What 20 Ex-Presidents Did to Stay Busy After Leaving Office

What 20 Ex-Presidents Did to Stay Busy After Leaving Office

Larry Holzwarth - September 1, 2018

Since George Washington retired from the presidency in 1797 Americans have grappled with exactly how to regard their former presidents. Nearly all of them found their reputations and the national regard for them enhanced after they left the Executive Mansion. Even those exiting the office under a cloud of scandal, such as Ulysses Grant and Richard Nixon to name just two, found the esteem of the public increased as their years of retirement mounted.

Many of the former Chief Executives left office at an age, and during an age, when retirement to a life of leisure and travel was unthinkable. Their actions and occupations after leaving the White House are worthy of study in a day when a multimillion-dollar book deal and hefty speaking fees are guaranteed to an ex-president, along with numerous perks.

What 20 Ex-Presidents Did to Stay Busy After Leaving Office
The Seal of the President of the United States as it appeared prior to 1850. Wikimedia

Here are some of the professions and occupations chosen by some of America’s former presidents when they returned to private life after serving in the White House.

What 20 Ex-Presidents Did to Stay Busy After Leaving Office
George Washington painted by Gilbert Stuart in 1797, the year the first president entered retirement. Wikimedia

1. George Washington was appointed to command the army during the Quasi-War

When the young American republic faced imminent hostilities with revolutionary France at the end of the eighteenth century, John Adams recognized that America’s pre-eminent soldier was living in happy retirement at his plantation. Adams appointed Washington as Lieutenant General of the United States Army, in command of all American troops and militia to be mustered in the event of expanding the war with France, which at the time was limited to naval engagements. Washington had no desire to leave Mount Vernon but his sense of duty compelled him to accept the appointment, with the proviso that field command of the Army would be given to Alexander Hamilton.

In accepting Washington effectively became the first Chief of Staff of the United States Army. Washington put Mount Vernon under military discipline, befitting the headquarters of an army, but in the end, the Quasi-War ended without any military operations. Washington returned to his occupations of farming, animal husbandry, whiskey distilling, brewing, operating a fishery on the Potomac, operating grist mills, making nails and other hardware, and all of his other daily pursuits. He also maintained a correspondence which expressed his views on affairs of state, up until the day before he died in December 1799.

What 20 Ex-Presidents Did to Stay Busy After Leaving Office
John Adams left the presidency an embittered man, but rallied during his years in retirement. White House

2. John Adams returned to his farm and went bankrupt

Many of the earliest presidents left office poorer men than when they entered it, but the frugal John Adams wasn’t one of them. He was the first incumbent president to run for office and lose, and the loss did not sit well with him. He retired to his farm at Quincy, Massachusetts, and worked sporadically on an autobiography, which he eventually abandoned. In 1803, two years into his retirement, his bank collapsed and took with it most of his cash, about $13,000 ($250,000 today). Destitute, Adams was forced to turn to his son John Quincy, who came to his father’s aid by purchasing the elder Adams’s farm Peacefield, as well as some other properties, giving Adams just under $13,000 in cash. He continued to reside on the farm.

Adams remained largely out of the public eye until Jefferson retired from the presidency, after which Adams began to defend his own legacy, through letters published in newspapers. In 1812 Adams and Jefferson reconciled from their long political feud and resumed a correspondence which is one of the more interesting in American history, with two former presidents, both of whom served on the committee to draft the Declaration of Independence, preserving their thoughts for posterity. Although Jefferson refused to engage Adams in reminiscence of their political opinions and debates, their discussions on other matters provide a different angle on the earliest days of the republic.

What 20 Ex-Presidents Did to Stay Busy After Leaving Office
Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, from which he monitored progress on his Academic Village, as it appeared in 1943. Library of Congress

3. Thomas Jefferson built a university

By the time Thomas Jefferson left the presidency after eight years in office, he had grown disgruntled with the leading college in Virginia, his own alma mater, the College of William and Mary. Jefferson was a deist, forever suspicious of clergy of all kinds, and the influence of the church on the curriculum at William and Mary – it was even a factor in teachings of mathematics – was the source of Jefferson’s disillusion. Jefferson gather several of the leading citizens of Virginia, including James Madison, a sitting president of the United States, and obtained a charter for a new University of Virginia. Jefferson himself designed the campus, which he called the Academic Village, and most of the buildings.

