With the November presidential election quickly approaching, outgoing president Barack Obama is facing the same transition thousands of his fellow baby boomers are facing each day — retirement.
At 54, Obama is one of the youngest outgoing presidents in history. He is at the tail end of the baby boomer generation and is a decade younger than the traditional age of retirees in the United States. He may well choose to continue career pursuits for years before settling into retirement.
Several other presidents have continued working after their presidential terms, while others withdrew from the spotlight. Following his presidency, Franklin Pierce publicly denounced Abraham Lincoln, but by the end of the Civil War he was all but forgotten by the American public, and little was written about him when he died in 1869.
Most former presidents have remained visible in politics and community service. Jimmy Carter worked with Habitat for Humanity following his presidency, and he founded the Carter Presidential Center at Emory University to shine a light on issues related to democracy and human rights. Carter has also remained active in foreign affairs as a freelance ambassador and dispute mediator.
Today’s presidents earn an annual salary of $400,000, plus a $50,000 nontaxable expense account, and a pension of nearly $200,000 per year. But for early presidents, the White House was often a financial drain, leaving them worse off financially in retirement than when they took office. Early presidents such as Thomas Jefferson were expected to pay for their own travel, diplomatic entertainment and staff salaries.
Still, those who retired with financial challenges were luckier than the eight presidents who never had the chance to retire at all. Eight presidents have died in office: William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor, Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, William McKinley, Warren Harding, Franklin Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy. Harrison had the unfortunate distinction of dying penniless after a term of only 31 days in office. Congress mercifully granted his widow, who hadn’t even arrived at the White House before he died, an annual pension equal to the presidential salary. She was the first former first lady to receive such a benefit.
Most former presidents returned to their home states to enjoy a retirement of family time, writing their memoirs, designing their presidential library, occasional public appearances and work on their favorite community service or social programs.
However, a few former presidents were not content to enjoy a quiet retirement after escaping from the demands of the presidency. The Miller Center, an affiliate of the University of Virginia, dedicated to presidential scholarship, provides details about all U.S. presidents, including how they chose to spend their time following their presidency.
Here are 10 presidents that had noteworthy retirements:
Political party: None.
Born: Feb. 22, 1732.
Died: Dec. 14, 1799.
Presidential term: 1789-1797.
Nickname: Father of His Country.
Retirement facts: After working as a planter, then a soldier and finally the first president of the United States, Washington spent what remained of his life trying to restore his plantation home, Mount Vernon, which had been neglected for decades. Two years after leaving office, Washington was pressed into a largely symbolic role as commander of the American Army, but unable to to perform any significant functions because of old age, he ceded control of the army and returned home. That same year, Washington became ill and died after spending several hours on horseback inspecting his property during a winter storm.
Political party: Democratic-Republican.
Born: April 13, 1743.
Died: July 4, 1826.
Presidential term: 1801-1809.
Nickname: Man of the People.
Retirement facts: Jefferson left the presidency and returned to his plantation home, Monticello, in Virginia. He spent his retirement researching science and natural history and tinkering with experiments and inventions. His major achievement during his retirement was founding the University of Virginia, including designing the campus, developing its curriculum and selecting faculty. Jefferson struggled financially following his presidency, which left him $10,000 in debt. He devised a lottery scheme with his estate as the prize in an attempt to pay off his debts and help his heirs. Private citizens intervened and urged Jefferson to raise the money in other ways. But before he could pay off his debts, Jefferson died while visiting Washington, D.C., for Fourth of July festivities in 1826, the 50th anniversary of the presentation of the Declaration of Independence.
Political party: Democratic-Republican.
Born: April 28, 1758.
Died: July 4, 1831.
Presidential term: 1817-1825.
Nickname: The Last Cocked Hat.
Retirement facts: Monroe left the presidency in debt after spending years in low-paying public-service positions that required expenditures for entertaining and protocol. He spent several years seeking payment from the federal government of funds due to him for his past service. The government eventually did repay Monroe a portion of the funds he sought, which allowed him to pay off his debts. He attempted to write two books during his retirement, including an autobiography, but he completed neither. After the death of his wife, he moved to New York City to live with his daughter until his death on July 4, 1831. He was third president to die on the Fourth of July.
John Quincy Adams
Political party: Federalist, Democratic-Republican, Whig.
Born: July 11, 1767.
Died: Feb. 23, 1848.
Presidential term: 1825-1829.
Nickname: Old Man Eloquent.
Retirement facts: Adams was disheartened by his defeat by Andrew Jackson for a second term as president and returned to his home in Quincy, Massachusetts. However, retirement bored him and politics continued to intrigue him, so at the suggestion of neighbors (and against his family’s wishes) he ran for Congress. He would serve nine terms in Congress following his presidency, supporting notable initiatives including the annexation of Texas. He was one of the House’s most outspoken critics of slavery and successfully argued for the release of slave mutineers aboard the Spanish ship Amistad. He suffered a stroke after casting a vote on the House floor in the Capitol, and he died two days later.
Political party: Whig.
Born: Jan. 7, 1800.
Died: March 8, 1874.
Presidential term: 1850-1853.