There have been 43 different men and, so far, no women who have served as the president of the United States. (Note: President Barack Obama’s administration was the 44th presidency, but he is only the 43rd person to hold the office, because President Grover Cleveland was elected to two non-consecutive terms, the 22nd and 24th) Some ex-presidents died shortly after their time in office ended, but a few went on to long post-presidency careers. Eight of the 43 U.S. presidents died in office. After subtracting those eight and one incumbent, we are left with 34 who retired for some amount of time. The shortest retirement was that of James K. Polk; he died three months after leaving the White House.
Which U.S. Presidents Lived the Longest After Their Presidencies?
The longest presidential retirement thus far is that of Jimmy Carter. He is the only ex-president to have had a retirement longer than 33 years. His presidency ended on January 20, 1981, and throughout the 1980s and 1990s and into the 21st century, he has continued to not just live but also be an active presence in U.S. and international public life. In his “retirement” he has written bestselling books, worked for human rights around the globe, and even won the Nobel Peace Prize.
Until September of 2012, when he was passed by Carter, Herbert Hoover held the record for the longest presidential retirement. Hoover left office in March 1933 and died in 1964; his retirement lasted more than 31 years. Hoover survived the presidency of the man who defeated him, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, even though FDR was elected to four terms. (He unfortunately died in office in 1945.) Hoover outlived predecessors and successors, and he consulted with later presidents including Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy. Hoover was also a prolific writer throughout his post-presidency years.
Gerald Ford had a short presidency, but he enjoyed one of the longest presidential retirements, just under 30 years. He died at age 93, as did Ronald Reagan, but Ford’s lifespan is longer than Reagan’s by more than a month. Ford succeeded to the presidency upon the resignation of Richard Nixon in 1974, and he left office in January of 1977, when Carter was inaugurated. Ford remained active in the Republican Party during his retirement. He and his wife Betty Ford developed an active friendship with Carter and his wife Rosalynn. Ford also wrote a book called A Time to Heal: The Autobiography of Gerald Ford. He is buried at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in his hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan.
John Adams was the second president and the first vice-president; he served under George Washington before taking his own turn. After leaving office in 1801, Adams returned to his home state of Massachusetts, where he lived another 25 years and kept up active correspondence. He frequently commented on politics and government affairs of the still young nation. He even lived long enough to see his son, John Quincy Adams, elected the sixth president in 1824. Adams and his lifelong friend Thomas Jefferson both died on July 4, 1826.
George H.W. Bush
The first George Bush was elected in 1988 and his administration lasted from January 1989 through January 1993, when he was succeeded by Bill Clinton. The elder President Bush remained active during retirement with a variety of non-profit and humanitarian work, as well as political endorsements and frequent public appearances. He also famously celebrated his 80th , 85th , and 90th birthdays by skydiving. When he passed away on November 30, 2018, George HW Bush became the longest-lived us president at the age of 94.
Interestingly, the five presidents with the longest retirements are on the short side as far as their time in office goes. Presidents Carter, Hoover, Ford, Adams, and H.W. Bush all served one four-year term or less.