Hey, it’s a mystery to us, too.

And before you assume Garfield was just suffering from a bad attitude problem or start asking yourself, “How bad could it really be?” you should consider this: Garfield couldn’t have been in office for very long before he came to this conclusion about what a horrible job the presidency was, because less than four months after he was inaugurated someone shot him in the back.


First president of the United States (sort of, see page 337) George Washington

“My movements to the chair of government will be accompanied by feelings not unlike those of a culprit who is going to the place of his execution.”

Second president of the United States, John Adams

“No man who ever held the office of president would congratulate a friend on obtaining it. He will make one man ungrateful, and a hundred men his enemies, for every office he can bestow.”

“If I were to go over my life again, I would be a shoemaker rather than an American statesman.”

Thomas Jefferson

• “Politics is such a torment that I would advise everyone I love not to mix with it.”

Or was it George’s smile they were admiring?

* * *

After his inauguration, John Adams commented to his wife that it really irked him that instead of looking at him, everyone in the crowd had their admiring eyes locked on Washington. He seemed to “enjoy a triumph over me,” Adams told his wife. “Me thought I heard him say, ‘Ay, I am fairly out and you fairly in! See which of us will be happiest.’”

• “To myself personally, it brings nothing but unceasing drudgery and daily loss of friends.”

• “I have the consolation … of having added nothing to my private fortune during my public service, and of retiring with hands as clean as they are empty.”

(Jefferson died nearly penniless at the age of eighty-three.)

John Quincy Adams

“The four most miserable years of my life were my four years in the presidency.”

Andrew Jackson

“I can say with truth that mine is a situation of dignified slavery.”

Martin Van Buren

“As to the presidency, the two happiest days of my life were those of my entrance upon the office and my surrender of it.”

James Polk

“The office of president is generally esteemed a very high and dignified position. I think the public would not so regard it if they could … observe the kind of people by whom I am often annoyed.”

James Buchanan (to newly elected President Abraham Lincoln)

“If you are as happy, my dear sir, on entering the White House as I in leaving it and returning home, you are the happiest man in the country.”

Abraham Lincoln

• “From my boyhood up, it was my ambition to be president. Now I am president of one part of this divided country, at least; but look at me! I wish I had never been born!”

• “I am like the man who was tarred and feathered and ridden out of town on a rail. When they asked him how he felt about it, he said that if it were not for the honor of the thing, he would rather have walked.”

Rutherford B. Hayes

• “My day is frittered away by the personal seeking of people, when I ought to be given to the great problems which concern the whole country. Four years of this kind of intellectual dissipation may cripple me for the remainder of my life.”

• “Being an errand boy to one hundred and fifty thousand people tires me so by night I am ready for bed instead of soirees.”

Grover Cleveland

“The office of president has not, to me personally, a single allurement.”

(Still, after he lost a bid for reelection in 1888, he ran again in 1892 and won, making him the only president to serve nonconsecutive terms.)

Theodore Roosevelt (in a note to his friend and successor, William Howard Taft)

“Ha ha! You are making up your Cabinet. I in a lighthearted way have spent the morning testing the rifles for my African trip.”

William Howard Taft

• “I have come to the conclusion that the major part of the work of a president is to increase the gate receipts of expositions and fairs and bring the tourists into the town.”

• “I am glad to be going. This is the lonesomest place in the world.” (as he left the White House the final time)

Warren G. Harding

• “My God, this is a hell of a place for a man like me to be!”

• “The White House is a prison. I can’t get away from the men who dog my footsteps. I am in jail.”

Herbert Hoover

• “This job is nothing but a twenty-ring circus—with a whole lot of bad actors.”

• “All the money in the world could not induce me to live over the last nine months. The conditions we have experienced make this office a compound hell.”

Dwight Eisenhower

Unlike most of his fellow presidents, Ike didn’t really want the job and was complaining about it even before it was his:

• “I furiously object to the word ‘candidate’—I ain’t and won’t.”

• “I don’t know why people are always nagging me to run for president. I think I’ve gotten too old.”

• “Those fools on the National Committee! Are they trying to perform the feat of electing a dead man?”

• “I cannot conceive of any circumstance that could drag out of me permission to consider me for any political post from dogcatcher to Grand High Supreme King of the Universe.”

• “In the strongest language you can command you can state that I have no political ambitions at all. Make it even stronger than that if you can.”

• Once he had the job, Ike’s chief complaint was that he could never get in a game of golf without being interrupted with phone calls from the State Department.

And One That Got Away …

“I will not accept if nominated and will not serve if elected … If forced to choose between the penitentiary and the White House for four years … I would say the penitentiary, thank you.”


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