How Ex-Presidents and Prime Ministers Make their Money

Getty Images
Getty Images

Upon taking up residency in the White House, a president also assumes a tidy salary of $400,000 a year, plus extra cash for expenses. That's certainly not the kind of change you'd find under most couch cushions, but it's not such a princely sum that the president will be set for life when leaving office. While many leaders are either independently rich enough or old enough that they just retire after leaving office, others are desperate to make a buck or a pound. So how do ex-presidents and other former world leaders support themselves as they while away the autumn of their years?

The Very Broke Harry Truman:

When Truman's presidency ended in 1953, he headed home to Independence, Missouri, but there was a nagging problem: he didn't have any money.  His business interests from prior to his political life hadn't generated any sort of savings for him, and he thought that taken a corporate position or endorsing products would cheapen the presidency. His only income was a $112-a-month army pension, so he did what former presidents now do without thinking:  he sold his memoirs. Truman received a $670,000 deal for the two-volume memoirs, but after taxes and paying his assistants, he only netted a few thousand dollars on the project. Things got so dire that Congress passed the Former Presidents Act in 1958, which gave retired commanders in chief pensions of $25,000 a year.  At least his health insurance was eventually covered; when Lyndon Johnson signed Medicare into law in 1965, he presented President Truman and his wife, Bess, with the first two Medicare cards.

Jimmy Carter:

Carter famously rose to the presidency from humble roots as a Georgia peanut farmer, but when he assumed office he placed his business and farming issues in a blind trust to avoid any potential conflicts of interest. It was a noble act, but it didn't play out so well for Carter; when he resumed control of his assets, he was a million dollars in debt. He needed dough, so he started writing. And writing. Although he's known for his work with Habitat for Humanity and his willingness to go on global diplomatic missions, Carter is a shockingly prolific author of over 20 books. Some of his tomes are standard memoirs and political texts, but Carter's also penned children's books, a volume of poetry, a historical novel, and Bible-study guides.

Bill Clinton:

Bill Clinton pulls in $250,000 to give a speech, which has been a fairly lucrative racket for him. A 2007 report in the British newspaper The Independent estimated Clinton's earnings from speeches alone at somewhere in the neighborhood of $40 million since he left office six years earlier. Clinton also sold his memoir My Life to Knopf for $15 million, and he serves as an advisor for the private equity firm Yucaipa Companies, a post that has pulled in at least $12.6 million. When the Clintons released their tax data in April 2008 as part of Hillary's campaign disclosures, they showed income of $109 million since leaving the White House.

Margaret Thatcher:

Although declining health has slowed her down lately, Thatcher was fairly busy after stepping down as Prime Minister in 1990. She remained in the House of Commons until 1992. She received the title Baroness Thatcher that year, which got her a spot in the House of Lords. Thatcher also penned a two-volume memoir, The Path to Power and The Downing Street Years, which hit the New York Times' best-seller lists in 1993 and 1994. On top of that, she served as Chancellor of the College of William and Mary from 1993 to 2000 and penned the international relations text Statecraft:  Strategies for a Changing World in 2002. All of this work must have left Thatcher pretty set; after all, she has given Cambridge two million pounds to endow a chair in her name.

John Major:

Thatcher's successor as Prime Minister has had a decidedly more low-key life since leaving the post in 1997. As an avid cricket fan, he served as the president of the Surrey County Cricket Club from 2000 to 2001 and has been on the Committee of the Marylebone Cricket Club since 2005. He also joined the private equity firm the Carlyle Group's European Advisory Board in 1998 and supposedly rakes in 25,000 pounds for each speech he gives on the lecture circuit.

Tony Blair:

Like Bill Clinton, Blair got a book advance that ensured he wouldn't have to hit up any of his friends for a pound or two from time to time. In October 2007 the New York Times reported that Random House purchased Blair's memoir for a staggering $9 million. Or rather, they purchased the rights to the memoir once it's written; despite receiving the gigantic advance, Blair's spokesman admitted that the former Prime Minister hadn't gotten a chance to "put pen to paper" when he signed the deal. On top of the sweet advance, Blair's also pulling in cash as an advisor on climate change for Zurich Insurance and as a senior advisor for JPMorgan, both of which have been reported as six-figure-a-year jobs. He's also making 500,000 pounds for a series of speeches and will teach a course on faith and globalization at Yale this year.

8 Things You Might Not Know About Warren G. Harding

Twenty-ninth president Warren G. Harding (1865-1923) was two years into his first term when a (probable) heart attack put an abrupt end to both his life and his presidency. (Vice-president Calvin Coolidge stepped in and was then elected in 1924.) But just because his time as president was brief doesn't mean Harding isn’t deserving of closer examination. Take a look at some facts about his upbringing, his office controversies, and how a big family secret was revealed nearly a century after his death.

  1. Warren G. Harding was a newspaper reporter before he was a politician.

Warren G. Harding was born in a farming community near Blooming Grove, Ohio, on November 2, 1865. He was the oldest of eight children. Raised on physical labor, he displayed an interest and aptitude for writing and journalism while in college, later performing a variety of tasks for the Marion Mirror, a Democratic-leaning newspaper that was in contrast to the Harding family’s Republican politics. In 1884, a competing paper, the Marion Daily Star, was put up for sale; some friends of Harding’s financed its acquisition and soon, Harding was running it as he saw fit. The paper’s popularity made Harding a name in his community—one that would eventually graduate to local, then national, politics. Yet he remained involved in the Star, never ceding his financial interest in the paper until two months before his death in August 1923.

