Famous Last Words of US Presidents

Their Dying Words and the Events Leading to Them

Mount Rushmore
Photo © Chris Raymond

Whether uttered unintentionally or with the full expectation of death, a person's last words are those that people will often remember and quote as if they somehow represent the core of who that person was. This is especially true of historical figures for which final words both humanize them and add to their mythology.

Sometimes profound, sometimes mundane, here is a collection of famous last words spoken by some of our U.S. presidents:

George Washington (1732-1799)

The first President of the United States was quoted as saying:

"Tis well."

After serving two terms as the nation's first president, Washington retired to his Virginia plantation in 1797. In mid-December of 1799, after enduring harsh winters on horseback while inspecting his property, Washington developed a severe sore throat and breathing difficulties.

In an effort to cure him, Washington's doctors are believed to have drained too much blood in the then-common practice of bloodletting, contributing to his death at age 67. Acute epiglottitis (the inflammation of the flap at the back of the throat) is also frequently cited as the cause of death.

John Adams (1735-1826)

The second President of the United States was quoted as saying:

"Thomas Jefferson survives."

Interestingly—and almost poetically—both Adams and Thomas Jefferson died July 4, 1826, the date of the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

Adams is said to have uttered the words about his longtime rival, unaware that Jefferson had expired just a few hours earlier.

Congestive heart failure is believed to have been the cause of Adams' death.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)

The third President of the United States was quoted as saying:

"No, doctor, nothing more."

Jefferson's last words are often cited as "Is it the Fourth?s" in reference to the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. While Jefferson did, in fact, utter those words on his deathbed, they were not his last.

Jefferson was reported to have died of complications of kidney failure accompanied by pneumonia.

John Quincy Adams (1767-1848)

The sixth President of the United States was quoted as saying:

"This is the last of Earth. I am content."

The second eldest child of John Adams died of a stroke in Washington, D.C. Earlier that day, Adam, a staunch opponent of the Mexican-American War, apparently rose up to protest a bill in front of the U.S. House of Representatives meant to honor war veterans and immediately collapsed to the floor of the chambers.

James Polk (1795-1849)

The 11th President of the United States was quoted as saying:

"I love you, Sarah. For all eternity, I love you."

Polk is reported to have said this to his wife who was at his side when he died of cholera at the age of 53.

Zachary Taylor (1784-1850)

The 12th President of the United States was quoted as saying:

"I regret nothing, but I am sorry that I am about to leave my friends."

Taylor died of complications from gastroenteritis (stomach flu) at the age of 65.

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)

The 16th President of the United States was quoted as saying:

"She won't think anything about it."

Lincoln spoke these words in reply to his wife's question regarding what another woman, seated next to them at Ford's Theatre, would have thought if she spotted them holding hands.

Andrew Johnson (1808-1875)

The 17th President of the United States was quoted as saying:

"I need no doctor. I can overcome my own troubles."

Johnson died of a stroke soon after at the age of 66.

Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885)

The 18th President of the United States was quoted as saying:

Water.

Grant was suffering from throat cancer at the time of his death at age 63.

Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919)

The 26th President of the United States was quoted as saying:

"Please put out the light."

Roosevelt is believed to have died of a coronary occlusion (blockage) by a blood clot, resulting in a massive heart attack. Others reported that his death was caused by blood clot in the lungs which triggered a fatal spike in blood pressure.

Warren G. Harding (1865-1923)

The 29th President of the United States was quoted as saying:

"That's good. Go on, read some more."

Harding was reported to have said this to his wife, Florence, as she read a complimentary news piece about him during an official trip to the West Coast. Harding is believed to have died of congestive heart failure.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945)

The 32nd President of the United States was quoted as saying:

I have a terrific pain in the back of my head.

Roosevelt was reported to have died of a stroke or intracerebral hemorrhage shortly after. Much in the same way that Roosevelt's polio had been hidden from the public, his failing health during his fourth term had also been glazed over, leaving the nation shocked.

Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969)

The 34th President of the United States was quoted as saying:

"I want to go. I'm ready to go. God, take me."

Eisenhower had been suffering from heart failure and is believed to have died of a coronary thrombosis (blood clot obstruction) which triggered a heart attack.

John F. Kennedy (1917-1963)

The 35th President of the United States was quoted as saying:

"No, you certainly can't."

Jacqueline Kennedy reported that this her husband's reply to a statement made by Nellie Connally, the wife of Texas Governor John Connally, who asserted just moments before the assassin's bullet hit: "You certainly can't say that the people of Dallas haven't given you a nice welcome."

Richard M. Nixon (1913-1994)

The 37th President of the United States was quoted as saying:

"Help."

Nixon was reported to have called out to his housekeeper as he suffered a stroke at his home in Park Ridge, New Jersey. Damage to the brain caused a cerebral edema (swelling) from which Nixon slipped into a coma and died the next day.