Jefferson supervised much of the construction, either visiting the site personally or watching through a telescope from atop Monticello, dispatching messages via slaves. He also supervised the development of the curriculum, hired most of the professors, and established the requirements for entry and for graduation. He served as the University’s first rector, supervising its Board of Visitors (which included James Madison and James Monroe) and recording the minutes of the early meetings in his own hand. Jefferson made clear that there was not to be a professor of divinity at the University of Virginia, though the school today boasts the largest department of religious studies in the United States, part of the College of Arts and Sciences.

What 20 Ex-Presidents Did to Stay Busy After Leaving Office
An 1816 portrait of James Madison, commissioned by James Monroe in 1816. White House

4. James Madison edited his correspondence to preserve his legacy

James Madison was the third president of the so-called Virginia Dynasty and as with the first two, Washington and Jefferson, his service as president significantly reduced his personal fortune. Madison went home to his plantation near Charlottesville, Montpelier, to find that years of mismanagement by his overseers and a drop in the price of tobacco – his primary cash crop – had left him wealthy in land but short of hard money. He returned to public service during the Virginia Constitutional Convention and served as the second rector of the University of Virginia following Jefferson’s death in 1826, a position he held until his own death. He also took steps to control his legacy.

As the nation began to unravel over the issue of slavery and states’ rights, Madison undertook a rewriting of correspondence between others of the founders and himself, including Jefferson. This was established because Jefferson made copies of all his letters using a machine which produced them as they were being written, one of his own invention. Copies of the letters found in Madison’s papers included additions and deletions, forged to mimic Jefferson’s own hand. By the end of his long life Madison’s mental state was perilous, stricken by financial anxieties and the infirmities of age. He died in 1836, and was buried at Montpelier.

What 20 Ex-Presidents Did to Stay Busy After Leaving Office
James Monroe in an 1832 portrait, seven years after he left the White House. Wikimedia

5. James Monroe helped colonize Liberia with free African Americans

James Monroe was a living example of the conflicted views of many slave owners. During his lifetime he owned many slaves, but he viewed slavery as a necessary evil imposed on the southern economy by the colonizers before the American Revolution. Monroe made his views clear when serving as the President of the Constitutional Convention of Virginia in 1829, pointing out that even as a colony the Virginia legislature had attempted to prohibit the importing of African slaves, an act which was rejected by the governor, an appointee of the King of England. Monroe proposed emancipation of all slaves and deportation to African colonies with the financial assistance of the federal government.

Monroe’s proposal was rejected, but he continued to support the American Colonization Society, of which he was a member. For two decades, from 1820 through the 1830s, the Society worked to send freed slaves and other free blacks from the United States to colonies in Africa, which eventually became the nation of Liberia, its capital named Monrovia in honor of the former American president. The Society raised money from private donors and from the US government to purchase land in the colonies for the private ownership of the families sent there, all of whom were volunteers. As did Jefferson and Adams, Monroe died on Independence Day, five years after his two predecessors died on the Fourth of July.

What 20 Ex-Presidents Did to Stay Busy After Leaving Office
John Quincy Adams was elected to the House of Representatives after his single term as president, serving there for the rest of his life. Library of Congress

6. John Quincy Adams became a congressman

Like his father before him, John Quincy Adams was a one-term president. He refused to use a bible to take his oath of office, substituting a book on the subject of constitutional law. Throughout his term in office, he argued that the president had broad powers of action which were granted him by the general welfare clause in the constitution. His administration was controversial; he supported many infrastructure projects which his opponents argued were outside the power of the federal government. When he was defeated for re-election, he left Washington without attending the inauguration of his successor, Andrew Jackson, and returned to Quincy. In 1830 he was elected to the House of Representatives.

John Quincy was the first former president to serve in Congress; as of 2018 only one other former president – Andrew Johnson, who served in the Senate – has so done. He was an active and hard-working representative, serving as the Chairman of several committees. During the Nullification Crisis, which threatened to divide the country over the issue of tariffs, it was Adams who introduced the compromise which resolved the issue. He opposed the annexation of Texas and the Mexican War which followed, as well as Polk’s resolution of the Oregon dispute. John Quincy Adams remained in congress until his death in 1848; after suffering a stroke on the floor of the House he died in the Speaker’s Room in the Capitol.

