Happy 235th to Henry Clay, a 20-Something Senator

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Henry Clay

No one under age 30 can serve in the U.S. Senate. It says so right there in the Constitution, Article I, Section 3.

Only it turns out a few twenty-somethings were able to circumvent that constitutional barrier. You’ve heard of one of them: Henry Clay, the former Kentucky senator, House Speaker and “Great Compromiser” who was born 235 years ago today.

Clay first entered the Senate in 1806, when he was 29. Apparently no one knew or cared that Clay hadn’t met the constitutional minimum age. (Later in Article I, the Constitution says each chamber of Congress “shall be the Judge” of the “Qualifications of its own Members”). In 1955, a Senate committee headed by future President John F. Kennedy picked Clay as one of five outstanding senators.

The youngest senator in history was John H. Eaton of Tennessee, who was 28 when he took office in 1818. “Within a few years of Eaton’s swearing-in, the Senate began to pay closer attention to such matters,” the Senate Historical Office said on its website.

Vice President Joe Biden was 29 years old when he won his first Senate election in November 1972, though no one raised a red flag because he turned 30 about six weeks before his term began.

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