  1. Warren G. Harding could get feisty.

Harding’s temperament was even-keeled during his political career, but that doesn't mean he was a pushover. While editing the Star, Harding was the target of personal attacks by the editor of a competing newspaper, the Independent. Eventually, he had his fill of the vitriol, and Harding exploded, telling the man he would “mop up the street” with him if the alleged slander didn’t stop ("and then," Harding continued, "I’ll go over and mop up your office with what remains").

  1. Harding's presidential nomination was a compromise.

Harding was elected to the Ohio State Senate in 1899 before taking office as lieutenant governor from 1904 to 1906. From 1915 to 1921, he served in the U.S. Senate. While Harding was well-liked, his candidacy was the result of a deadlock: Republicans couldn’t decide on a candidate, so Harding was chosen as a compromise. Along with running mate Coolidge, he defeated Democratic candidate James Cox by winning 60 percent of the popular vote and 76 percent of the Electoral College. Harding’s 1920 victory remains the largest popular vote margin since the 1820s.

  1. Harding got a celebrity endorsement when he ran for president.

Decades before actors and public figures openly endorsed presidential candidates, Harding’s campaign was the beneficiary of support from Al Jolson, the performer who was among the most popular entertainers of the 1920s. Jolson, a devoted Republican, agreed to visit Harding’s home in Marion, Ohio—where the candidate was making speeches from his front porch—and led a parade down the block. Jolson then sang “Harding You’re the Man for Us,” a hastily-prepared melody that cemented his backing of the politician. Actors Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford also made the trek to rally behind Harding.

  1. Warren G. Harding's presidency was marked by scandal.

Though Harding himself was never implicated in any wrongdoing, his cabinet was embroiled in controversy. Secretary of the Interior Albert Fall was found to have leased public land to oil companies in exchange for gifts in the Teapot Dome Scandal. He spent a little under a year in prison. Attorney General Harry Daugherty was accused of selling liquor permits during Prohibition. Several other officials took bribes. “I have no trouble with my enemies,” Harding once said. “But my damn friends ... they’re the ones who keep me walking the floor nights.”

  1. Harding named his penis "Jerry."

Harding married his wife Florence in 1891, but he was far from faithful: He had two affairs that we know of. In 2014, letters between Harding and one of his mistresses that had been sealed for 50 years were finally released by the Library of Congress. In them, Harding expressed his affection for his mistress, Carrie Fulton Phillips. Written on official Senate stationary, the letters, dated between 1910 and 1920, offer a glimpse into his proclivities. He referred to his penis as “Jerry,” a code word in case a third party read the correspondence, and elaborated on his fantasies involving her “pillowing breasts.” An example:

"Jerry came and will not go, says he loves you, that you are the only, only love worthwhile in all this world, and I must tell you so and a score or more of other fond things he suggests, but I spare you. You must not be annoyed. He is so utterly devoted that he only exists to give you all."

When he won the Republication nomination in 1920, the party allegedly paid Phillips as much as $25,000 (or $297,000 today) to remain quiet about the affair.

  1. His Prohibition stance didn't keep him from drinking.

As a senator, Harding supported the 18th Amendment prohibiting the sale and transportation of alcohol, an era that lasted from 1920 to 1933. He agreed to back the Anti-Saloon League, which rallied against imbibing, in exchange for support during his elections. But according to long-time White House employee Elizabeth Jaffray, with his friends Harding had no problem downing scotch and soda in the White House.

  1. The Harding DNA unlocked a family secret.

Nearly a century following Harding’s sudden death due to a heart attack in August 1923, a DNA test added another bit of salacious detail to the president’s sex life. In 1927, one of his mistresses, Nan Britton, claimed Harding fathered her child a year before his Presidential campaign. Harding’s political allies chastised her and cast doubts over her credibility, but in 2015, DNA sampled from relatives of Harding and Britton’s grandson confirmed she was telling the truth. Their daughter, Elizabeth Ann Blaesing, died in 2005. She was Harding’s only child.

The Original Telegram Announcing Lincoln's Death Could Sell for $500,000

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In the days before radios, telephones, and the 24-hour news cycle, seismic events in world history had to be broadcast the old-fashioned way: by telegram, and then in print. The death of President Abraham Lincoln on April 15, 1865, was news that traveled via a message that originated with Major Thomas Eckert, head of the War Department’s telegraph office. It read, “Abraham Lincoln died this morning at 22 minutes after seven.”

That original handwritten document largely disappeared from view after Lincoln's death. Now it’s resurfaced, and a collector or historian looking to own a key piece related to one of the most notorious assassinations in history can expect to pay $500,000 for the privilege.

The paper is being offered by the Raab Collection, a memorabilia business specializing in historical items. In their description of the telegraph, they note that Charles Leale—a physician who had been in attendance when the president was shot the previous evening by John Wilkes Booth in Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C.—placed two coins over Lincoln's eyes and pulled a bedsheet over his face. Working with Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, Eckert drafted a telegram to communicate the sad turn of events and signed Stanton's name. After being rushed to the telegraph office, the document is said to have remained in the hands of a Union general and his descendants.

The paper is expected to be placed on sale by the Raab Collection this week. Monday, April 15, marks the 154th anniversary of Lincoln's death.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER