Arts + Culture

The Presidents as Travelers

by Ted Widmer

It would be an exaggeration to say that a great president is by definition a well-traveled one—Abraham Lincoln never left the United States—yet for most, leaving Washington now and then was both edifying and expedient. Rutherford B. Hayes, the first president to see the Pacific, vanished so often that he was dubbed "Rutherford the Rover." William Howard Taft may have been our heaviest president, but he lumbered around the nation at a rapid clip, logging an average of 30,000 miles a year on trains. But if a president spends too much time away from the office, he runs the risk of being dubbed a "Vacation President," as a certain brush-clearing resident of Crawford, Texas, has found after spending 469 days at his ranch to date. Well before the advent of Air Force One, which can whisk presidents across the nation and back in a single day, nearly all of our presidents could have been called frequent fliers. In the pages that follow, we'll single out a few, and preview some of the travel habits of the two contenders hoping to move into the White House next January.

Published August 2008.

Ted Widmer often traveled with President Clinton as a White House speechwriter from 1997–2000. His latest book is Ark of the Liberties: America and the World.

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