Think the Founding Fathers Were a Bunch of Old Men? Think Again

Declaration of Independence
"Declaration of Independence" by John Trumbull, painted in 1817-18, depicts the presentation of the draft of the Declaration of Independence to Congress. Trumbull painted many of the figures in the picture from life. Bettmann/Getty Images

"Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness ..." — perhaps the most recognized phrase from the Declaration of Independence — was written in 1776 by Thomas Jefferson, a man with not only distinguished, mature wisdom but with curled, white hair characteristic of America's Founding Fathers. But don't let those two traits fool you — Jefferson was far from the old man most of us might imagine him to have been when he wrote and signed the Declaration of Independence.

Only 33 years old at the time, Jefferson was actually following a high society hairstyle trend that included dousing a wig (or one's natural hair) with white powder in order to cover the smell, as well as create a mature, refined look.


And he was far from alone in his youth. While some of the other signatories were in their 50s or 60s, many others hadn't yet reached their 40s. This created a whopping 44 year age difference between the oldest signatory — Benjamin Franklin at 70 — and the youngest two, Edward Rutledge and Thomas Lynch Jr., both 26.

Here are 13 of the men who signed the Declaration of Independence and just how old they were when they signed:

  1. Edward Rutledge (26). One of the two youngest signatories, Rutledge was a lawyer who went on to become Governor of South Carolina.
  2. Benjamin D. Rush (30). Perhaps the most recognized physician in the 18th century, Rush was also the first person to write an American chemistry book.
  3. Thomas Jefferson (33). The writer and architect of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson went on to become third president of the United States.
  4. Arthur Middleton (34). Middleton owned a conglomerate of plantations in South Carolina and held a number of state political offices.
  5. Samuel Chase (35). A lawyer, Chase served as an associate justice of the United States Supreme Court. Congress attempted to impeach Chase, but he was later acquitted.
  6. Francis Hopkinson (38). A lawyer and writer of poetry, music and satire, Hopkinson was elected a delegate to the Continental Congress in 1776.
  7. John Hancock (39). The first to sign the document, his large, flamboyant writing led to his name becoming synonymous with a request for one's signature.
  8. Patrick Henry (40). An attorney best known for the declaration "Give me liberty, or give me death!," he later became a driving force behind the creation of the Bill of Rights.
  9. John Adams (40). Adams helped prepare the Declaration of Independence, was America's first vice president and went on to become the second U.S. president.
  10. Richard Henry Lee (44). Lee was known for his oratory skills, and in 1783 he served as the president of Congress.
  11. Lyman Hall (52). Hall was a physician who later became a judge and Governor of Georgia.
  12. Samuel Adams (53). Today his name may be associated with a famous brand of beer, but Adams' real success was with tea — he was a pivotal leader and planner of the Boston Tea Party.
  13. Benjamin Franklin (70). The oldest signatory, Franklin is said to be the most important Founding Father and contributor to the Declaration. He's also known for inventing the lightning rod and bifocals — and of course earning a spot on the $100 bill.
Declaration Independence
The silver inkstand used in the signing of both Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.
Henry Groskinsky/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images