There has been much discussion about whether a candidate may be too old to run for president. This is not surprising, given that President Biden turns 80 in November and has indicated he plans to run again. If former President Donald Trump announces another race, we could have a late septuagenarian and an octogenarian vying for the job.
It turns out that while there is no law declaring an upper age limit for presidential candidates, there is a law imposing a minimum age. More specifically, you must be 35 years old at the time of the inauguration.
Enter Victoria Woodhull. In 1872, Woodhull ran for president against Ulysses S. Grant – the first woman to run for the office. She was not taken seriously for various reasons, but had she won, Woodhull would have been 34 at the time of the inauguration, nullifying her victory or requiring a constitutional amendment.
Woodhull’s story reads like a Netflix drama. She was a descendant of the Scots-American Claflin family based in Massachusetts. His father was a con artist, committing arson in his family’s gristmill in hopes of collecting insurance. When his plan was discovered, the Woodhull family were penniless and forced to leave town.
Victoria would come to the aid of her family. From an early age, Victoria maintained that she was guided by spirits and could tell fortunes. Her family used her claims to organize a traveling medical exhibition where she also sold patent medicines.
At 15, Victoria married a patent drug salesman, enabling her to escape her abusive father. Sadly, her husband was cut from the same cloth – an alcoholic, a womanizer and – ultimately – a mugger. They had two children and would divorce 11 years later.
Victoria has always been independent-minded and had a set of beliefs that were out of step with her time. Perhaps because of her troubled marriage and the difficulty for women to divorce their husbands, Victoria came to believe in free love. She proclaimed a broader set of values, including women’s suffrage, labor reform, sex education, spiritualism, vegetarianism, and permitted prostitution.
Shortly after securing the divorce, Woodhull met his soul mate, Colonel James Harvey Blood, who served in the Union Army and was considered a kind and educated man. He also believed in free and monogamous love, although it is believed that they eventually married.
Together, Woodhull and Blood opened a living room to inspire new ideas. Free love and women’s rights, with special attention to women’s suffrage, became center stage.
Woodhull would soon establish an even larger global presence. She became spiritual advisor to railroad magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt after the loss of his wife. Vanderbilt taught Woodhull finance and banking, then chose to fund Victoria and her sister so they could start a brokerage firm. It was the first female brokerage firm on Wall Street, and it did quite well.
From her profits on Wall Street, Woodhull then became the first woman to start a weekly newspaper. The issues that Woodhull fought for were very unpopular in her day. Beyond women’s suffrage and labor reform, sex education and legal prostitution were downright radical. His weekly newspaper featured his political platform which launched the Woodhull Crusade.
At just 33, but with the success of Wall Street and her newspaper behind her, Woodhull ran for president. The newly formed Equal Rights party nominated her in 1872. Her party also nominated Frederick Douglass for vice president, although it never recognized the nomination.
Although full of wit and courage, Woodhull received no electoral votes, effectively ending her campaign and a potential challenge to the Constitution.
That she was not old enough to be elected should make us think. We do not impose a “not to exceed” age limit.
Today we are living longer, but our minds, as well as our bodies, are losing their vigor.
Perhaps we should take this into account as we approach the 2024 election. If Victoria Woodhull was too young to be sworn in, when are we too old?
Jill Ebstein is the publisher of the “At My Pace” book series and the founder of Sized Right Marketing, a consulting firm. She wrote this for InsideSources.com.