A brief history of controversial presidential vacations

Barack Obama's not the first one to be criticized for taking some time off from running the country

Topics: American History, War Room, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, John F. Kennedy,

A brief history of controversial presidential vacationsGeorge W. Bush on vacation at his ranch in 2002.

Barack Obama is catching a lot of flak for planning a summer vacation. The president will spend 11 days in Martha’s Vineyard, and critics say that’s a bad idea when markets are skittish and millions of Americans are out of work or struggling to get by. Of course, Republicans criticizing Obama are just mirroring what Democrats said about President George W. Bush, who, at this point in his presidency, had taken 180 “days off” to Obama’s 61.

Partisan wrangling over presidential vacation time is as old as the Republic itself. The Salon.com War Room Historical Fun Fact Team did some research, and found out what sort of grief past presidents got when they wanted to recharge their batteries:

  • 1793 George Washington invents the tradition of the “presidential vacation” when a yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia leads him to spend November in Germantown. Despite Washington’s immense personal popularity, Aaron Burr is rumored to have made a joke involving the color yellow and Washington’s false teeth.
  • 1830: Andrew Jackson invites all free men to accompany him on “The People’s Vacation.” Tens of thousands of rowdy citizens converge on Niagara Falls, bringing with them copious quantities of highly alcoholic rum punch. Fistfights and brawls soon break out, culminating in the burning and looting of the city of Niagara Falls on the Canadian side. The incident nearly leads to a war with Britain. “Jackson’s so-called Vacation has made a National Lampoon of the presidency,” says one partisan newspaper.
  • 1865 After four grueling years of bloody war and tremendous personal tragedy, President Lincoln decides to take one lousy night off and go to the theater to see a show.
  • 1905-1909: Teddy Roosevelt spends entire second term on safari in “the dark continent.” Responds to criticisms from Democrats by claiming he’s expanding America’s vital Strategic Ivory Reserve. Embarrassingly, vacation leads Roosevelt to forget to run for reelection in 1908.
  • 1923 Upon learning that President Calvin Coolidge had been out of Washington on vacation in Marion, Ohio, for a week, Dorothy Parker’s less clever sister is reported to have remarked, “How could they tell?”
  • 1936 President Franklin D. Roosevelt takes a much-needed therapeutic trip to Warm Springs, Ga., where he had founded the Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute for Rehabilitation. Father Coughlin calls him a tool of the international Jewish Banker Communist conspiracy, though it is unclear whether or not this was related to the vacation.
  • 1961 The Kennedys popularize taking vacations without hats when they’re seen not wearing hats in Hyannis Port. Southern “Dixiecrats” in Congress take to the floor to denounce not wearing hats as a violation of States’ Rights, specifically Georgia’s law calling for Negroes seen in public hatless to be fined or imprisoned.
  • 2001 George W. Bush takes August off. A group of particularly critical political opponents responds by murdering thousands of Americans.
Alex Pareene

Alex Pareene writes about politics for Salon and is the author of "The Rude Guide to Mitt." Email him at apareene@salon.com and follow him on Twitter @pareene

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Burger King Japan

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Burger King's black cheeseburger: Made with squid ink and bamboo charcoal, arguably a symbol of meat's destructive effect on the planet. Only available in Japan.

    Elite Daily/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    McDonald's Black Burger: Because the laws of competition say that once Burger King introduces a black cheeseburger, it's only a matter of time before McDonald's follows suit. You still don't have to eat it.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    Domino's Specialty Chicken: It's like regular pizza, except instead of a crust, there's fried chicken. The company's marketing officer calls it "one of the most creative, innovative menu items we have ever had” -- brain power put to good use.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    Arby's Meat Mountain: The viral off-menu product containing eight different types of meat that, on second read, was probably engineered by Arby's all along. Horrific, regardless.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    KFC'S ZINGER DOUBLE DOWN KING: A sandwich made by adding a burger patty to the infamous chicken-instead-of-buns creation can only be described using all caps. NO BUN ALL MEAT. Only available in South Korea.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Waffle Taco: It took two years for Taco Bell to develop this waffle folded in the shape of a taco, the stand-out star of its new breakfast menu.

    Michele Parente/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Krispy Kreme Triple Cheeseburger: Only attendees at the San Diego County Fair were given the opportunity to taste the official version of this donut-hamburger-heart attack combo. The rest of America has reasonable odds of not dropping dead tomorrow.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Quesarito: A burrito wrapped in a quesadilla inside an enigma. Quarantined to one store in Oklahoma City.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    Boston Pizza's Pizza Cake: The people's choice winner of a Canadian pizza chain's contest whose real aim, we'd imagine, is to prove that there's no such thing as "too far." Currently in development.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    7-Eleven's Doritos Loaded: "For something decadent and artificial by design," wrote one impassioned reviewer, "it only tasted of the latter."

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>