What 20 Ex-Presidents Did to Stay Busy After Leaving Office
John Tyler was elected to the first Confederate Congress, but died before its first session. White House

7. John Tyler helped form the Confederate States of America

John Tyler was the first man to assume the presidency due to the death of the president, William Henry Harrison. He immediately established that while the late president was a Whig, Tyler did not feel bound to toe the party line. His independent streak led to his detractors referring to him as “his accidency” and his administration was chaotic. Denied the Democratic nomination for president in 1844 and persuaded by Andrew Jackson not to run for re-election as an independent, he served only the remainder of Harrison’s term as president. One of his last acts as president was to sign the legislation annexing Texas into the Union, a goal he had strongly supported.

In retirement at his Virginia plantation, which he named Sherwood Forest, a reference to him being Robin Hood as his neighbors were mostly Whigs who believed he had robbed the party, he remained out of national politics. As events spiraled towards secession and Civil War he became more active in Virginia politics. He served in the Virginia Secession Convention which voted against secession in 1861 (he supported secession) and following the attack on Fort Sumter Virginia again voted on the issue, the second time voting to secede. He was elected to the Provisional Confederate Congress, which produced the Confederate Constitution, and was elected to the Confederate House of Representatives, but died in Richmond just before the House opened its first session in 1862.

What 20 Ex-Presidents Did to Stay Busy After Leaving Office
Andrew Johnson is the only former president to be elected to the Senate, though he died after a brief special session. Library of Congress

8. Andrew Johnson returned to the Senate which had tried him after he was impeached

Andrew Johnson inherited the presidency following the death of Abraham Lincoln, who despite being widely reviled when in office was elevated to the status of a martyr. Johnson was considered inept by many, a drunk by others (he was actually a moderate drinker), and soon earned the bitter enmity of many in Congress over numerous issues. The issues led to Johnson being the first president to be impeached by the House, and at his trial in the Senate, his tenure was saved when the Upper Body voted 35 – 19 in favor of impeachment. The thirty-five yes votes were one short of the required two-thirds majority. On two additional articles, the vote was the same.

After completing his term Johnson returned to Tennessee and retirement, but soon became bored and re-entered politics, with an eye on returning to the Senate. Johnson’s motives were a mixture of gaining personal vindication and revenge on his political enemies who had humiliated him with the impeachment and trial. His early attempts were failures, but in 1875 he won a seat in the Senate, and was sworn in during a special session, with newspapers nationally lauding his triumph, and his Republican colleagues in the Senate who had voted to impeach largely ignoring him. After the session, he embarked on a speaking tour in Ohio, where he suffered a fatal stroke. He remains the only former president to be elected to the Senate.

What 20 Ex-Presidents Did to Stay Busy After Leaving Office
After his business partner embezzled most of his savings, Grant provided for his family by writing his memoirs as he was dying of throat cancer. Library of Congress

9. Grant toured the world, chartered a railroad, became a broker, and wrote his memoirs

In many ways, Ulysses S Grant is given a bum rap by history. To many, he was a drunkard, a bad general who created huge casualties, a corrupt president, and a dishonest man. None of these smirches on his reputation are true. Although there were several scandals during his administration he was not personally involved in them, and he acted forcefully to correct them and informed the nation that the problems and scandals had been due to errors of judgment when evaluating the character of some of those involved in the scandals. One of them had been his own brother. Upon leaving the presidency, Grant embarked on a world tour which included acting diplomatically at the behest of his successor, Rutherford B. Hayes.

When he returned Grant and partners including Jay Gould established a railroad to Mexico, which went bankrupt after the Senate refused to ratify a free trade agreement with Mexico. A third-party candidacy for another presidential term failed in 1880. He opened a brokerage house with Frederick Ward as a partner. Grant and Ward was a success until Ward embezzled much of the firm’s assets, leaving Grant penniless and heavily in debt. With help from William Vanderbilt, Grant paid off his debts and wrote his memoirs under the urging of Mark Twain. Grant completed his memoirs as he was dying of throat cancer, completing the Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S Grant just a few days before he died. It was a commercial and critical success.

