The White House, Then What?
After leaving the White House, a former president can do almost anything or entirely nothing. Past presidents have tried both.
Last week, former President George W. Bush reentered the headlines after maintaining a low profile since he left office more than four years ago to attend the dedication of his presidential library at Southern Methodist University. Also in attendance were President Barack Obama, and former presidents Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter.
After leaving the Oval Office, Bush charted a course that has led him to keep a mostly private life. Aside from his role in the creation of the library, Bush also appears to be spending his retirement as an amateur painter. Photos of his work went viral earlier this year after a hacker breached emails from the former president's family.
Although presidents certainly have their perks in retirement, including a generous pension and the ongoing protection of Secret Service agents, nothing quite compares to life in what is considered the highest office in the land. Explore how other presidents have shaped their retirement after they leave the White House.
As he so often did throughout the course of his presidency, George Washington set a high standard for presidents in retirement. He disengaged from politics, returned to his estate at Mount Vernon and urged Americans to "foreswear excessive party spirit and geographical distinctions."
Even in retirement, when called back to military service by President John Adams ahead of a possible war with France, Washington accepted a position as commander of American forces.
Washington's time out of office would be short-lived, however. His presidency came to an end in 1797, and less than three years later he died of a throat infection at Mount Vernon.
After serving two terms as president, Thomas Jefferson rededicated himself to his studies of the sciences and classical literature. His appreciation for scholarly learning is what led him to establish the University of Virginia. The university campus was designed personally by Jefferson and the faculty hand-selected by the former president. In addition to Jefferson himself, two other former presidents, James Madison and James Monroe, served on the university's board.
Given that Jefferson was the president responsible for the largest land deal in U.S. history, it should come as no surprise that he also led an opulent lifestyle. He enjoyed hosting guests at his home in home, Monticello, entertaining them with fine food and wine. He also spent much of his money on the books.
At the time of his death, on July 4, 1826, Jefferson's debts amounted to around $107,000, estimated to be between $1 million and $2 million in today's dollars.
Like his father, John Quincy Adams only got to serve one term as president. He was defeated by Andrew Jackson in his race for another four years.
Unlike his father, however, Adams didn't avoid the public eye for the rest of his post-presidential career. Instead, he continued his career in public service and was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives two years after he lost the presidency.
As a congressman, Adams became an important anti-slavery voice during his time in the House. He was one of the congressman responsible for removing a rule that prevented Congress from discussing anti-slavery measures. In 1841, Adams even argued before the Supreme Court for the freedom of the slaves aboard the Amistad, and won.
Adams served nine terms as a congressman up until his death in 1848.
Certainly a better general than he was a president, Ulysses S. Grant left the White House leaving the fragile post-Civil War United States intact. Grant would continue to face personal challenges after his retirement from public service.
A trip around the world and a failed business partnership left Grant in financial ruin. In order to make ends meet, Grant started writing about his life experiences. Serialized in the Century Magazine, his articles were well received and he eventually wrote an autobiography. Grant's book, "Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant," proved a major financial success and was highly regarded by both the public and literary critics alike.
For most politicians, the White House is the biggest honor there is for any career. For William Howard Taft, however, being Chief Justice of the Supreme Court was the position he most coveted.
After leaving the White House at the conclusion of his single term in 1913, Taft was appointed Chief Justice some seven years later, the only president in history to hold both positions.
Taft served on the court's bench until shortly before his death in 1930.
Like Grant, when Harry Truman left office in 1953, he had little means to support himself outside of office. Following in the footsteps of his predecessors, he took to writing to earn an income.
Because of Truman's precarious financial situation, Congress in 1957 passed the Former Presidents Act, which afforded presidents a pension upon their exit from office.
Truman spent nearly two decades out of office, remaining actively engaged in politics, supporting the administrations of his Democratic successors.
After losing an election at the end of a deeply unpopular four year term, Herbert Hoover spent roughly a decade outside Washington looking in as the Roosevelt administration held the White House.
Hoover, however, had many years ahead of him, given that he left office at 58. In fact, until Jimmy Carter came along, Hoover holds the record for the longest post-presidency of any man to hold the office. Hoover lived a full 32 years after he left the White House.
As he did in the White House, Hoover would spend much of his post-presidency supporting the unpopular, and often losing, side. Hoover denounced New Deal policies during the Depression. Prior to World War II, even after meeting Adolf Hitler, with whom the former president argued, Hoover called for the United States to stay out of it even after Germany invaded Poland. (He later changed his mind after the attack at Pearl Harbor.) After the war, he opposed the Truman administration's Cold War policy.
Few could argue that Jimmy Carter's list of achievements outside the Oval Office exceeds those earned while occupying it.
After leaving the White House, Carter founded the Carter Center, a Nobel Prize-winning nonprofit organization with a range of initiatives from eradicating Guinea worm disease to observing elections to mediating international conflicts and more. Carter is also a prominent proponent of Habitat for Humanity, a group dedicated to providing housing for low-income families. Carter has also remained active in domestic politics, occasionally criticizing policies and actions of Democratic and Republican administrations alike.
Carter has also had the longest post-presidency of anyone to hold the office.