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What Life Is Really Like For An Ex-President

Updated March 10, 2021 1.6m views18 items

President John Quincy Adams declared, "There is nothing more pathetic in life than a former president." But what happens to ex-presidents once they leave office? Some of the post-presidential benefits sound pretty good, such as the opportunity to buy retirement homes and rake in millions of dollars writing books and giving speeches. Plus, all former presidents get office space, staff, and supplies paid for by taxpayers.

With all the rules that first families have to follow in office, you'd expect things to get easier once presidents move out of the White House. But a lot of the things presidents can't do in office remain off-limits after they leave. The lifetime pension and the promise of a state funeral probably don't make up for some of the burdens ex-presidents face in their daily lives. For example, former presidents never get to be alone again - they get a Secret Service detail for life. And they're not allowed to drive on public roads. Are the perks of being an ex-president worth the hassle?

  • Photo: Paul Warner/Contributor / Getty Images Entertainment

    They Aren't Allowed To Drive

    Presidents have to hand over the car keys for the rest of their lives. Former presidents aren't allowed to drive on public roads for security reasons; instead, their Secret Service teams drive them everywhere. Some presidents get around the rule by driving on their private property. George W. Bush drives on his Texas ranch; Ronald Reagan used to drive on his ranch, too.

    Former Vice President Joe Biden joked about the rule when he said, "There are a lot of reasons to run for president, but there's one overwhelming reason not to run for president... I like to get that [Corvette] Z06 from zero to 60 in 3.4 seconds."

  • Photo: mark reinstein /

    The Secret Service Screens All Their Mail

    Ex-presidents never walk down to the mailbox to pick up their mail. Instead, the mail first goes to an off-site screening location where the Secret Service checks every package for signs of danger.

    In October 2018, the Secret Service intercepted pipe bombs mailed to the Clintons and Barack Obama, among other prominent political figures. In an October 24 statement, the Secret Service said:

    The packages were immediately identified during routine mail screening procedures as potential explosive devices and were appropriately handled as such. Both packages were intercepted prior to being delivered to their intended location.

  • Photo: Jon Kraft /

    Some Ex-Presidents Look For Jobs

    Before 1958, presidents didn't receive a pension after leaving office. For some ex-presidents, that meant they needed to find a job after serving in the highest office in the land. Harry S. Truman, for example, made sure his presidential library included an office where he could work during the 19 years he lived in Independence, MO, after leaving the White House.

    Grover Cleveland invested in the stock market to make money after serving two nonconsecutive terms as president. George Washington retired to Mount Vernon, where he ran his own whiskey distillery.

  • Photo: Joseph Sohm /

    Ex-Presidents Often Become Good Friends

    Presidents often battle on the public stage when they're running for office, especially in contentious contests. Bill Clinton, for example, ousted George H.W. Bush from office, and his successor, George W. Bush, didn't have many fond things to say about Clinton on the campaign trail.

    But once they leave office, ex-presidents often bond over their shared experiences. After all, there aren't many other people guarded full-time by Secret Service. In 2017, George W. Bush even declared that he felt like Clinton was "a brother from another mother."