Are there any precedents for U.S. presidents having served in other official government roles after the ends of their terms. Conceivably they could become ambassadors or Supreme Court judges, for example.

I am aware that some former presidents served on special government commissions (true e.g. for President Hoover under President Truman) or as official envoys on foreign policy occasions (true e.g. for Presidents Carter and Nixon, I believe), but these are not official roles in the sense of this question. It is about regular and permanent roles in the executive branch, legislature, or judiciary.

The background of my question is of course that e.g. Presidents Clinton and Obama held (hold) office at a relatively young age, and they and their contemporaries normally go on to run their own foundations. I am wondering about conceivable alternatives.

  • We may see in a few months after the elections IF Obama looses as he is still to young to retire. :)
    – Russell
    Oct 18, 2012 at 7:42
  • @Russell thanks for your comment. I did not want to convey an assumption about the outcome of the November election here. As far as President Obama is concerned, the topic applies to either 2013 or 2017, as the case may be :)
    – Drux
    Oct 18, 2012 at 8:02
  • 2
    @Drux - Quite. However, Bill Clinton was quite a young man still in 2000 when he couldn't run again (as was VP Gore, who essentially retired from elective politics after 2000). If you are curious what the future might hold for a retired Obama, I'd suggest looking at those two. (If it were me, I'd consider waiting a suitable number of years and then trying to get him nominated for Secretary General of the UN. He's pretty popular overseas, so that may be our best chance for getting a USA UN head. But I doubt anybody will ask me)
    – T.E.D.
    Oct 18, 2012 at 15:04

3 Answers 3

  1. John Quincy Adams was elected to the House of Representatives in 1831.
  2. John Tyler served as a member of the Confederate States Congress - that may or may not qualify.
  3. Andrew Johnson was a US Senator in 1875
  4. Grover Cleveland went on to be President after his term in office
  5. William Taft went on to be Supreme Court Justice (hat tip to @michaelF).
  • 1
    Very nice list, I had forgotten JQA, tip of the hat to you
    – MichaelF
    Oct 18, 2012 at 16:57

William Howard Taft is the first one that comes to mind, since he served as the 27th President of the United States from 1909 to 1913, he didn't really like it and later became a professor of law at Yale and then was nominated for the Supreme Court as Chief Justice. You can read a little bio on him at the White House web site.

  • 1
    I don't know how true this is, but the general story with Taft is that he only left his Federal Court gig to help Pres. McKinnely with the Phillipines on the understanding that it would help net him an appointment to the Supreme Court. Every position he ended up in after that before his SCOTUS appointment, even including POTUS, he went to reluctantly.
    – T.E.D.
    Oct 18, 2012 at 14:43
  • Very true, I remember reading that about him in and that he was nicknamed the "reluctant politician" in some of my history classes.
    – MichaelF
    Oct 18, 2012 at 14:49

The granddaddy of them all, George Washington became Senior Officer of the United States Army from July 1798 until his death in December 1799. He would have been Commander-in-Chief of armies raised had the Quasi-War progressed further.

It's definitely a regular and permanent government role, though not civilian like the others.

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