Former President Jimmy Carter building houses in Haiti in 2012
Former President Jimmy Carter building houses in Haiti in 2012

The Lives of Former Presidents

Look back on how American leaders lived after leaving office.

The U.S. president may have the most important job on Earth. Presidents control America’s military. They enforce the laws of the country. They meet with other top leaders. Then, one day, their term ends — and they go back to being again.

This has happened for American presidents since George Washington left office in 1797. It happened for Donald Trump on Wednesday. But... what does a president do after he or she steps down?

“There is no set path for presidents to follow after they leave office,” said Louis Picone. He is a presidential historian. Picone said there are “commonalities of the surviving presidents.” Those include Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama. Each has “focused on their presidential library, lent their for good causes, and written a .”

Earlier presidents followed different paths. Some even found their way back into government! That happened with America’s sixth president, John Quincy Adams. After losing reelection for president, won a seat in the House of Representatives! “Adams reinvented himself,” said presidential historian Mike Purdy. “He served as a congressman from Massachusetts for 17 years,” Purdy explained. And Adams worked “passionately against slavery.”

Adams seemed to enjoy his later job more. Adams once said: “My election as president of the United States was not half so gratifying” as his election to the House.

President William Taft also rejoined America’s government after leaving office. He lost the election of 1912 — then became a Supreme Court justice in 1921! Taft served as the court’s chief justice until 1930. “I don’t remember that I was ever President,” he later wrote. Taft is the only president to serve on the Supreme Court.

Many experts believe Jimmy Carter was not one of America’s best presidents. Yet many experts believe he was the country’s best former president. “Carter has set the model for service and ,” said presidential historian Lindsay Chervinsky. Carter has helped work toward world peace and fight disease. He has helped to build houses for those in need. For many years, he taught Sunday school near his home in Plains, Georgia. Carter even won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002.

And how about former President Donald Trump? Of course, no one is sure what he will do yet. “I think he will try and set up some sort of media platform,” said Chervinsky. That could be a website or TV channel.

“It would not be surprising if he chooses a different path than” other presidents, said Picone. “Trump has even suggested he may run for president again in 2024,” he added. Only one person became president again after leaving office. That was Grover Cleveland.

“Now that Donald Trump has joined the former presidents,” added Purdy, “it will be interesting to watch what he does.”

Updated January 22, 2021, 5:02 P.M.(ET)
By Russell Kahn (Russ)

The Lives of Former Presidents

Look back on how American leaders lived after leaving office.

Former President Jimmy Carter building houses in Haiti in 2012
Former President Jimmy Carter building houses in Haiti in 2012

The U.S. president may have the most important job on Earth. Presidents control America’s military. They enforce the laws of the country. They meet with other top leaders. Then, one day, their term ends — and they go back to being again.

This has happened for American presidents since George Washington left office in 1797. It happened for Donald Trump on Wednesday. But... what does a president do after he or she steps down?

“There is no set path for presidents to follow after they leave office,” said Louis Picone. He is a presidential historian. Picone said there are “commonalities of the surviving presidents.” Those include Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama. Each has “focused on their presidential library, lent their for good causes, and written a .”

Earlier presidents followed different paths. Some even found their way back into government! That happened with America’s sixth president, John Quincy Adams. After losing reelection for president, won a seat in the House of Representatives! “Adams reinvented himself,” said presidential historian Mike Purdy. “He served as a congressman from Massachusetts for 17 years,” Purdy explained. And Adams worked “passionately against slavery.”

Adams seemed to enjoy his later job more. Adams once said: “My election as president of the United States was not half so gratifying” as his election to the House.

President William Taft also rejoined America’s government after leaving office. He lost the election of 1912 — then became a Supreme Court justice in 1921! Taft served as the court’s chief justice until 1930. “I don’t remember that I was ever President,” he later wrote. Taft is the only president to serve on the Supreme Court.

Many experts believe Jimmy Carter was not one of America’s best presidents. Yet many experts believe he was the country’s best former president. “Carter has set the model for service and ,” said presidential historian Lindsay Chervinsky. Carter has helped work toward world peace and fight disease. He has helped to build houses for those in need. For many years, he taught Sunday school near his home in Plains, Georgia. Carter even won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002.

And how about former President Donald Trump? Of course, no one is sure what he will do yet. “I think he will try and set up some sort of media platform,” said Chervinsky. That could be a website or TV channel.

“It would not be surprising if he chooses a different path than” other presidents, said Picone. “Trump has even suggested he may run for president again in 2024,” he added. Only one person became president again after leaving office. That was Grover Cleveland.

“Now that Donald Trump has joined the former presidents,” added Purdy, “it will be interesting to watch what he does.”

Updated January 22, 2021, 5:02 P.M.(ET)
By Russell Kahn (Russ)

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