What 20 Ex-Presidents Did to Stay Busy After Leaving Office
Former president Rutherford B. Hayes worked to reform and improve what he believed to be the key to America’s future – education. Library of Congress

10. Rutherford B. Hayes worked for educational and political reform

When Rutherford B. Hayes left the presidency in 1881, honoring his own prior pledge to only serve a single term as president, he returned to his native Ohio. Post-Reconstruction America had many cracks in its society, divided by the issues of race, immigration, Indian affairs, trade and tariffs, labor unions, women’s suffrage, and many more. Hayes believed that the key to resolving many of the issues dividing the country was through improved education, including vocational training. “I believe in skilled labor as a part of education,” he wrote, and he took action to put his beliefs into practice. Hayes lobbied for charities which supported improved education, and for federal subsidies for schools and students.

In arguing for improved education Hayes also worked to make higher education more readily available to all, rather than to merely those who could afford its costs and the time to complete. Hayes was concerned about the growing trend in the United States in which a small minority controlled a disparate proportion of the national wealth. “Money is power”, Hayes wrote, while noting its influence in the government at all levels, as well as its influence in the churches and the press. He argued that only an informed and educated populace could exert a balance against the influence of money, particularly in politics, where its distribution was largely unregulated and poorly monitored.

What 20 Ex-Presidents Did to Stay Busy After Leaving Office
Former president Roosevelt poses with a trophy specimen during the Roosevelt-Smithsonian Expedition. Library of Congress

11. Teddy Roosevelt went on safari, ran for president again, and went on another big game trip

Upon leaving the White House Teddy Roosevelt went to Africa on the Smithsonian-Roosevelt African Expedition, a safari seeking specimens for the Smithsonian Institution and the American Museum of Natural History in New York. They collected nearly 11,500 specimens, either by killing or trapping, including more than 500 big game animals. He then traveled through Europe, lecturing and finally delivering the acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize he had been awarded years before, for mediating the treaty ending the Russo-Japanese War. Returning to the United States, Roosevelt became disenchanted with his successor, William Howard Taft, and decided to run against him as a third-party candidate in 1912.

When his Bull Moose Party candidacy failed (he survived an assassination attempt during the campaign), Roosevelt embarked on another expedition, this one to South America, which included an attempt to navigate the recently discovered River of Doubt. Roosevelt wrote a book describing this expedition, during which he nearly died from an infected wound and the effects of tropical illnesses. The book, Through the Brazilian Wilderness, was a critical and commercial success, though some critics doubted that Roosevelt’s party had charted the entire river, which was later renamed Roosevelt River. The trip severely weakened the formerly robust Roosevelt, who died five years later.

What 20 Ex-Presidents Did to Stay Busy After Leaving Office
William Howard Taft in his robes as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Wikimedia

12. William Howard Taft became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States

The Cincinnati-born Taft was a lawyer and judge before Roosevelt tapped him to serve as the Governor General of the Philippines in 1901, later having him serve as Secretary of War. Roosevelt personally chose Taft to be his successor, campaigned extensively for him, and left for Africa confident that Taft would continue to espouse Teddy’s policies and goals. When Roosevelt returned from Africa he discovered that his confidence was misplaced. Taft was less interested in conservation than he was in reducing tariffs and placing less importance on antitrust actions by the government. Roosevelt ran against him in the 1912 election and lost, but the party rift allowed Woodrow Wilson to win the presidency.

Taft accepted a position at Yale University and became heavily involved with the building of the Lincoln Memorial (which he would dedicate in 1921) and served as president of the League to Enforce Peace, an organization that opposed American intervention in World War I. In 1921, President Herbert Hoover appointed Taft as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, a position Taft had long desired. The Taft court was a conservative bench, issuing decisions which imposed restrictions on the government’s ability to regulate commerce at both the state and federal levels. Taft remained in the position of chief justice, despite clearly declining health, until his death in 1930. He was the first president, and the first chief justice, to be interred in Arlington National Cemetery.

