It is well known that no *sitting* president left the US until Theodore
Roosevelt (who visited Panama) and that afterwards all of them did except
for Hoover, who of course had had extensive foreign travels earlier in his
life and visited Latin America as president-elect. (Some of the
presidential trips were very brief, like Coolidge's to Havana and
Harding's stopover in Vancouver on returning from his ill-fated Alaskan
trip of 1923. Also, as president-elect, Harding had taken a cruise to
Panama, and briefly stopped off in Jamaica on his way home.)
But were there any presidents who never at any time in their lives
(including both before and after their presidential terms) left the US (or
the British colonies that became the US)? I am not counting the CSA as
"foreign" since neither the US nor any other nation recognized it as
I can only think of five such presidents:
--James K. Polk
--William McKinley (maybe--see below)
Madison is perhaps the most surprising--after all, he was Secretary of
State, was always strongly interested in foreign policy, and was thought
to be a "Francophile." "Madison never left America , whether because of
the unreliability of his health , as he said , or because he was in and of
Virginia and America so completely that the need for European experience
did not exist in him." Adrienne Koch, *Jefferson and Madison: The Great
Collaboration*, p. 292.
Andrew Jackson is not on the list because of his incursion into what was
then Spanish Florida.
Some other people who are not on the list--some of whom I had expected to
include before doing some research:
(1) Abraham Lincoln just barely didn't make the list; he spent a few hours
on the Canadian side when he visited Niagara Falls.
(2) Rutherford B.. Hayes: "as a young man, "He loved to travel, went to
Niagara Falls, Canada..."
See his *Diaries and Letters*: "On the 19th with Laura to Niagara Falls
and back. Friday, 20th, by railroad to Toronto."
(3) James Garfield: In 1853, "I stood upon the Canadian shore...I then
proceeded a few miles into Her Majesty's domains [to Lundy Lane] "
(4) Chester A. Arthur: "Often during the 1870s , Arthur fled politics and
his family to join a number of friends , including R . G . Dun, Albany
newspaper editor George Dawson , and Judge William Fullerton of New York ,
for fishing expeditions into Canada or along the coast of Maine.." Thomas
C. Reeves, *Gentleman Boss*, p. 86.
(5) Grover Cleveland: As ex- and future president Cleveland vacationed in
Cuba in 1889. https://books.google.com/books?id=V_uwDwAAQBAJ&pg=PA203
(I don't know if in his pre-presidential days as a Buffalo resident he had
been to the Canadian side of Niagara--it seems plausible but I have seen
no evidence one way or the other.)
So that leaves Madison, Tyler, Polk, Andrew Johnson, and McKinley. Of
those five, the one I feel the most doubts about is McKinley. This
Canadian fishing club http://quinnebogfishingclub.com/about-us/
that McKinley visited it but it claims to have been founded in 1897, and
most sources state that McKinley did not leave the US as president. (He
visited Niagara Falls shortly before his death but stayed on the American
Anyone have any additional information? (BTW, I don't think it's a
coincidence that the four presidents I am fairly sure never left the US
were all southerners.)
What makes this a what-if? Well, try to imagine plausible scenarios where
all the presidents left the country at some time in their lives. It is
easier with northerners than with southerners. Fishing trips to Canada,
seeing the Canadian side of Niagara, etc. were commonplace among middle-
and upper-class nineteenth-century Northerners, especially
Northeasterners. They were less so among Southerners.
(SOmeone pointed out that if Madison had been captured at Washington "he
might spend a few months abroad as a a guest of His Majesty. It would also
make him the first to leave the US during his presidency.")