In many nations, the president is the head of state. Their power and specific responsibilities vary based on the type of government. As an example, Germany uses a parliamentary system where there’s a president and a chancellor (prime minister) who the president appoints. In Germany’s system, the chancellor is the head of the federal government and has more power, but the president is still ranked higher at official functions. Even when a president has limited power, the role still comes with huge responsibilities. It’s not a job many young people have held, but there are several key examples around the world. Here are 6 of the youngest presidents in history:
The youngest president in the world
Ibrahim Traoré: Interim president (coup) at 34 years old
In the fall of 2022, Burkina Faso’s president Paul Henri-Damiba had a problem. Since obtaining power in a coup, he’d faced significant criticism as attacks by militant groups (some tied to al-Qaeda) got worse. According to some estimates reported by the BBC, the Burkina Faso government controlled just 60% of the country. Since the violence began in 2015, thousands have been killed while 2 million have been forced to flee. Motivated by Damiba’s failure to manage the violence, a group led by 34-year-old Captain Ibrahim Traoré instigated a successful coup.
Traoré is currently the youngest head of state in the world. He comes from a civilian background and studied geology at university, where he was valedictorian. After graduation, he joined the military. He fought on the front lines against jihadist groups and in 2020, he became a captain. Having experienced the state’s failure to control attacks, he participated in Damiba’s coup against President Kaboré. Traoré was quickly disappointed by Damiba and in the autumn, he led another coup. According to The Africa Report, the coup looked like it was bound for failure, but then Traoré went on TV and claimed Damiba had sought refuge in a French military base. Burkina Faso has a long and tense relationship with France, so the revelation that France might be hiding the president turned up the heat. Civilians joined the coup, and soon, Damiba resigned. Traoré’s official title right now is “Interim President of Burkina Faso.” The country plans on having an election by 2024 or earlier.
The youngest presidents in the United States
Theodore Roosevelt: Assumed presidency at 42 years old
John F. Kennedy: Elected president at 43 years old
The United States Constitution sets the required age for presidential candidates. They must be at least 35 years or older. The youngest person to assume the presidency was Theodore Roosevelt, who was 42. He was William McKinley’s VP. On September 6th, 1901, McKinley was at the Pan-American Exposition when an anarchist shot him in the stomach. McKinley died eight days later from an infection. After finishing McKinley’s term, Roosevelt ran for president in 1904 and won by a landslide. Roosevelt’s legacy includes progressive ideas, anti-trust actions, and conservation efforts, though that conservation included pushing Native Americans off their land and declaring: “I don’t go so far as to think that the only good Indian is the dead Indian. But I believe nine out of every ten are, and I shouldn’t like to inquire too closely into the case of the tenth.”
The youngest elected president in the US was John F. Kennedy. He was inaugurated at 43 years old. Born in 1917 to a successful, competitive family, Kennedy originally wanted to be a journalist or academic. His older brother was meant to be the first to run for office, but he was killed in WWII. John F. Kennedy took his brother’s place and ran for Congress. His political career reached its peak in 1961 when he was elected president. He’s both the youngest elected president and the first Roman Catholic president. During his presidency, he managed the Cuban Missile Crisis, which brought the world the closest it’s ever been to nuclear war. While it took some time for him to commit to major legislation, Kennedy was also a supporter of civil rights. He was assassinated in 1963.
The youngest president in Western Europe
Emmanuel Macron: Elected at 39 years old
France uses a “semi-presidential” system, which the country defines in its Constitution. It has an executive branch, legislative branch, and a judicial branch. It has both a President and a Prime Minister, who is appointed by the President. In 2017, 39-year-old Emmanuel Macron became France’s youngest-ever president.
Born in 1977, Macron was an excellent student and studied international policy and public service at Sciences Po. He graduated from École Nationale d’Administration (ENA), which boasts three other French presidents among its graduates. Macron began a career as a finance inspector for the French Ministry of Economy and Finance. After a successful stint in the private sector, Macron joined President Hollande’s administration. After Hollande’s approval ratings dropped, Macron resigned and announced he was running for president. He’s not been an especially popular president, but in 2022, he won his reelection over far-right opponent Marine La Pen. Macron was the first sitting French president to win re-election in two decades.
