After Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, Vice President Andrew Johnson became President. Johnson tried to carry out Lincoln’s moderate Reconstruction plans, which brought him into conflict with the Radical Republican controlled Congress. He was impeached during his last year in office, but acquitted by one vote. At the end of his term, unable to gain the nomination of his party for a full term as President, he retired to his home in Tennessee. Remaining active in Democratic politics, Johnson ran unsuccessfully for a seat in Congress in 1869 and for the Senate in 1871 and 1872. He also campaigned for Horace Greeley for President in 1872, and stumped the state for congressional candidates in 1874. In 1875, he was elected to the U.S. Senate. Becoming the only President to serve in the Senate after his presidential term, Johnson was greeted with applause and flowers when he took his seat for a special session in March 1875. After his triumphant return to Congress, he visited his daughter during the recess. While there, he suffered a severe paralytic stroke, and died a few days later, on July 31, 1875.
Ulysses S. Grant, hero of the Civil War, was elected President in the first post-war election. After serving two terms, he retired and spent two years touring the world, being received by enthusiastic crowds and heads of state all over the world. He settled in New York City and invested all his savings in the firm of Grant & Ward, in which his son was a partner. Ward proved to be a crook, and Grant lost all his money, leaving him almost penniless. To make a living, he wrote magazine articles that were so well received that he decided to write his memoirs. With the help of his publisher, Mark Twain, his memoirs were published and brought his wife a fortune. Unfortunately, Grant did not live to see his final success. He knew he was dying of throat cancer as he wrote the book, and finished just days before he died.
Rutherford B. Hayes succeeded Grant in the White House. Having renounced a second term in his nomination acceptance letter, Hayes retired after one term in the White House, happy to be leaving. He retired with his beloved wife to his estate at Spiegel Grove, Ohio. For the rest of his life, he engaged in philanthropic work in education, prison reform, Christianity, and veterans’ affairs. He supported Republican nominees for President, opposed women’s suffrage, encouraged temperance and promoted black education. As a director of the George Peabody Educational Fund and the John F. Slater Fund, he awarded scholarships to blacks. One of the people to whom Hayes gave a scholarship was the future activist W.E.B. DuBois. Hayes also served as a trustee of Ohio State University and other Ohio colleges. As president of the National Prison Association, he advocated greater emphasis on rehabilitation in the prison system. Taken ill while visiting friends, he died several days later on January 17, 1893. His last words were, “I know I am going where Lucy (his wife who had died several years earlier) is.”
James A. Garfield was shot by a disappointed office-seeker, and was followed in office by his Vice President, Chester A. Arthur. Arthur failed to gain the Republican nomination for a full term of his own in 1884, and returned to his law practice in New York City. During his term as President, Arthur was diagnosed with Bright’s Disease, a kidney ailment. He died of the ailment on November 18, 1886.
Grover Cleveland retired from the White House twice. The first time was after his defeat for re-election at the end of his first term in 1888. Although he won the popular vote, he lost the electoral vote. (Sound familiar?) He was re-elected in 1892, becoming the only President to serve non-consecutive terms. He retired for real after his second term ended in 1897. In 1899, he was named Henry Stafford Little Lecturer in Public Affairs at Princeton University. In 1901, he was named to the University’s board of trustees, and became president of the board of trustees in 1904. He was an active board president, and clashed over policy matters with university president Woodrow Wilson. The two enjoyed each other’s company in spite of their differences in academic policy. From 1900-1906, he wrote numerous articles for the Saturday Evening Post. In 1904, he campaigned for Democratic presidential candidate Alton B. Parker in his hopeless race against Theodore Roosevelt. In 1906, he was hired as a consultant to help reorganize the Equitable Life Assurance Society after financial scandals had damaged the company’s reputation. The following year, he accepted a $25,000-a-year position as president of the Association of Presidents of Life Insurance Companies. After a three-month illness, he died of heart failure at his home in Princeton on June 24, 1908. His last words were, “I have tried so hard to do right.”
Benjamin Harrison served as President during the four years between Cleveland’s two terms. After his defeat by Cleveland, Harrison retired. His wife had died two weeks before his defeat in the presidential election. In 1896, he re-married. His new wife was Mary Dimmick, niece of his first wife, who had nursed the first Mrs. Harrison during her final illness. Harrison resumed his law practice and wrote articles for national magazines. In 1894, he delivered a series of lectures on constitutional law at Stanford University. Under pressure from the Republican Party to run again for President, in February 1896 he issued a formal statement renouncing any intention to run again for President. He then campaigned actively for the eventual nominee William McKinley. In 1897-1899, Harrison served as counsel for Venezuela in its territorial dispute with British Guiana. In a brilliant “display of energy and mastery of detail,” he filed an 800-page written brief and delivered 25 hours of oral argument over five days. In 1900, President McKinley appointed Harrison to the newly established Permanent Court of Arbitration, but Harrison died on March 13, 1901 without ever taking an active role.
In the next article, we will examine the retirement of the first Presidents of the 20th century.