Ex-Presidents Who Cashed In

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Mr. Mattocks is a student at the University of Washington and an intern at HNN.

Recently it was revealed that in his first year out of office ex-President Bill Clinton collected a hefty $9.2 million in fees from nearly 60 speeches. He collected $125,000 for most speeches; 12 brought in $200,000 or more. Clinton's job as President had already earned him $200,000 per year, plus an untaxed expense account. Add the fact that ex-Presidents receive a generous pension at taxpayer expense ($180,000 annually plus $200,000 for staff, office and travel expenses), and being president starts to look more like a smart financial investment than a patriotic service. In addition to his income from speeches and his pension, Clinton is also going to receive somewhere in the neighborhood of $12 million for his memoirs (Hillary is getting $8 million for hers).

The presidency has reaped large returns for ex-President Bush too. He receives about $80,000 a speech. In 1999, in exchange for his usual speaking fee, Bush accepted shares of stock in a company which grew to be worth 14 million.

Ronald Reagan earned $2 million for two twenty-minute speeches in Tokyo in 1989. That's $50,000 a minute.

Gerald Ford was the first modern president to turn the ex-presidency into a business. While enjoying protection from the Secret Service, he joined eight different corporate boards and enthusiastically entered the college speaking circuit, asking upwards of $80,000 a speech. Ford remarked: "Once a man has been president, he becomes an object of curiosity like those other Missouri characters, Mark Twain and Jesse James."

Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, thinks that presidents shouldn't even earn a salary. "The presidents should pay us. It's a ticket to multimillionaire status."

But the presidency hasn't always been such a hot ticket.

Grant, for example, exploited the celebrity of presidential service, but ultimately failed to earn rich rewards. After a mediocre presidency, he took a two-and-a-half-year tour around the world. Upon returning home he used his presidential fame to attract investors for a Wall Street firm in which he was a silent partner. The firm collapsed in 1884 when it was revealed that one of his partners was a swindler. To make ends meet Grant sold his memoirs. Although slowly dying of cancer in his last years, he held on until he finished them, dying just a few days later.


George Washington happily retired to his Virginia farm at the age of fifty-one, after having served nearly nine years as commander in chief of the Revolutionary army. After a few years of retirement Washington was unanimously elected president in 1789 and somewhat reluctantly accepted the duty. After two successful terms, he gladly escaped back to his country estate, but was allowed only two more years of peace and quiet before being recalled to duty, at age 67, as lieutenant general and commander of the American army in 1799. He died the same year. He never cashed in on his name or reputation.

Thomas Jefferson, far from milking his outstanding presidential status, went so far as to omit the achievement from his epitaph. He wanted to be remembered instead as the "Father of the University of Virginia"-of which he was the master planner and builder, overseeing all aspects of its conception-and as the author of the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. By the end of his life he was virtually bankrupt, having lavished a large fortune on the building of Monticello.

Andrew Jackson returned at seventy years of age to an estate that had been mismanaged in his absence, and to consequent debts totaling over $25,000. Though burdened by tuberculosis and dropsy (an unpleasant condition in which excess fluid builds up under the skin and causes swelling), he took responsibility for the debt and worked to pay if off by selling land and borrowing money with his estate as collateral. By 1845 the dropsy had gotten much worse. "I am I may say a perfect Jelly from the toes to the upper part of my abdome [sic]," he said, a few weeks before unsuccessful surgery, and, a few days later, death.

Franklin Pierce was in no position to become a celebrity ex-president. He was the first president ever to lose his party's nomination when running for a second term. Crushed, he descended into alcoholism, dying almost unnoticed in 1869.


When Harry Truman left the presidency in 1953 he got a lot of big-money offers, but turned them all down. Historian David McCullough observed: "His name was not for sale. He would take no fees for commercial endorsements or for lobbying or writing letters or making phone calls. He would accept no consulting fees, nor any gifts that might appear as a product endorsement on his part. Offered a new Toyota . . . as a demonstration of improved good feelings between Japan and America, he flatly refused."

Jimmy Carter, like Grant and Ford, had a less than stellar presidential term. But unlike them, he has used his fame and influence for nonremunerative causes, seldom taking money for speeches, and typically donating his fees to charity. After losing in 1980, Carter said he thinks it is "inappropriate for an ex-President to be involved in the commercial world. There may be some kinds of benevolent or nonprofit corporations in which I will let my influence and my ability be used, but not in a profit-making way." And that's exactly what he did, raising millions for Habitat for Humanity.


The Presidents, A Reference History, edited by Henry F. Graff
Facts About The Presidents, edited by Joseph Nathan Kane

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More Comments:

Ralph Scalitzia - 10/24/2002

Dear Sir,
I woul like to know why the USA president is named Commander-In-Chief and not Chief Commander. I know that is what the constitutioin states, however I am interested in the term. To me Chief Commander is more Anglo-saxon while Commander-in-Chief is more of a Franco-saxon term??
Thank you of your time and help.

Donald W. Green - 9/20/2002

There were a few other ex=presidents like Carter who led very productive lives post their presidency. John Quincy Adams
served for many years in the House of Representatives, William Howard Taft served very ablily on the Supreme Court, and
Herbert Hoover headed up a good government commission.

Many of the ex=presidents didn't live too long after their term was over. Several wrote books....some good, many not to great. Some tried to get back into the presidency, but not very successful as: Teddy Roosevelt, Millard Filmore, Martin Van Buren. Only Grover Cleveland was sucessful in being reelected president after he was outsted from his first term.

I think a former president has a lot to offer in observations about the job of president and his term. Each of them should
have a teaching fellowship at some university and maybe offer an insightful video for all to view.

Blaine Johnson - 9/7/2002

After reading how Clinton cashed in on his presidency and a presidency that will probably go down as one of the worst, how can his followers continue to support this so called American?
Blaine Johnson

Frederick C. Luebke - 7/18/2002

Would it be possible for you, when you next upgrade your newsletter, to make it possible to forward an article to some other person? I have some non-historian, non-academic friends who might well benefit from some of your pieces. Editor: If you click on the email icon at the top of any article you can forward the text of that article to a friend.