The youngest female president in the world
Vjosa Osmani-Sadriu: Elected at 38 years old
In April 2021, 38-year-old Vjosa Osmani-Sadriu became president of Kosovo. This nation has had a long and complicated road to independence. Things have been especially tense with Serbia. In 1991, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia began to break up after Croatia and Slovenia declared independence. Secretly, ethnic Albanians declared they were creating the Republic of Kosovo. From 1998-1999, conflict broke out between ethnic Albanians, and ethnic Serbs and the government of Yugoslavia. NATO intervened as the conflict drew international attention. Tensions and violence continued. In 2008, Kosovo again declared independence from Serbia. While the nation was recognized by the United States and several members of the European Union, Serbia still does not recognize Kosovo’s independence.
Osmani-Sadriu is Kosovo’s youngest-ever head of state and one of the youngest state leaders in the world. Born in 1982, Osmani-Sadriu began her political career as a teen activist. In 2009, at 27 years old, she was elected chief of the staff for the then-president of Kosovo. She’s since served in the Assembly of Kosovo. In 2020, she became Speaker of the Assembly. Osmani-Sadriu became the acting president after the previous president, Hashim Thaci, resigned after facing charges for war crimes and crimes against humanity. In 2021, she was formally elected president.
The youngest president in South America
Gabriel Boric: Elected at 35 years old
In 2021, Chile elected its youngest president ever. Gabriel Boric, who was 35 years at the time of his election, ran in what Reuters called “the most polarized election since the country’s return to democracy in 1990.” In 2019, Chile experienced mass protests against economic inequalities and corruption. While Chile is the most stable Latin American economy, it has extreme income gaps. 1% of the population owns 25% of the country’s total wealth. The 2021 election represented a turning point for the country. There were seven candidates, but the two front-runners couldn’t have been more different. One was a far-right former congressman and the other was Gabriel Boric, a former student leader and leftist.
Boric ended up winning the election by 10 points. His promises include an expansion of social rights, a reform of Chile’s pension and healthcare, and investments in the green economy. Always interested in politics, Boric graduated from law school in 2009 and became a member of the Universidad de Chile Senate. In 2011, he became the elected leader of the Universidad de Chile Student Federation. As Chile’s president, Boric has his work cut out for him. Chile is attempting to write a progressive constitution, but in September of 2022, almost 62% of voters rejected the first version. Time will tell if the world’s second-youngest leader will be able to usher in a new era for Chile.
History’s youngest rulers
Most of the world’s youngest rulers have been monarchs, not presidents. Here are five of the most interesting:
Shapur II (309-379 CE)
Shapur II was the tenth monarch of the Sassanian Empire. Legend has it that after his father died, he was crowned while still in his mother’s womb. A group of advisors ruled for him until he turned 16. Under his rule, he expanded the kingdom’s territory, reclaimed lands from Rome, and began the Sassanian Empire’s first Golden Age.
Sobhuza II (1899-1982)
After his father’s death, Sobhuza II was named king, but the queen regent ruled until Sobhuza was old enough to take over. In 1921, he was placed as a constitutional ruler because Swaziland (now called Eswatini) was one of Great Britain’s High Commission territories. In 1967-1968, Swaziland gained its independence. Not long after, Sobhuza assumed total rule. He ruled for 82 years. Some research suggests Sobhuza II had at least 70 wives and 100 children.
Alfonso XIII (1886-1941)
Like many of history’s youngest rulers, the death of his father made Alfonso XIII king as soon as he was born. At 16, he took over as the official king of Spain. His over-involvement in politics created instability. A whopping 33 governments were formed in Spain over 21 years, and Alfonso was the constant target of assassination attacks. He was eventually forced to leave Spain, although he refused to officially abdicate.
Queen Mary of Scots (1542-1587)
Mary became queen of Scotland at six days old following her father’s death. Her mother ruled in her place while Mary was raised in France. At 18, Mary became the queen of Scotland, but things quickly became chaotic. She married an English cousin hoping it would strengthen her claim to the English throne. Controversy and rumors exploded when that cousin died in mysterious circumstances. When Mary married the murder suspect, it drew even more attention. Mary was eventually imprisoned and forced to abdicate the Scottish throne. She fled to England only to be imprisoned again. She was eventually executed in 1587.
Ivan VI (1740-1764)
Two months after his birth, Ivan VI was named Tsar of Russia. His mother ruled as regent, but as often happens when the official ruler is a child, political opponents plotted a coup. In Ivan’s case, it was a cousin. Ivan was imprisoned for the next two decades, which severely impacted his mental and emotional development. In 1764, an ally tried to free Ivan so he could depose Catherine the Great, but the young Tsar was soon killed by the jailers.