What do retired presidents do?

A viewer asked this question on 8/12/2000:

Dear Sir/Madam,

My question is that, when the president finishes his term of office, then he eventually has to step down. Then what happens to him.

Does he become like the normal common man or still is in politics and has a lot of power? Also does he have any privileges?

stevehaddock gave this response on 8/12/2000:

In the brilliant film Amistad, the African meets with John Quincy Adams, who has after stepping down as president, gotten elected to Congress. Adams is introduced as the man who used to be the "Chief" of the United States. The African can't understand this. Once you're a Chief, you can't stop being a Chief. As Adams said, he only wished that were true.

The President of the United States becomes an ordinary citizen once he steps down, with one important exception - if he's served two terms, he is one of the only citizens who can't be elected President or Vice-President ever again.

Truman saw the plights of ex-presidents very clearly. He put forward the idea that the ex-president might get a seat for life in Congress. Truman knew that ex-president and old foe Herbert Hoover had fallen on hard times after losing to Roosevelt in 1932. Truman offered him a presidential commission to head, and Hoover was so moved by the offer, that he is thought to have broken into tears.

Some presidents have gone on to other things. Taft, for example, became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Teddy Roosevelt headed several third party attempts at becoming President, but never made it back. However, most just fade into the background.

However, all is not lost. Modern ex-presidents at least get a pension. Moreover, there is one perquisite they keep - Secret Service protection for life.

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