Paul Ryan Would Be Youngest House Speaker Since 1860s

Not since Maine’s James Blaine has the House of Representatives elected a Speaker as young as Wisconsin’s Ryan

paulryan20One theme coming from some voices in the House Republican caucus since John Boehner’s resignation announcement last month and Kevin McCarthy’s withdrawal from the Speaker’s race last week is that the next Speaker should be a ‘fresh face.’

Such a description is not necessarily meant to connote youth but instead to suggest the party needs someone to give a greater voice to the large number of recently elected (Tea Party) members of the chamber who came to office since the Election of 2010.

The one name that has been most frequently mentioned to bridge the old and new guard of the party since McCarthy’s surprise exit is Paul Ryan.

To date, Ryan has given no public indication that he wants the job – although his name nonetheless keeps being brought up despite his professed lack of interest in the speakership.

Some party insiders suspect the Badger State U.S. Representative might take the position if there was unanimous support for his candidacy among both the establishment and tea party wings of the party.

So, is Ryan a ‘fresh face?’

Although the Janesville native has served almost 17 years in the U.S. House since taking office in 1999, he is still unseasoned by modern historical standards.

Only Champ Clark (16 years), Newt Gingrich (16 years), and Denny Hastert (12 years) had a shorter tenure before ascending to the speakership of the 19 Speakers elected to lead the chamber in the 20th and 21st Centuries.

Moreover, the 45-year old Ryan would go down in the books as the youngest Speaker in nearly 150 years.

A Smart Politics analysis finds that if Paul Ryan is elected Speaker he would be the youngest to hold the position since Maine Republican James Blaine in 1869.

Blaine was in his fourth term from the Pine Tree State when he became speaker at the beginning of the 41st Congress in March 1869 at the age of 39 years, 1 month, 4 days.

Blaine would hold the speakership for three terms through the end of the 43rd Congress, ending with the Democratic landslide of 1874 when the party netted nearly 100 seats and took control of the chamber.

In the event Ryan can be convinced to run for Speaker this month and wins the post, he would be 45 years, 9 months, and 1 day old – younger than each of the last 26 Speakers from Democrat Michael Kerr of Indiana in 1875 through Boehner.

The youngest Speaker in the history of the U.S. House was Virginia Whig Robert Hunter, who was elected to the post at the age of 30 years, 7 months, and 25 days in 1839.

In the 18th through the mid-19th Century it was not uncommon for the House to elect Speakers who were shy of the age of 40.

Prior to the Civil War, 12 House members in addition to Hunter won the speakership in their 30s:

  • Pennsylvania Federalist Frederick Muhlenberg (elected Speaker April 1, 1789): 39 years, 3 months
  • New Jersey Federalist Jonathan Dayton (December 7, 1795): 35 years, 1 month, 21 days
  • Kentucky Democratic-Republican Henry Clay (November 4, 1811): 34 years, 6 months, 23 days
  • South Carolina Democratic-Republican Langdon Cheves (January 19, 1814): 37 years, 4 months, 2 days
  • New York Democratic-Republican John Taylor (November 15, 1820): 36 years, 7 months, 20 days
  • Virginia Democratic-Republican Philip Barbour (December 4, 1821): 38 years, 6 months, 9 days
  • Tennessee Jacksonian John Bell (June 2, 1834): 38 years, 3 months, 15 days
  • Kentucky Whig John White (May 31, 1841): 39 years, 3 months, 17 days
  • Massachusetts Whig Robert Winthrop (December 6, 1847): 38 years, 6 months, 24 days
  • Georgia Democrat Howell Cobb (December 22, 1849): 34 years, 3 months, 15 days
  • South Carolina Democrat James Orr (December 7, 1857): 35 years, 6 months, 25 days
  • Pennsylvania Republican Galusha Grow (July 4, 1861): 37 years, 10 months, 4 days

So, how much of a contrast would the youthful Ryan be as the face of the institution compared to his predecessors over the last century?

The 19 Speakers elected during the 20th and 21st Centuries took their post at an average age of 62 years and 10 months, or more than 17 years older than Ryan. Meanwhile, the 34 House members elected during the 18th and 19th Centuries became Speaker at an average age of 43 years and 11 months.

The oldest Speaker in the chamber’s history was Illinois Democrat Henry Rainey in 1933 at 72 years, 6 months, 17 days.

Rainey is one of five Speakers who first assumed the position above the age of 65 along with Massachusetts Democrat John McCormack in 1962 (70 years, 20 days), Massachusetts Republican Frederick Gillett in 1919 (67 years, 7 months, 3 days), Illinois Republican Joseph Cannon in 1903 (67 years, 6 months, 2 days), and California Democrat Nancy Pelosi in 2007 (66 years, 9 months, 9 days).

