For most of the United States’ history the transfer of power on inauguration day marked the end of public life for the departing president. In the latter part of the 20th Century this began to change. Laws were introduced to provide a pension to former presidents and secure their presidential papers. By the 1970's, in a dramatic shift, former presidents began to cash in on the prestige of the presidency. The trend runs counter to hundreds of years of wise counsel and is viewed by many with increasing concern.
Until the late 1900's presidents largely returned to their former private life after leaving office. There were a very few exceptions along the way; John Quincy Adams became a member of the House of Representatives; Andrew Johnson became a Senator; William H. Taft became a member of the U.S. Supreme Court. But most, like President George Washington, returned to their farms and businesses, careful to remain out of the public eye and disengaged from national level discourse.
President Harry S. Truman left office in January, 1953 penniless. He went to the train station in Washington D.C. and returned home to Missouri. There was no presidential pension, no secret service detail, and no presidential library. His term ended, his perceived duty was to return to private life and allow those who followed in the office the opportunity to govern. His honor and integrity disallowed any action “that would commercialize on the prestige and dignity of the office of the presidency.”