Between social media and the 24-hour news cycle, it’s hard not to follow every little thing the President does while in office. For the Commander-in-Chief, every inch of life is under a magnifying glass. But what happens to Presidents after they leave the White House for good?Just like each White House administration, no presidential retirement is the same. Some leaders stayed in the political world, while others went as far from D.C. as possible. The one constant is that their experience leading the free world opened up doors for both unimaginable triumph and heart-rending tragedy…
1. Bill Clinton: In his first years outside the White House, Clinton focused primarily on his memoir, My Life. But he couldn’t stay out of the political spotlight for long: he joined Hillary on the campaign trail for her successful Senate run in 2000, as well as her Presidential bids in 2012 and 2016.
2. Lyndon B. Johnson: In the early 1970s, Johnson spent his final years deeply skeptical about the state of the nation. In addition to picking cigarettes back up, he grew out his hair to differentiate himself from the shorter styles of Richard Nixon and the rest of the political establishment.
3. Barack Obama: For the most part, Obama has had a quiet post-Presidency. He and his family have taken multiple vacations, highlighted by a day of kitesurfing with Richard Branson in the Virgin Islands.
4. Theodore Roosevelt: The consummate outdoorsman, Roosevelt left the musty White House for an extended speaking tour in Europe and a safari in Africa. He later made another run at the Presidency as head of the Bull-Moose Party but lost to Democrat Woodrow Wilson.
5. George W. Bush: More or less retired from politics, Bush since connected with his inner artist. He took up painting and published many of his works in a book entitled Portraits of Courage. Bush was inspired to paint after learning Winston Churchill did the same later in life.
6. Jimmy Carter: Though he was a one-term President, Carter is a non-stop man of the people. He tirelessly dedicated himself to philanthropic causes — chiefly Habitat for Humanity — even into his 90s! The former peanut farmer received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002 for co-founding the Carter Center.
Of course, Carter has found time to have fun outside of his humanitarian work, too. He forged a lasting relationship with musician Willie Nelson, even though when they first met in 1980, Nelson committed the faux pas of smoking marijuana on the White House roof.
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7. Ronald Reagan: Although he was almost 78 when he left office, Reagan remained active in politics. He advocated on behalf of Republican candidates and established the Ronald Reagan Freedom Award. A 1994 Alzheimer’s diagnosis, however, cut short his involvement in public life.
8. John Quincy Adams: After losing the White House to Andrew Jackson, Adams got a consolation prize by winning a seat in the House of Representatives. Here, he fought for abolition and served as a lawyer in the Amistad case, where he helped dozens of Africans aboard a slave ship win their freedom.
9. Richard Nixon: The only President to ever resign, Nixon was an object of scorn. After receiving a pardon, he spent the rest of his life trying to repair his image, particularly through writing his memoirs and speaking at events.
10. George Washington: As a man who never really wanted to be President in the first place, Washington felt relieved to return home to Mount Vernon. Sadly, he only got to enjoy the peaceful farmer’s life for two years before a throat infection took his life in 1799.
Journal of the American Revolution
11. Thomas Jefferson: As a lifelong intellectual, it’s no surprise that Jefferson devoted himself to the issue of education. He founded the University of Virginia in 1819, giving his home state the ideal place to foster higher learning. Today, UVA is one of the best colleges in the country.
12. Harry S. Truman: Once he left the Oval Office, Truman’s accountant dropped a bomb on him: he had no savings or means to support himself. Rather than accept a corporate paycheck, Truman dug himself out of financial trouble by publishing a highly successful memoir. He also helped popularize the “Aloha Shirt” in the 1950s.
National Park Service
13. George H.W. Bush: Just because Bush lost his reelection bid in 1992 didn’t mean that he was out of politics for good. He gave two of his sons a big boost in their own careers. H.W. campaigned for Jeb Bush’s Florida governorship and for George W.’s Texas gubernatorial and U.S. Presidential runs.
NPR / Chris OMeara
14. William Howard Taft: After a humiliating loss in his reelection, Taft felt relieved to return to a professorship at Yale. In 1921, however, he returned to politics when Warren G. Harding appointed him Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Taft is the only person to serve at the highest offices of both the executive and judicial branches.
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15. Calvin Coolidge: Few people enjoy retirement more than Calvin Coolidge did. He took up boating at his home in Massachusetts and wrote a weekly newspaper column called “Calvin Coolidge Says.” When Republicans later asked him to run against Franklin Roosevelt, Coolidge turned them down without batting an eye.
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16. Dwight D. Eisenhower: Ike and his wife Mamie retired to a farm in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania — a fitting site for a decorated five-star general. Though he mostly stayed out of politics, in 1968 Eisenhower provided a key endorsement for his former Vice President, Richard Nixon.
17. Ulysses S. Grant: Following a fruitless attempt at a third term, Grant squandered his fortune on poor investments. He contracted throat cancer shortly after and worked feverishly on his memoirs to leave his family with some financial security before he died. The autobiography turned out to be a monumental success, though Grant did not live to see it.
18. Herbert Hoover: Leaving office in the midst of the Great Depression, Hoover understandably felt a little blue. But he bounced back by chairing a committee to reorganize the executive branch, under the directive of President Truman. Hoover also published a book called Fishing For Fun – And To Wash Your Soul.
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19. Gerald Ford: Even though Jimmy Carter booted him out of the White House, Ford befriended Carter shortly after. He also made a bundle by investing in oil companies, and in the early 2000s, he made headlines by becoming one of the first prominent Republicans to advocate for marriage equality.
Detroit Free Press