We’ve become accustomed to our ex-Presidents retiring to a life of relative leisure, rich dudes who spend all their time giving speeches, negotiating absurd book deals and building their libraries. But that hasn’t always been the case. No, the dudes on this list all struggled in one way or another after leaving office. Some ended up destitute, some went crazy, some were shunned because of the heinous nonsense they pulled while in office while a couple literally betrayed the country. Some are recent and some are old, but one thing these eight former Presidents all have in common is that their post-Presidential lives did not unfold the way you might expect.
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This might seem a little surprising since Truman lived for twenty more years after he left office, and he was pretty much universally respected during those years – he negotiated a book deal, he was trotted out for numerous ceremonies and he built a highly successful library in his name. There was only one problem: Truman was flat broke. Never a rich man, once Truman left office, he was forced to sell a bunch of family heirlooms just to stay afloat. He even confided to a friend that without the sale he would have been practically forced to go on welfare. It was so bad that Congress felt compelled to step in and grant him a $25,000 pension. Technically it was a pension for all former Presidents, but everyone knew the deal. Herbert Hoover, even though he was rich, also took the pension, largely because he didn’t want to embarrass Truman by refusing it. Can you even imagine a former President shopping with food stamps and arguing with the lady at the welfare office because his check didn’t show up on time that week? “Bitch, I got kids to feed!”
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Fillmore is on this list for two reasons. First, after leaving office, he became the leader of the No-Nothing Party, which was built on a platform that was explicitly anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic. Basically, Fillmore became the figurehead of a bunch of racist assholes which admittedly would make him the de facto choice of the Tea Party today, but still, that’s pretty shameful. And second, his name inspired the horrible comic strip Mallard Fillmore, which is arguably the most heinous thing ever to be associated with a President in any way. Yes, it’s worse than Watergate.
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Sure, sure, Bush the Younger has many good years left to him in which to turn this thing around but the early returns… well, they’re not so good. When’s the last time you saw Bush give a public speech? Clinton is out there almost every day it seems. Hell, Jimmy Carter has been on talk shows even though people think he was a pretty lame President. But not Bush. No, he’s shunned like a goddamn leper. His reputation is so shitty that his own party refused to even invite him to their convention. In debates, Obama and Romney both talk shit about him whenever they can. No one – not one damn person – wants to be publicly associated with George W. Bush. I think Snooki has a higher favorability rating than Bush.
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Madison left office only to find that his once booming plantation had financially collapsed. For the rest of his life he struggled financially, which led him to become obsessed with his personal letters, which he hoarded and constantly fussed with like a crazy person, because he realized that the sale of them could allow his wife, Dolly, to not have to be destitute after he died. He became so obsessed with the letters, and what they revealed, that he even took to re-writing letters that were decades old, even reportedly erasing parts of letters written to him by Thomas Jefferson and then rewriting them in Jefferson’s handwriting. Why? Who knows? Those are the actions of a dude who has lost his damn mind. I mean, this is a man known as “The Father of the Constitution.” That shit’s just embarrassing.
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Like Bush, Nixon was shunned after leaving office but that’s because, well, Nixon was a goddamn criminal. Watergate so thoroughly destroyed his reputation that for years his name was invoked as a synonym for everything that was wrong with American politics. Hell, it still is. On overseas trips, foreign leaders would refuse to receive him, and back at home he only missed the humiliating prospect of having to testify in court against his cohorts because of medical problems that forced him to have surgery. Actually, forget that, the only reason he wasn’t in court with people testifying against him was because President Ford – Nixon’s old Vice President – stepped in and pardoned him, an action which basically destroyed Ford’s own chances at reelection. No matter how much history has softened its stance on Nixon in recent years, there is no erasing the fact that, for most of the rest of his life, Nixon was the living symbol of the tragic decline of the American Dream.
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After a scandal-filled Presidency, Grant retired to a life of modest means. He then blew those modest means on an extended world tour, during which he dined with kings and queens and basically ran up a monster tab he couldn’t possibly pay off. And then when he returned home, he was swindled in a business deal, lost every little scrap he had left and became destitute. It got so bad that Grant was forced to write magazine articles in order to scrape by. That’s right, Grant was forced to become, ugh, a freelance writer. Nothing could be more ignoble than that sad fate. After all, freelance writers are the scum of the earth. At least that’s what I’m told by commenters and assorted friends and family members. For real though, while it’s funny to imagine Grant writing “The Ten Hottest Civil War Nurses,” it’s not exactly Presidential, you know? Then again, I did hear a rumor that Bill Clinton was working on an article about creative ways to use a cigar for Guyism, and we’re the epitome of Presidential, so maybe I shouldn’t be hard on ol’ Ulysses.
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Pierce had the misfortune to be caught up in those strange and terrible time known as the Civil War. In the confusion of war and of split allegiances and friendships, Pierce saw his reputation destroyed, thanks in large part to his personal friendship with Confederate President Jefferson Davis. It got so bad that crowds gathered outside of Pierce’s house after Lincoln was shot and shouted that he was a traitor and a rebel sympathizer. He never quite lived that down, and to make matters worse, he also spent his retirement years battling alcoholism, the demons of which helped destroy his marriage. The dude went from President to being a sad old drunk, hated by everyone from ordinary citizens to his own wife, suspected of being a traitor, a man with a ruined reputation, a ruined marriage and a ruined liver. I’d say that would be enough to make the dude number one on this list, but…
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The reason Pierce isn’t number one is because while he was suspected of being a traitor, Tyler actually was a traitor. After the Civil War broke out, John Tyler became the only former President to openly defect to the Confederacy. This wasn’t just a case of a dude expressing Confederate sympathies. No, Tyler was so in the bag for the Confederacy that he actually was elected to the Confederate House of Representatives! This dude was a former United States President and there he was, a goddamn Confederate Congressman. When he died in 1862, the United States wouldn’t even recognize his death. They basically ignored him since he was, you know, a traitor, while the Confederacy gave him a big state funeral. Even before all that crazy shit happened though, Tyler was hated by his own neighbors, largely because he was an asshole. They actually appointed him “Overseer” of their road just to mock him. This would be like Bush’s neighbors electing him town dog catcher or something just so they could laugh at him. From asshole hated by his own neighbors to traitor who remains the only President whose death was never recognized by the United States government, there can be no doubt that John Tyler had the worst post-Presidential life of them all, and that’s why he’s number one on this list.
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