In the summer of 1965, support for the conflict in Vietnam eroded, advisers to President Lyndon B. Johnson recommending sending hundreds of thousands of soldiers in at least five years to win the war. Troop accumulation continued to grow, and on July 28, Johnson ordered 125,000 land forces and doubled the number of soldiers enlisted in the army, from 17,000 per month to 35,000.
As more and more young American men were enlisted to fight, a new single, “Eve of Destruction” by Barry McGuire, hit the air and brought home a key point of anger in his opening remarks : why should men be old enough to be drafted in war and not even old enough to vote?
The oriental world explodes
Flarin violence ‘, loadin bullets’
You are old enough to kill but not to vote
Released on July 21, 1965, “Eve of Destruction” entered the Billboard charts at # 103; by September 25, he had reached first place. In Washington, the government was about to cap the number of soldiers at 195,000 – and young Americans were weeks away from burning their temporary cards. The harsh realities of war – and the fear of being drafted – have spurred a campaign to lower the voting age from 21 to 18.
“You are old enough to kill, but not to vote,” was reflected in anti-war protests “Old Enough to Fight, Old Enough to Vote” – a rallying cry against the project and for the rights of recruits. have a say. in their lot. In 1965, 130,991 young men were inducted into military service; a year later, the number rose to 382,010. Many of them were between 18 and 20 years of age and were therefore legally prohibited from voting.
But while the issue burned hotter in the Vietnam era and ultimately led to change, the battle to lower the legal voting age was not new.
Pressures to Lower Voting Age Begun During World War II
The first push to lower the voting age occurred during the Second World War. The Selective Training and Service Act of 1940 set the age range at 21-35, but in June 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt lowered it to 18. Those horrified by the idea that an American might being sent to die for his country before being old enough to participate in his democracy invented a new slogan: “old enough to fight, old enough to vote”. This, in turn, prompted West Virginia Congressman Jennings Randolph to propose a constitutional amendment to give 18-year-olds the right to vote.
The moment of the idea had not come, but that did not prevent a regular push. In his 1954 State of the Union address, President Dwight D. Eisenhower urged legislators to take up the issue. “For years, our citizens between the ages of 18 and 21 have been called upon to fight for America in times of danger,” said Eisenhower. “They should participate in the political process which produces this fateful convocation. I urge Congress to propose to the states a constitutional amendment allowing citizens to vote when they reach the age of 18. ”
It would take more than a decade – and thousands of deaths in Vietnam, countless anti-war protests and untold socio-economic conflicts – before a real concerted effort to lower the voting age would take place. And this time it couldn’t be ignored.
READ MORE: Who was involved in the Vietnam War?
Congress vs Constitution to change the voting age
In May 1965, as troops began to land on the coast of Vietnam, New York congressman Benjamin S. Rosenthal proposed lowering the voting age to 18. A year later, Vice President Hubert Humphrey insisted that the change, “it would have a very good effect on American politics.”
In 1968 Johnson asked Congress to pass the voting age, saying it would be “a national affirmation of faith in our youth”. States have started to pass laws and amend their constitutions to change the voting age. Quickly, it was no longer a question of whether but how the voting age would be lowered – through Congress or the Constitution.
Senator Edward (Ted) Kennedy, in his testimony in March 1970 before the Senate subcommittee on constitutional amendments, stated that the gains of 18 to 20 years in education and service justified the right to vote. “The well-known proposition -” old enough to fight, old enough to vote “- deserves special mention,” added Kennedy. “About 30% of our forces in Vietnam are under the age of 21. Over 19,000, or almost half, of those who died in combat less than 21 years ago. Can we really say that these young men didn’t deserve the right to vote? ”
However, Senator Kennedy opposed an amendment, fearing that the ratification process would be too slow and further deprive those who would benefit from it. President Richard Nixon, in April 1970, said he supported the idea of lowering the voting age, but only through a constitutional amendment.
The Supreme Court decided the argument.
READ MORE: How Americans Voted Through History
26th amendment ratified in record time
On June 22, 1970, Nixon signed the 1970 Voting Rights Act, which extended the 1965 Voting Rights Act and included a provision that lowered the voting age. Its constitutionality was quickly challenged and, Oregon v. Mitchell the Court found it unconstitutional to lower the voting age to 18 in national and local elections, but confirmed this change for federal elections. An amendment is now almost necessary to reconcile the inconsistency.
The 26th Amendment, guaranteeing the “right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote will not be refused or abridged by the United States or by any state by reason of their age”, passed Senate 94. -0 on March 10 and, 13 days later, the House of Representatives 401-19. It was ratified by three-quarters of the states on July 1. In all, the ratification took 100 days – faster than any amendment in the history of the United States – and struck 11 million new voters.
Nixon certified the amendment on July 5 in the East room of the White House, in front of the choir group of 500 members Young Americans in Concert. He even randomly selected three 18-year-old members to sign the amendment as witnesses.
“For more than 20 years, I have been pleading for the vote of 18 year olds. I warmly congratulate our young citizens for having acquired this right,” said Nixon during the ratification. “I urge them to honor this right by exercising it – by registering and voting in every election.”