Special Report

The Stories Behind the Deaths of 39 American Presidents

Source: Hulton Archive / Getty Images

William Henry Harrison
> When he died: April 4, 1841
> Age: 68
> Cause of death: Typhoid

The first president to die in office — after serving only one month of his term — Harrison contracted typhoid, perhaps from contaminated water at the White House. Just before he slipped away, he said “Sir, I wish you to understand the true principles of the government. I wish them carried out. I ask nothing more.” Though he said this to his doctor, the presumption is that he meant them for his vice president, John Tyler, who would succeed him.

Source: Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Andrew Jackson
> When he died: June 8, 1845
> Age: 78
> Cause of death: Heart failure

Suffering badly from edema (swelling caused by fluid retention in the tissues), known at the time as dropsy, and from a weak heart, Jackson died soon after saying to his grieving family “”What is the matter with my dear children? Have I alarmed you? Oh, do not cry. Be good children and we will all meet in heaven.”

John Quincy Adams
> When he died: Feb. 23, 1848
> Age: 80
> Cause of death: Cerebral hemorrhage

Adams suffered his first stroke in 1846, but recovered. Two years later, during a session of the House of Representatives, he registered a passionate “No!” vote on a measure to honor veterans of the Mexican-American War, and promptly collapsed with a massive cerebral hemorrhage. He died two days later, with the words “This is the last of earth. I am content.” One of those at his bedside was a young House member from Illinois named Abraham Lincoln.

Source: National Archives / Getty Images

James K. Polk
> When he died: June 15, 1849
> Age: 53
> Cause of death: Cholera

After a passenger on a riverboat he’d been on died of cholera, Polk became concerned that the cold symptoms he was suffering might be that disease. His doctor assured him that it wasn’t, but after a brief revival, he fell ill again. He died at his home in Nashville, leaving his wife with the words “I love you, Sarah. For all eternity, I love you.”

Source: National Archives / Getty Images

Zachary Taylor
> When he died: July 9, 1850
> Age: 65
> Cause of death: Gastroenteritis

Taylor became ill after eating raw fruit and large quantities of ice water at a fund-raising event. The exact nature of the ailment that claimed his life isn’t known, though it seems to have been intestinal in nature. Conspiracy theorists in his own era and into the present day have suggested that he might have been poisoned by pro-slavery factions, though this has not been proven. Before dying, he said to his wife “”I have always done my duty, I am ready to die. My only regret is for the friends I leave behind me.”