Age of Newly Elected U.S House Speakers

Rank Speaker Party Start Date Years Months Days
1 Henry Rainey Democrat March 9, 1933 72 6 17
2 John McCormack Democrat January 10, 1962 70 0 20
3 Frederick Gillett Republican May 19, 1919 67 7 3
4 Joseph Cannon Republican November 9, 1903 67 6 2
5 Nancy Pelosi Democrat January 4, 2007 66 9 9
6 Joseph Byrns Democrat January 3, 1935 65 5 14
7 Tip O’Neill Democrat January 4, 1977 64 0 26
8 Jim Wright Democrat January 6, 1987 64 0 15
9 William Pennington Republican February 1, 1860 63 8 28
10 John Garner Democrat December 7, 1931 63 0 15
11 Carl Albert Democrat January 21, 1971 62 8 11
12 Joseph Martin Republican January 3, 1947 62 2 0
13 William Bankhead Democrat June 4, 1936 62 1 23
14 John Boehner Republican January 5, 2011 61 1 19
15 Champ Clark Democrat April 4, 1911 61 0 28
16 Tom Foley Democrat June 6, 1989 60 3 0
17 David Henderson Republican December 4, 1899 59 8 20
18 Sam Rayburn Democrat September 16, 1940 58 8 10
19 Joseph Varnum* Dem-Rep October 27, 1807 57 8 28
20 Denny Hastert Republican January 6, 1999 57 0 4
21 Nicholas Longworth Republican December 7, 1925 56 1 2
22 Theodore Sedgwick Federalist December 2, 1799 53 6 23
23 John Jones Democrat December 4, 1843 52 0 12
24 Jonathan Trumbull Federalist October 24, 1791 51 6 28
25 Newt Gingrich Republican January 4, 1995 51 6 18
26 Linn Boyd Democrat December 1, 1851 51 0 9
27 Thomas Brackett Reed Republican December 2, 1889 50 1 14
28 John Carlisle Democrat December 3, 1883 49 2 28
29 Michael Kerr Democrat December 6, 1875 48 8 21
30 Samuel Randall Democrat December 4, 1876 48 1 24
31 Charles Crisp Democrat December 8, 1891 46 10 9
32 John Davis Democrat December 1, 1845 46 7 15
33 Joseph Keifer Republican December 5, 1881 45 10 5
Paul Ryan** Republican October 30, 2015 45 9 1
34 Theodore Pomeroy Republican March 3, 1869 44 2 3
35 Nathaniel Macon Dem-Rep December 7, 1801 43 11 20
36 Andrew Stevenson Jacksonian December 3, 1827 43 10 12
37 Schuyler Colfax Republican December 7, 1863 40 8 14
38 James Polk Jacksonian December 7, 1835 40 1 5
39 Nathaniel Banks American February 2, 1856 40 0 3
40 John White Whig May 31, 1841 39 3 17
41 Frederick Muhlenberg Federalist April 1, 1789 39 3 0
42 James Blaine Republican March 4, 1869 39 1 4
43 Robert Winthrop Whig December 6, 1847 38 6 24
44 Philip Barbour Dem-Rep December 4, 1821 38 6 9
45 John Bell Jacksonian June 2, 1834 38 3 15
46 Galusha Grow Republican July 4, 1861 37 10 4
47 Langdon Cheves Dem-Rep January 19, 1814 37 4 2
48 John Taylor Dem-Rep November 15, 1820 36 7 20
49 James Orr Democrat December 7, 1857 35 6 25
50 Jonathan Dayton Federalist December 7, 1795 35 1 21
51 Henry Clay Dem-Rep November 4, 1811 34 6 23
52 Howell Cobb Democrat December 22, 1849 34 3 15
53 Robert Hunter Whig December 16, 1839 30 7 25

* It is unknown whether Varnum’s birth year is 1750 or 1751; 1750 is used in the calculations for this table. ** Hypothetical start date for Ryan Speakership. Table compiled by Smart Politics.

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2 Comments on "Paul Ryan Would Be Youngest House Speaker Since 1860s"

  1. 1. Just as ‘aggravation’ is not an equivalent term for irritation or annoyance, “disinterested” also is not the same as UNINTERESTED (the former means without bias or partiality, and the latter means not wishing to have, know, or do). Of course, Ryan could be both, viscerally UN-interested in the position, whilst DIS-interested regarding the conflict between the DC-based Tory and Hinterland-based “t.e.a. party” wings.
    2. The typical lifespan was WAY shorter in the last third of 18th through the first third of 20th centuries, aside from the part-time, citizen-lawmaker ethos of the time(s), and unsurprisingly, both the age and length of service of speakers reflected them.
    3. As an ideas-oriented insurgent, Gingrich was (relatively) fine. As speaker, his role in it was nowhere near as successful or enjoyable. So, stay on @ Ways & Means, or even resign altogether from the institution, but “don’t do it!”

    • Eric Ostermeier | October 13, 2015 at 5:51 pm | Reply

      > 2. The typical lifespan was WAY shorter in the last third of 18th
      > through the first third of 20th centuries, aside from the part-time,
      > citizen-lawmaker ethos of the time(s), and unsurprisingly, both the age > and length of service of speakers reflected them.

      Very true. Which makes Ryan’s (would-be) Speakership at the age of 45 in 2015 (close to the 18th/19th Century average) rather unusual.

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