Americans reach adulthood when they turn 18 years of age. Those who are 18 not only have more responsibilities but many more rights. One of those privileges that could also be considered a responsibility is the right to vote.
Those who have just turned 18 may not feel any different from when they were 17. However, there is a big difference from a legal standpoint. The official term for adulthood is the age of the majority. Although this age may vary in different parts of the world, in the U.S. and most other countries it is 18. Some rights may come sooner or be delayed until later. States usually allow individuals to drive at the age of 16, and women in some states can, with parental approval, marry when they are as young as 14. On the other hand, the right to consume alcoholic beverages and purchase firearms may not kick in until the age of 21.
Under the long-established principle of common law, children have been considered the property of their parents. In the past, however, children had worked in some of the same occupations as adults. This led to the introduction in many countries of child labor laws, which protected them from such hazardous duties, and to laws that required children to attend school. Studies conducted over time indicated that human beings were generally not fully developed physically and mentally until they were in their late teens.
Someone who has just turned 18 has the legal authority to purchase and use tobacco, live independently from his or her parents, make out a will and enter into a contract, the latter of which in turn gives the person the ability to take out a loan or obtain credit, rent property or buy a car or even a home. Reaching 18 also makes someone eligible for jury and military service. Those who turn 18 can not only vote but in some municipalities be elected to public office. They can also be prosecuted as adults for criminal offenses and are not legally entitled to parental support.
The right to vote in the U.S. was lowered from 21 to 18 in the early 1970s through an extension of the original Voting Rights Act, and was finalized through the adoption of the 26th Amendment of the Constitution. The right to vote is an important privilege that gives citizens the opportunity to shape their government and their nation.
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