What Life Is Really Like For An Ex-President
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?
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They Get A Pension For Life
Once they leave office, former presidents get a lifelong pension. In 1958, when Congress first passed the Former Presidents Act, the pension's value stood at $25,000 a year. Today, the pension amount equals the salary of a Cabinet member, currently $210,700 a year. Surviving spouses of deceased former presidents also qualify for an annual pension of $20,000.
But what about presidents who resign, like Richard Nixon? In 1974, the Justice Department decided Nixon (and any future presidents who resign) would still get a lifetime pension. But presidents removed from office by impeachment lose the right to a pension.
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The Secret Service Never Goes Away
As of 2013, former presidents get Secret Service protection for life. The Former Presidents Protection Act of 2012 reversed a 1994 law that ended Secret Service protection 10 years after a president leaves office.
The same provision doesn't apply to the president's children and ex-spouses, though. Children get Secret Service protection until they turn 16, while spouses lose the protection if the couple divorces and they remarry.
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They Get Their Own Library, Thanks To FDR
Modern ex-presidents spend a lot of time on their presidential libraries. It wasn't always that way. In fact, the tradition started with Franklin D. Roosevelt, who envisioned the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum as a place to preserve his personal and presidential records.
Before that, presidents simply packed up their records, and many were lost in the process. George Washington's nephew admitted the first president's documents had been "very extensively mutilated by rats and otherwise injured by damp."
Planning, fundraising, and running the library can take up a lot of time. Some presidents, like Harry S. Truman, even worked at their presidential library after leaving office.
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They Can Make Good Money With Book Sales
Former presidents can earn millions by writing books. When Bill Clinton signed a deal to write My Life, he negotiated a $15 million advance. George W. Bush took home $7 million when he sold 1.5 million copies of Decision Points.
Jimmy Carter was one of the first ex-presidents to transform himself into a major author, writing 14 books. Presidential historian James Thurber said of Carter, "He was broke when he came out of the White House." But the ex-president got creative and found a new source of revenue: "If you can write or you can write with someone else, you can write a book and make a great deal of money. Jimmy Carter did that."
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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."
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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.