Special Report

The Stories Behind the Deaths of 39 American Presidents

Source: Vaara / Getty Images

George Washington
> When he died: Dec. 14, 1799
> Age: 67
> Cause of death: Acute epiglottitis

A severe infection of the epiglottis, the flap covering the trachea, claimed the life of our first president. His last words were “‘Tis well.”

Source: White House research / Wikimedia Commons

John Adams
> When he died: July 4, 1826
> Age: 90
> Cause of death: Heart failure

When Adams had a fatal heart attack at the age of 90, he was the longest-lived U.S. president (Ronald Reagan later overtook him, dying at 93). Last words: “Thomas Jefferson survives” — though ironically, Jefferson had died a few hours earlier the same day. (The coincidence that both Founding Fathers died on Independence Day has often been noted.)

Source: National Archives / Getty Images

Thomas Jefferson
> When he died: July 4, 1826
> Age: 83
> Cause of death: Toxemia, uremia, and pneumonia

Jefferson was beset with numerous ailments, including rheumatism, a urinary tract infection, and intestinal problems. Blood poisoning and pneumonia hastened his demise. It has been reported that his last words, in refusing a painkiller, were “No, doctor, nothing more.”

Source: Billy Hathorn / Wikimedia Commons

James Monroe
> When he died: July 4, 1831
> Age: 73
> Cause of death: Tuberculosis

Heart problems had weakened Monroe when he contracted tuberculosis, listed as his cause of death. The final words out of his mouth, in reference to his good friend and successor James Madison “I regret that I should leave this world without again beholding him.”

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

James Madison
> When he died: June 28, 1836
> Age: 85
> Cause of death: Heart failure

Known as a hypochondriac and suffering intermittently from depression, Madison succumbed to congestive heart failure. At the time of his demise, he was the last surviving signer of the Constitution. One of his nieces, sitting by his sickbed, asked him if he was feeling all right. “Nothing more than a change of mind, my dear,” he replied, and then died.