What 20 Ex-Presidents Did to Stay Busy After Leaving Office
Calvin Coolidge is remembered more for what he didn’t say than what he did, which is how he would have wanted it. Wikimedia

13. Calvin Coolidge became a newspaper columnist

Calvin Coolidge’s reticence in speaking to the press was so famous that during his administration he became known around the country as Silent Cal. In Coolidge’s day, a press conference was usually held in the White House by ushering reporters into the president’s office, by then the Oval Office in the West Wing which had been built by Theodore Roosevelt. In one exchange a reporter asked Coolidge if he had anything to say on the subject of foreign affairs. “No”, Coolidge replied. After a half dozen, similar questions were asked which received the same monosyllabic reply, the reporters were ushered out, only to hear Coolidge call after them, “And don’t quote me”.

So it is sublime that after leaving office Coolidge should author a newspaper column, but he did, entitled Calvin Coolidge Says, during 1930 and 1931. The columns were later compiled into a book with the same title, and Coolidge also authored an autobiography. The columns revealed a somewhat twisted sense of humor in the former president, dry and often cutting. Coolidge also published a collection of speeches he had given and proclamations issued as Governor of Massachusetts. So it seems that Silent Cal had quite a bit to say, after all, he was just choosy about where and when he said it. Calvin Coolidge Says (book version) remains in limited publication in the 21st century.

What 20 Ex-Presidents Did to Stay Busy After Leaving Office
Following his presidency Herbert Hoover met privately with Adolf Hitler, whom he came to consider “mad”. White House

14. Herbert Hoover met with Adolf Hitler and virulently opposed Franklin Roosevelt

When Herbert Hoover left office in 1933 he was the only living ex-president, a distinction he would hold until 1953, when Harry Truman joined him. Hoover became a vocal and strident opponent of the policies of Franklin Roosevelt embodied in the New Deal, through speeches and numerous books and articles. Hoover felt that he was unjustly blamed for the Great Depression, but also that the expansion of the executive branch of government was an unconstitutional response to it, and was in many ways worsening its effects on the American economy. In the late 1930s, still deeply unpopular in the United States, Hoover traveled to Europe, where he was well-received in several countries, including Germany, where the Nazi leaders considered him to be an ally against Roosevelt.

Although Hoover met with Adolf Hitler and was a guest at Karinhall, Herman Goering’s hunting estate, he was disgusted by what he found concerning the treatment of the Jews. He later said that Hitler was “mad”. He opposed American intervention in the war, including Lend-Lease, and later argued against any support of the Russians. After the war he was sent to Germany by Harry Truman to observe the conditions there; his reports helped lead to the Marshall Plan. Hoover did not receive any pension from the government until 1958, and accepted it then only because Truman, the only other living ex-president, was forced to due to his financial status, and Hoover, a wealthy man, wanted to save him embarrassment.

What 20 Ex-Presidents Did to Stay Busy After Leaving Office
One of Harry Truman’s first acts as a former president was to buy a new car and head out on a road trip. Truman Library

15. Harry Truman took a road trip and built a library

When Truman left the White House the only pension he received was a small monthly stipend from his World War I service. After selling the rights to his memoirs, Harry bought a car, a spanking new Chrysler New Yorker, and after weeks of meticulous planning over gasoline station maps on the kitchen table and letters to friends with whom they would stay on the way, he set off on a drive to Washington and New York, accompanied by Bess. There were no interstates, no fast food stops, few motels, and fewer road signs guiding motorists on their way. He also had no Secret Service protection and no bodyguards, other than Bess, who would likely have been a formidable one.

The trip was a rousing success for the ex-president, though his speed was carefully monitored by his wife, and he was stopped on the Pennsylvania Turnpike for impeding traffic, though the patrolman let him off with a warning. Upon his return to Independence, Truman began writing his memoirs and building the first Presidential Library to house his personal papers and correspondence as it became unclassified. Truman remained available for consultation by his successor Eisenhower and by John Kennedy, whom Truman distrusted, having had more than one run-in during his political career with JFK’s father. Truman had, according to him to his face, once threatened to throw Joseph Kennedy out of a window.

