President Joe Biden is an example of a career politician, first being elected to the New Castle County Council in Delaware in 1970, while two years later he defeated Republican incumbent J. Caleb Boggs to become the junior U.S. senator from Delaware in 1972.  He remained in the Senate until he was tapped to become Barack Obama’s running mate in the 2008 election.

However, not every U.S. president has served in public office as long as Biden.

To date, 32 presidents had previous military experience, with nine reaching the rank of general. In addition, 27 presidents – including Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, William Howard Taft, Franklin Roosevelt and Barack Obama – were previously lawyers. Taft also went on to become the tenth Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, the only person to have served in both offices.

The Lawmakers

The president of the United States is the head of the executive branch, but quite a few came from the legislative branch.

Of the 18 presidents who previously served as a United States Representative to Congress, only James A. Garfield was a Congressman immediately before election as president.

Technically two presidents returned to Congress after leaving the White House, but only John Quincy Adams served as a U.S. Representative, as John Tyler served in the Provisional Confederate Congress and he was later elected to the Confederate House of Representatives. However, Tyler died before taking his seat.

Seventeen presidents – including Biden – previously served in the United States Senate, but only three immediately before election as president. That included Biden’s former boss, President Obama. Andrew Johnson was the only former president to serve in the Senate – in his native Tennessee, where he had also been governor before the American Civil War and later Military Governor during the conflict.

 The Governors

In total, 20 presidents previously served as governors. Yet only 17 were state governors – as William Henry Harrison and Taft each served as territorial governors, while Andrew Jackson served as a military governor of the territory of Florida before it became a state.

Vice Presidents

In all, 15 presidents had previously served as vice president – and all except Richard Nixon and Joe Biden were vice presidents immediately before being elected president.

Eight of the 15 also succeeded to the presidency upon the death of the president, while Gerald R. Ford succeeded after Nixon resigned. Ford, along with four other of the nine, weren’t reelected however.

In the history of the nation, no vice president has run directly against a president he served since Vice President Thomas Jefferson ran against and defeated President John Adams in the election of 1800.

No Experience Necessary!

Former President Donald Trump is just one of five presidents who hadn’t been elected to public office prior to running for president. The others included Zachary Taylor, Ulysses S. Grant, Herbert Hoover, and Dwight D. Eisenhower. Taylor, Grant and Ike had been military men – leading U.S. forces to victory in the Mexican–American War, American Civil War, and World War II respectively – while Hoover had served as United States of Commerce.

It should also be added that along with George Washington, Grant and Eisenhower rose to the highest rank – General of the Army. Washington was Commander in Chief of the Continental Army during the War of Independence; Ulysses S. Grant was Commanding General of the U.S. Army during the American Civil War; and Dwight D. Eisenhower became Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force in Europe in the Second World War.

Planting the Seeds

Although Jimmy Carter was noted for being a peanut farmer, he was not the first to “work the land,” as Harry S. Truman also worked as a farmer in his youth. In addition, Founding Father John Adams was a lawyer and farmer, as well. Other presidents have held the title of farmer; however, slavery played a major role in their ability to take on that position.


Five presidents including Garfield, Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Bill Clinton, and Obama taught at university – while Biden also served as Benjamin Franklin Presidential Professor of the Practice at the University of Pennsylvania between his tenure as vice president and the start of his presidential campaign. Mr. Biden didn’t actually teach classes but he took part in several panel discussions.

Post Presidency Careers

John Quincy Adams infamously declared, “There is nothing more pathetic in life than a former president.” Adams returned to the House of Representatives, serving nine terms until his death in 1848 – and even earned the nickname, “Father of the House.”

These days retirement also comes fairly easy for the former occupants of the Oval Office. The Former Presidents Act, which was passed in 1958, allows them a pension, a private staff and office, medical insurance, and Secret Service protection for 10 years.

And while some former presidents likely did sit back and enjoy their time after leaving the White House, several remained quite busy.

Washington was noted for owning a successful whisky distillery, one of the largest in the country. According to the Mount Vernon Museum, it produced almost 11,000 gallons of whiskey in 1799, while the average Virginia distillery produced just 650.

A decade after leaving the White House, Jefferson founded the University of Virginia, while Eisenhower opted to be a cattle farmer. Carter famously worked with Habitat for Humanity International, building houses for those in need, and Calvin Coolidge opted to be a newspaper columnist, sharing his wisdom with readers for a year.

The Post-Presidency Artists

Three recent presidents could be described as “artists,” as Obama has become a film producer, signing a development deal with Netflix, while Clinton won two Grammy Awards for his spoken-word albums, including the narration of his children’s book Wolf Tracks.

George W. Bush also became a painter after taking classes with Dallas-based artist Gail Norfleet.

The Explorer

The most unlikely post-presidency career was that of Theodore Roosevelt, until you realize that he was determined to do almost anything. After losing the 1912 election, Roosevelt and his son set off to explore the jungles of Brazil, specifically, an uncharted tributary of the Amazon called the River of Doubt.

During the seven-month-long journey, the former president contracted malaria and a serious infection after his leg was injured in a boat accident. The adventure left with a range of ailments, from which he never truly recovered. He was just 60 when died in 1919.

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Peter Suciu is a freelance writer who covers business technology and cyber security. He currently lives in Michigan and can be reached at You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.