Inauguration

This Interactive Maps Out the Lives of Former Presidents

From Washington to Obama, how ex-commanders-in-chief bided their time after leaving office

smithsonian.com

After leaving the highest elected office in the nation, what's a President of the United States to do? What can top a position as the most leader of the free world?

Thirty-five of the 43 presidents have gotten to experience life after holding office (President Obama will be the thirty-sixth.) George Washington set the tradition of retiring from public life after two terms in the presidency. Some of the earlier presidents retired back to their farms and homes, choosing to remain retired from public life. Others used the time off to write their memoirs.

And then there were the former presidents who sought to continue exerting their influence instead—whether by authoring a new state constitution like James Monroe, serving in the United States House of Representatives like John Quincy Adams and Andrew Johnson, or becoming Chief Justice of the United States like William Howard Taft. John Tyler, uniquely, served in the Confederate House of Representatives until his death, when he became the only former president buried under a foreign nation's flag.

For some, retirement wasn't a blessing, the emptiness leaving them wanting more. Martin Van Buren ran on the 1848 Free Soil Party ticket. Millard Fillmore joined the Know Nothing Party for the 1856 presidential election. And in 1912, Theodore Roosevelt split the Republican vote by running on the Progressive Bull Moose Party ticket. All three former presidents were unsuccessful in their third-party runs, but one—Grover Cleveland—managed to make it back to the White House after a four-year hiatus.

In the modern era, Americans have seen presidents live longer after their presidential terms and remain highly involved in public life, with a few exceptions. Between building their presidential libraries, contributing to various humanitarian efforts and contending with a 24-hour news cycle, staying out of the public eye proves difficult for all of the surviving former presidents It is yet to be seen how the soon-to-be-retired president Barack Obama will choose to spend his retirement years.

Eight commanders-in-chief, though, never had the chance to see what life after the presidency held. Four were assassinated in office and four died of natural causes, including the sad story of William Henry Harrison who was only president for 30 days. Richard Nixon, resigned in infamy, enjoying not a retirement but a public exile, of sorts.

Here's how all of the presidents who survived their turn in office did after they left:

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