is there much evidence that 20- or 30-something-year-old individuals have yet reached the age where they are making a difference in the communities where they live?
As it turns out, if you look to the origins of our country – the most successful in human history – you will discover that it was founded by men and women in that very age group.
Respected American history authority David McCullough, who has authored some of the most important books on our nation’s founders, once summed it up, “At the time of the Revolution, they were all young. It was a young man’s – young woman’s cause.”
The magnitude of what was launched on July 4, 1776, has no equal in world history. Some 56 men gathered in a Philadelphia meeting hall and created a new nation by declaring its separation from the world’s most formidable monarchy and its vastly superior military force.
The average age of those signing the Declaration of Independence was just 44, with 18 of them under the age of 40 and another 13 less than 45. If you don’t count the eldest few among them (Benjamin Franklin, for example was 70), the average age quickly drops below 40.
A committee of five had been appointed by the assembly’s chairman, John Hancock, age 39, to draft the document. Thomas Jefferson, 33, was assigned the task of doing most of the writing while assisted by John Adams, 40, and Robert Livingston, 29. The two more senior members, Benjamin Franklin and Roger Sherman played a supportive role.
The youngest of the signers were Thomas Lynch and Edward Rutledge, both of South Carolina, at the age of 26. 39-year-old Thomas Paine authored “Common Sense” and “The American Crisis” – the most influential publications at the start of the American Revolution.
The wealthiest among them is Robert Morris, 42, who donated ships from his fleet of tobacco-trading vessels to raid British convoys, and he personally signed 6,000 notes to pay off George Washington’s troops when the war ended.
Speaking of our first president, George Washington was appointed by the governor of Virginia as a major in the militia at the age of 20, which prepared him for leadership in the French and Indian War and, ultimately as Commander in Chief of the Continental Army of the United States as still a young man of 43.
Two of his most important generals were Benedict Arnold, 35, and Nathanael Greene, 33, whom he declared the most able of all to replace him in the event he was taken from the field of battle.
Others among the revolutionaries widely considered to be our principal Founding Fathers were future presidents Thomas Jefferson, 33, John Adams, 40, and James Madison, 25, (“Father of the Constitution”), future chief justice of the Supreme Court, John Jay, 31, and Alexander Hamilton, just 19 years young who would emerge as creator of the nation’s financial system.
So, focusing our attention on Arlington’s future, the rigorous selection process managed by the Greater Arlington Chamber of Commerce has identified 40 promising young leaders to move the city to new heights of achievement in the years ahead.
Speaking from personal experience, I was appointed to the city’s planning and zoning commission at 33, then elected to the city council at 40, and mayor three years later.
Let’s look at one more who is perhaps the city’s best example of how youthful success is achieved. I image you are ahead of me but, yes, it is former Arlington Mayor Tom Vandergriff, who had already served some 15 years from his city hall office before he was 40 years old.