The Post-presidency from Washington to Clinton

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University Press of Kansas, 2012 - Biography & Autobiography - 646 pages
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When George Washington decided not to seek a third term, he initiated what would be a longstanding concern and challenge for former presidents: what to do with their post-presidential lives. The retirement of James Madison in 1817 initiated active ex-presidencies as he was drawn into political controversies; since then, the post-presidency has become an office unto itself.

Burton Kaufman's unique history of that "office" traces the evolving roles of former presidents from Washington to Clinton, examining the lives of the thirty-one who lived for at least two years after leaving office. He marks the transition of the ex-presidency from the 18th-century republican ideal-that of politically disinterested private citizens engaging briefly in public service before returning to private life-to one in which former presidents became increasingly active.

Beginning with John Quincy Adams's post-presidential election to Congress, former presidents no longer maintained the pretense of abstaining from active participation in the nation's political affairs. Today the bar has been set by Jimmy Carter, whom historians have regarded as a middling president but who may well have established a new paradigm for ex-presidents. Kaufman also reveals how the post-presidency has evolved since World War II into a big business, with ex-presidents raking in millions of dollars through book sales, lectures, and corporate employment.

Drawing extensively on primary sources, including presidential papers, Kaufman maintains that this evolution has followed a path similar to that of the presidency itself. He shows that most have had fascinating post-presidential careers filled with both accomplishment and failure, and that in some cases their lives after leaving office were as important historically as their careers as president and give new insights into their personalities.

Kaufman's study offers an absorbing look at how and why changes in the post-presidency have occurred over the two centuries that will fascinate any aficionado of American history. More than thirty photos—from Harry Truman taking his daily constitutional to Richard Nixon rehabilitating his reputation—grace the text.

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About the author (2012)

BURTON I. KAUFMAN is Dean of the School for Interdisciplinary Studies at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.

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