What 20 Ex-Presidents Did to Stay Busy After Leaving Office
Eisenhower greets his newly elected successor John F. Kennedy at the White House in December, 1960. Wikimedia

16. Eisenhower played golf and remained politically active

The presidency, the strain of command during World War II, including dealing with the egos of fractious allies, and a multiple packs per day lifelong smoking habit had severely weakened Eisenhower’s health by the time he left the White House. Ike and Mamie purchased a farm outside Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where the Eisenhower Presidential Library was eventually established. He relaxed playing golf, a game which he famously enjoyed as president (he built the putting green on the White House lawn), and at a second home near Palm Desert, in California. But his retirement was only partial, he remained active in Republican Party politics.

Eisenhower was enormously popular as president, and his reputation in retirement was enhanced, despite the many failures which could be traced to his administration and its active intervention in foreign affairs. In 1964 he filmed a television commercial alongside Barry Goldwater, the Republican nominee for president, at his Gettysburg farm. Goldwater was beaten in a historic landslide by Lyndon Johnson. Eisenhower was less enthusiastic in his support of Richard Nixon in 1968, though he did make appearances on his behalf and released a statement in support of the new president on the day of his inauguration in January 1969. Eisenhower died just a few weeks later, of heart failure, in Washington DC.

What 20 Ex-Presidents Did to Stay Busy After Leaving Office
One of his first acts upon leaving office was to resume smoking cigarettes, which he had given up in 1955, and which he continued until his death. Wikimedia

17. Lyndon Johnson wrote books and enjoyed his ranch

In 1955 Lyndon Baines Johnson suffered his first heart attack, which nearly killed him, and the up-to-six-pack-a-day smoker quit smoking. On the day of his successor’s nomination, Johnson boarded the plane to take him home, lighting a cigarette as soon as he was aboard. Chastised by his daughters the ex-president told them, “I’ve now raised you girls. I’ve now been president. Now it’s my time.” Johnson took his former speechwriter, Harry Middleton, with him to his ranch in Stonewall, Texas, to help in the drafting of a book describing his policies and decisions, and in his memoirs. Johnson’s ranch was a working ranch, and for that reason, he chose the University of Texas at Austin as the site for his Presidential Library.

Johnson left office in 1969, and by the following year his habits of smoking, bourbon and branch, and ignoring his doctor’s dietary restrictions (when Lady Bird wasn’t around to enforce them) led to attacks of angina and at least two heart attacks. Johnson rallied to endorse George McGovern in 1972, but his steadily declining health prevented him from campaigning beyond the issuing of statements and occasional interviews. By early 1973 he was fighting congestive heart failure, diverticulitis, and other health issues, though he continued to enjoy cigarettes, smoking heavily until nearly the end. He died in January, 1973, at his ranch, at the age of 64.

What 20 Ex-Presidents Did to Stay Busy After Leaving Office
Official White House photo portrait of Richard Nixon, likely taken during his first term. National Archives

18. Richard Nixon gave interviews and wrote books to rehabilitate his reputation

The only president to resign the office, Richard Nixon left Washington under a cloud that only grew darker after he received a pardon from his personally selected successor, Gerald R. Ford. Nixon then faced a bout with phlebitis, which prevented him from testifying in some of the Watergate trials, another source of suspicion. In 1974, recovered and safe from further investigation, Nixon began a campaign to rebuild his reputation. When his transition allowance ran out he agreed to a series of interviews with David Frost, who paid Nixon $600,000 for the privilege. The interviews, which first aired in 1977, were as close as Nixon ever came to admitting culpability in the Watergate Scandal.

Nixon returned to China, the scene of his greatest diplomatic triumph when he was personally invited by Mao in early 1976. Later the same year the State of New York disbarred him. By the early 1980s, following the publication of his memoirs, Nixon assumed the role of elder statesman, writing, speaking, and giving interviews on numerous subjects, avoiding the taint of the scandal which drove him from office. He met with world leaders, especially in the Mideast, and attended Anwar Sadat’s funeral as an official representative of the United States, alongside Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. He died from complications of a stroke in 1994.

