Incoming President Donald J. Trump created an Internet furor recently when he announced through Twitter he expects to take a vacation during his first weekend as President, after participating in a busy series of Inaugural events and celebratory parties. Some people responded with sarcastic tweets.
A few comments referenced the frequent extended vacations from the Oval Office of former Presidents. The notion that a new Commander-in-Chief might desire a vacation before really beginning to grapple with the challenges of the U.S. Presidency certainly attracts attention! Perhaps so many young Americans must work such long hours today without a break in order to earn a living in the new global economy voters have begun resenting executive vacations?
Of course, the electorate has complained vociferously about Presidential absences from the job for a long time. The tradition extends back to the days of the Founding Fathers. Reportedly the second President of the United States, President John Adams, the lawyer responsible for helping to formulate many of the most significant ideas embodied within the U.S. Constitution, decided to take several months away from work to care for his ailing spouse. (His decision elicited a firestorm of criticism from contemporaries according to the historians at CNN.)
Equating a President’s attention to a gravely ill family member with vacation time spent on leisure pursuits (or a weekend recovering from big Inaugural bashes) does not really offer a fair comparison, perhaps. Yet running the Executive Branch of the United States government during the era of President Adams probably required a much smaller time commitment: a considerably leaner federal government existed in those days.
A Nice Fully-Paid Presidential Retreat in Maryland
Presidents have always taken family vacations. Taxpayers even supplied the Executive Branch with resort accommodations at Camp David in order to facilitate Presidential rest and rejuvenation during “working” retreats.
Although officially a military facility, the site in the scenic Catoctin Mountains of Maryland a short drive outside Washington D.C. first provided a vacation getaway for President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1942, during the Second World War. He appreciated the pristine spot outside the nation’s capital, naming the (then) rustic complex “Shangri-La”. Over the years, Presidents enhanced the comforts at the lodge. President Eisenhower officially re-named the site “Camp David”. A series of Commanders-in-Chief have used the federal installation as a place to relax and conduct governmental business in a peaceful environment.
Yet during the past half-century, far more publicity has tended to surround Presidential leisure activities. Despite the proximity of Camp David to Washington D.C., some residents of the Oval Office, such as President Lyndon Johnson, President Richard Nixon and President Ronald Reagan, chose to spend extended periods of time on vacation at their homes. (President Reagan also used Camp David a lot, however.) Since the Secret Service must modify a Presidential residence anyway in order to provide lifetime protection to an office holder and family members, this strategy in former years probably did not cost taxpayers significant extra expenses. Yet as costs associated with Air Force One increased, and security concerns expanded, the price tag for Presidential travel has risen. Today, a Commander-in-Chief travels with many federal employees in tow.
More recently, Presidents have sometimes journeyed on expensive trips. President Obama and his predecessor, President George W. Bush, both received press criticism for expending millions of dollars on holiday travel. A Presidential vacation imposes a necessary security cost, so recreational time spent away from Camp David can produce a multi-million dollar bill for taxpayers.