This week President Bush is heading to his ranch in Crawford, Texas, where he plans to engage in a five-week "working vacation" similar to other working vacations he has taken over the last five years. According to the Associated Press, this vacation will be his 49th trip to his ranch in Crawford since he took office as president, and as of August 3, 2005, he will have spent at least part of 319 days at his ranch. Some people never tire of growling about how the President should be spending more time in the Oval Office instead of breathing in fresh air in the wide open spaces of Texas. But President Bush's frequent vacations, working or not, pale by comparison to some taken by presidents throughout the history of the United States.
The Top Three Contenders
For example, look at James Madison. By the end of his term in office, the War of 1812 was over and he was tired of serving the country and eager to get away from it all. So he packed his bags and slipped out of Washington in June of 1816 and didn't return until October, and didn't do a lick of presidential work the whole time he was gone-a four-month vacation that earns him top honors for having taken the longest vacation of any president. Second prize goes to John Adams, a founding father who is believed to have made big sacrifices on behalf of the revolution than most of his contemporaries. In David McCullough's biography of Adams, the author notes that Thomas Jefferson skipped town and went home during a particularly critical moment for the Continental Congress while Adams remained to fight the good fight. His wife Abigail put up with long absences for most of the revolution. But in the summer of 1798, Abigail fell ill and Adams raced home to be with her, right at the height of our undeclared war with France. He stayed at home in Massachusetts with his wife for seven months, while his enemies scoffed and joked that perhaps he had abdicated. It wasn't a vacation, per se, but no other president in history stayed away from the capital as long as Adams. Adams is closely followed by his third-place rival, Thomas Jefferson, who never liked to be away from Monticello if he could help it, president or not. In 1805 he decided that he had enough of being away from home, so he left the capital in mid-July and did not return until October. Jefferson had practiced well for this long vacation, because as vice president, in 1799, he had remained away from the capitol for ten months.
Unhealthy Presidential Absentees
About a year into his presidency, Chester Arthur developed an illness called Bright's disease, a kidney disorder. Because this was only the 19th century, there was no treatment for Bright's disease and it was always fatal. As his health deteriorated and he began to lose weight, Arthur started traveling around the country looking for climates more amenable to his condition, and on a trip to Florida he almost died. During his last year in office he headed west fairly often, always attracting crowds and inquisitive reporters-why was the president spending so much time on the road? He never told anyone about his illness, and when reporters asked if he was ill he pretended nothing was wrong. On one occasion he even took refuge in a New York City hotel because he was too ill to make it back to the capitol. Shortly after ending his term as president, Arthur succumbed to his illness and died, after which Americans began to understand the reasons behind his mysterious vacations.
Grover Cleveland's second term as president had just begun when the economy collapsed, and at that same time Cleveland was told that he had cancer. His doctor informed him that if he wanted to live, he had to have an operation to remove the cancer. But Cleveland was worried that the news of his health might further impact Wall Street, so he chose to keep his illness a secret. Several months later in July, when he took his annually scheduled vacation, he arranged a secret surgery on board a yacht to remove the cancerous tissue, which extended all the way up into his eye socket. After the surgery he traveled to Buzzards Bay in Massachusetts to recover, and the country never even knew the truth about his summer vacation and his brush with death until long after he was dead, when one of his doctors told the tale in a Saturday Evening Post article.
A vacation proved to be bad for Dwight Eisenhower's health also. Shortly after he took office, Eisenhower went on vacation at his favorite golf club in Augusta, Georgia. He'd had a heart attack previously, in 1949, which had been covered up due to his political career, and the country knew nothing of it, but at the golf resort he had another heart attack. His spokesman told the world that he was suffering from a bad case of indigestion, but Ike was scheduled to return to Washington the next day for his first major foreign policy address, in order to ease tensions between America and the Soviet Union following the death of Joseph Stalin. Even though he had not recovered from his heart attack, Eisenhower insisted on delivering his speech as scheduled. In the middle of his speech, beads of sweat began to form on his forehead and he had to grasp the lectern firmly to keep from collapsing. He had to skip whole paragraphs of his speech in order to finish it, but no one seemed to notice, and the speech was a success. In 1955 Ike was on vacation in Colorado when he suffered yet another heart attack, this time serious. The country had to be let in on his health at last, because the president was very ill for several months. After his return to the capitol, Ike often retreated to Camp David, the presidential getaway established by Franklin Roosevelt. Interestingly, when Eisenhower first became president he had considered abolishing Camp David because it reminded him of his predecessor, but Mamie forced him to keep it. In the last few months of his presidency, it became his refuge.
American presidents in the last few decades have been criticized on occasion for the numbers of days spent away from the Oval Office. Bill Clinton was famous for partying with the rich and famous in Martha's Vineyard and the Hamptons, and in 1995 and 1996 he vacationed in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Ronald Reagan loved his ranch in Santa Barbara, California, and according to the AP he spent at least part of 335 days there during his two terms as president. And now President Bush is under fire for taking what some consider as too much time away from his capitol stomping grounds. But honestly, shouldn't the person with the most stressful job in the entire country be entitled to the most relaxing vacation? Given the increasing complexity of the world today, maybe they deserve even more time off than they get.