What 20 Ex-Presidents Did to Stay Busy After Leaving Office
Gerald Ford, the only man to assume the vice-presidency and the presidency without being elected, debating Jimmy Carter in 1976. Ford Library

19. Gerald Ford invested in the oil business and consulted with the Carter Administration

When Gerald Ford, still smarting under the criticism he received for pardoning Richard Nixon, left office his successor notably paused his Inauguration Address to thank him “for all he has done to heal our land.” Carter’s magnanimous act opened the rehabilitation of Ford’s reputation. The former president moved to Denver, became active in the oil industry, and remained active in politics. In 1980 he was considered by Ronald Reagan to be his running mate on the Republican ticket, but when Reagan was informed that Ford would consider the position to be a form of a co-presidency, George H. W. Bush was selected as the running mate instead.

Ford remained physically active, skiing and playing golf, traveled extensively, and made numerous public appearances, giving speeches and acting as a consultant and senior statesman. During the Carter Administration, he was given briefings on domestic and foreign affairs by senior officials monthly. Ford and Carter developed a close friendship after Carter’s presidency ended. Ford established his Gerald R. Ford Library in Ann Arbor, at the University of Michigan. He also established the Gerald R. Ford Institute of Public Policy at Albion College in Michigan. Ford began slowing down around the turn of the 21st century as health problems beset him. He died in 2006 on the day after Christmas.

What 20 Ex-Presidents Did to Stay Busy After Leaving Office
Jimmy Carter, a modern day renaissance man, at the LBJ library in 2011. National Archives

20. Jimmy Carter wrote, including poetry and a novel, built houses, and established charities

When Jimmy Carter left the White House under the cloud of what was widely regarded as a failed presidency he refused opportunities to make a fortune. Instead, he established the Carter Center to support human rights around the world. He participated in diplomatic missions, humanitarian missions, and peace missions. He delivered a eulogy during the funeral of former president Gerald Ford. He famously joined Habitat for Humanity, not only using his name to help raise funds and volunteers but actively working as a carpenter building houses. He remained outspoken on many of the pressing issues facing Americans.

His work for Habitat for Humanity became widely known and admired. What is less known is his prolific work as a writer. Carter published books on politics, foreign policy, social issues, personal memoirs, relationships, religious beliefs, and even poetry. Also, less well-known is his work as a novelist. In 2003 Carter published The Hornet’s Nest: A Novel of the Revolutionary War, which describes the fierce partisan warfare in the American south, an often ignored aspect of the war. The book described the rivalries between Loyalist and Patriot families, and is the first work of fiction ever published by any person who held the office of President of the United States.


Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“George Washington: A Life”. Willard Sterne Randall. 1997

“Friends at Twilight”. Joseph J. Ellis, American Heritage Magazine. May/June 1993

“Construction of the University”. Gene Zechmeister, Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. January 4, 2012

“James Madison: Life After the Presidency”. J.C.A. Stagg, University of Virginia/Miller Center. Online

“James Monroe”. William P. Cresson. 1946

“Mad Old Man from Massachusetts”. Lawrence Lader, American Heritage Magazine. April 1961

“Torn Between Family and Politics: John Tyler’s Struggle for Balance”. Christopher Leahy, The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography. 2006

“Andrew Johnson: A Biography”. Hans L. Trefousse. 1989

“U.S. Grant: Man of Letters”. Bruce Catton, American Heritage Magazine. June 1968

“Rutherford B. Hayes, Educator”. Henry L. Swint, The Mississippi Valley Historical Review. June 1952

“Celebrating 100 Years: The Smithsonian-Roosevelt African Expedition”. Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. 2009

“Big Bill Taft”. Stephen Hess, American Heritage Magazine. October 1966

“Calvin Coolidge: The Quiet President”. Donald R. McCoy. 1998

“History: Herbert Hoover Meets Adolf Hitler”. John Lukacs, The American Scholar. Spring 1993

“Harry Truman, Leader of the Freeway”. Matthew Algeo, The New York Times. April 4, 2009

“Golf Instructor, Grandfather, President”. Robert Strauss, The Pennsylvania Gazette, 2010

“The Last Days of the President”. Leo Janis, The Atlantic. July 1973

“From afar: An indomitable man, an incurable loneliness”. Tom Wicker, The New York Times. April 24, 1994

“Ford Arranged his Funeral to Reflect His Times and Drew in a Former Adversary”. Anne Korblut, The New York Times. December 29, 2006

“Jimmy Carter Sets Record for Longest Post-White House Career”. The Carter Center. September 7, 2012