Monday, February 18, 2008

Presidents' Day (it's a living)

It's Presidents' Day, the holiday formerly known as Washington's Birthday. Since the day has opened up somewhat, I thought I'd let you know that the presidents I'm personally celebrating this year are Jefferson, Lincoln, and FDR. Yes, I know, popular and easy choices, but I really don't know enough about John Tyler and Zachary Taylor to celebrate them. (Well, now that I've done a little bit of homework, I do know a little bit about them: post-White House, John Tyler served in the House of Representatives of the Confederacy, so I probably wouldn't have chosen to celebrate him; and Zachary Taylor died in office after only a brief time as president.) Many of the presidents I do know enough about, I don't really care to celebrate.

Since this blog is at least nominally related to the workplace, business, and the economy, I thought I'd take a look at what our presidents did for a living when they weren't being president.

Although he has now bowed out of the race, Willard "Mitt" Romney has nudged this question into my brain by making his business success the central argument for his qualification for the presidency. (Coming off the last 8 years, it's really a wonder why anyone would push the Harvard-MBA-businessman "thing", but - whatever else you think of either of them - Romney arguably had greater business success than W.)

In any case, thanks to Info, Please I now know what-all they did before and after they held The Highest Office in the Land.

Not surprisingly, the majority of presidents were lawyers, soldiers, and/or held elective office before becoming POTUS.

Among the more varied pre-Prez jobs:

  • Postmaster (Lincoln)
  • Tailor (Andrew Johnson)
  • Sheriff (Grover Cleveland)
  • Editor (Harding)
  • Haberdasher (Truman)
  • Tariff collector (Arthur)
  • Peanut farmer (Carter)
  • Actor (Reagan)
  • Baseball team owner (W)

After the fact, quite a few were writers - although I'm guessing most of what got written wasn't of much merit, but was a glossed up, not particularly soul-searching memoir. (Apologies to John Adams, Jefferson, Grant, TR, and anyone else who wrote something worth a damn after leaving office.)

There were also a number of "gentleman farmers", a profession that I don't think anyone would admit to these days.

And lots of involvement in academia: university presidents, regents, rectors, chancellors.

A few took a step down, with John Q. Adams becoming a Congressman, Andrew Johnson serving as a senator, and John Tyler, as noted above, serving in the Congress of the Confederacy.

One of Teddy Roosevelt's after-office occupations is listed as hunter. Coolidge became president of the American Antiquarian Society. But my favorite post-presidency listing was for Millard Fillmore, who's noted as a "rogue political activist." Many other fellows are listed as activists of some stripe (political, education, prison reform....), but Millard was the only "rogue." (It's a tough job, but somebody's got to do it.)

Whoever you're celebrating, Happy Presidents' Day to all!


I cannot tell a lie: If you're reading this post prior to Monday, February 18th, you can tell that I pre-posted this. That's because I went away - laptop-less - for the long weekend, and Blogger, alas, doesn't (yet) have any scheduling capability. You can assign whatever date you like, but Blogger will post it then and there.

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