- The Washington Times - Monday, August 13, 2001

Although President Bush is being criticized for his monthlong August vacation, as well as other shorter periods of relaxation, history suggests that Congress, rather than the White House, holds the record for time off.
The first Congress operating under the authority of the Constitution set the vacation standard. It met from March to late September 1789, took a break until January 1790, worked from January until Aug. 12, then took another break until Dec. 6, 1790.
Nineteenth-century Congresses were no more disposed to stay in session for very long. Most sessions ran from late autumn to spring, with a generous break until the latter portion of the year. Sometimes Congress in its first session continued working to July 4 (a day for much oratory and then adjournment), but the usual rule was a May closure.
Not even the war with Mexico during President James K. Polk's administration (1845-1849) moved the 29th Congress to alter the usual vacation pace.
After the Civil War, in 1867, the two houses begin assembling in early March. However, this change still provided the two houses with ample time off, as illustrated by the 42nd Congress, which ran from March 4 to April 20, 1871, then from Dec. 4, 1871, to June 10, 1872, and finally from Dec. 2, 1872, to March 3, 1873. And several Congresses in the late 19th century forgot about the March starting point altogether and resorted to the late autumn benchmark.
Although hardworking, President John Adams liked neither Philadelphia (the capital before the District of Columbia) nor Washington, and spent 385 working days of his four-year term in his beloved Quincy, Mass., home, even though communication with the capital city was very slow. Adams' successor, Thomas Jefferson, was away from Washington about 25 percent of his eight-year presidency.
Throughout the 19th century, it was standard operating procedure for presidents to vacate Washington for some weeks during the heat of the summer. Polk defied this tradition, spending only about 1 1/2 months away from the District in four years. "The hardest-working man in the country," as Polk described himself, died at 53, just a few months after leaving office.
President Reagan spent about 12 percent of his presidency at his California ranch.
President Eisenhower, who was in worse health during his presidential years, took off about 1 1/2 years in the first five.
Franklin D. Roosevelt, who suffered from the effects of polio, made numerous trips to Warm Springs, Ga., and also enjoyed fishing on the high seas.
And how many times did Harry S. Truman go to Key West or to Independence, Mo., (where wife Bess preferred to live) during his presidency? Journalists didn't keep track because of the press of economic and foreign issues at the time. Mr. Truman also kept newspaper writers on the defensive.
He believed that posterity really wouldn't pay much attention to how much time presidents took off during their White House years.
He believed that history would remember him, first and foremost, as a statesman. And a statesman, according to Mr. Truman's definition, was "a politician who's been dead 10 or 15 years."

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