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Age in AmericaThe Colonial Era to the Present$
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Corinne T. Field and Nicholas L. Syrett

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9781479870011

Published to NYU Press Scholarship Online: September 2016

DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9781479870011.001.0001

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“The Proper Age for Suffrage”

“The Proper Age for Suffrage”

Vote 18 and the Politics of Age from World War II to the Age of Aquarius

(p.209) 10 “The Proper Age for Suffrage”
Age in America

Rebecca de Schweinitz

NYU Press

This chapter considers the factors that led the United States to lower the federal voting age from twenty-one to eighteen in 1971. Contending that previous historians overemphasized that notion that youth were “given” suffrage because they were judged “old enough to fight” and thus also old enough to vote, Rebecca de Schweinitz emphasizes a different set of factors that led Americans to believe it was appropriate that eighteen-to-twenty-year-olds should vote. She argues that the voting age was lowered because youth and their allies engaged in grassroots politicking to convince legislators and ordinary Americans that they were worthy. Furthermore, the growth of secondary education led to more meaningful connections between the age of eighteen and high school graduation as the moment at which young people embarked upon adulthood. Activists also emphasized the positive attributes of youthful political engagement and optimism, in some ways enacting the very idealism they pointed to as a reason to allow youthful people the vote. As a whole, de Schweinitz demonstrates how age eighteen came to seem like the logical age at which young people should become adults.

Keywords:   twenty-one, eighteen, suffrage, vote, youth, high school, adulthood, political engagement, adults, legislators

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