Presidents Who Said Strange Things Before Death

It's natural to assume that US presidents have a lot of wisdom to share with the world, especially when they're on death's doorstep. But oftentimes, their final words are just strange, confusing, or anti-climactic. In some cases, however, dig a little deeper and those last words can shine a new light on the leader of the free world.

John Adams

Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were the original "Odd Couple." Jefferson was charming, secretive, and quiet. Adams was "pompous," "neurotic," and talkative. They were also diametrically opposed, politically speaking. But despite their differences, they were best friends. Adams and Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence together, and became such good pen pals, Adams claimed their friendship was one of the most agreeable events in his life. And whenever they got together, they spent time touring English gardens or visiting Shakespeare's house.

The two also spent a lot of time in the White House together. Adams was America's first Vice President, and Thomas Jefferson was the original Secretary of state. And when Adams won the presidency, Jefferson was his VP. But their friendship fell apart during the 1800 election. Both guys were running for president, and their camps hurled wild insults back and forth. Even worse, after Jefferson won the election, Adams appointed a bunch of Jefferson's political enemies to important government positions. As a result, the two didn't speak for over ten years.

It wasn't until 1812 that their buddy, Benjamin Rush, convinced them to let bygones be bygones. With their friendship rekindled, the two statesmen spent the rest of their days writing letters to each other. But the correspondence ended in 1826. On the 50th anniversary of the Fourth of July, Adams lay dying in bed, and that's when the 90-year-old president whispered, "Thomas Jefferson survives." Even at the end, Adams was thinking about his best friend, though contrary to popular belief, those weren't his last words. According to historian David McCullough, before Adams died, he turned to his granddaughter, Susanna, and said, "Help me, child! Help me!" Then, at 6:20 AM, the second president of the United States passed away.

Thomas Jefferson

On his deathbed, John Adams took solace in Thomas Jefferson still being alive. Of course, Adams didn't know that his best friend had died a few hours before. In a bizarre twist of fate, these Founding Fathers both passed away on the 50th anniversary of the Fourth of July.

Late on July 3, Jefferson was dying from unknown causes in his Virginia home, Monticello. Curious about the date, Jefferson either said, "This is the Fourth of July," or asked, "Is it the Fourth?" It makes sense that Jefferson wanted to die on America's birthday. For years, he regaled people with stories of the day when all the delegates signed the Declaration of Independence. He even noted the room was full of flies. And in his last letter, Jefferson spoke fondly of the Fourth, writing, "Let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them."

However, Jefferson's memory was a bit off, since America actually announced its independence on July 2. The Fourth was when the Declaration was officially adopted by Congress. And despite what Jefferson claimed, only two men—John Hancock and Charles Thomson—signed the document on July 4. Most of the other Founders put pens to paper on August 2. For some reason though, most Americans misremembered the events of July 4, including the 83-year-old Jefferson. However, his final words actually weren't about America's birthday. After Jefferson asked about the date, his physician offered him a spoonful of medicine. Jefferson responded with, "No, doctor, nothing more," and then summoned his servants into the room for a farewell speech before passing away at 4:00 AM on July 4. Unfortunately, his final monologue wasn't written down.

James Monroe

Adams and Jefferson weren't the only Founding Friends. James Madison and James Monroe were also pretty tight. As young men, Jefferson introduced these future presidents by telling Madison, "The scrupulousness of [Monroe's] honor will make you safe in the most confidential communications. A better man cannot be." Monroe and Madison soon struck up a friendship, and they spent years writing letters back and forth. Even when they ran for the same Congressional seat in 1789, they remained friends. They traveled across Virginia together, giving speeches and even sharing a bed in whatever inns they could find.

Even though Monroe lost to Madison, they remained close throughout the election. Madison would later write, "There was never an atom of ill will between us." But in 1808, both men wanted to become the Democratic-Republican candidate for President. This time around, feelings were hurt, and after Madison scored the nomination, the two didn't speak to each other for years. In 1810, Thomas Jefferson encouraged the guys to patch things up. Friends again, Madison picked Monroe to be his secretary of state. That proved to be a good move on Madison's part. In 1814, Monroe was the guy who actually spotted British troops advancing on Washington DC. Thanks to his heroics, Madison escaped before the city was ransacked.

After serving two terms as president, Madison said goodbye to the White House, leaving the door wide open for Monroe. Over the next few decades, the two presidents remained on good terms, visiting one another and writing letters until Monroe passed away on (believe it or not) July 4, 1831. As he lay dying, Monroe couldn't help but think about his good friend, Madison. Before passing away, Monroe declared, "I regret that I should leave this world without again beholding him."

James Madison

While he doesn't get as much attention as his peers, James Madison was one of America's most important Founding Fathers. Before ascending to the White House, Madison shaped the Constitution, championed the Bill of Rights, and helped form the Democratic-Republican party. And that was all before he became America's first wartime president. But near the end of his life, Madison had to grapple with a really weird decision ... what day would he die on?

In June 1836, Madison knew the end was approaching, but while he was sick in bed, his doctors made a strange proposal. With the exception of George Washington, every single president—Jefferson, Adams, Monroe—had died on the Fourth of July. Hoping to preserve tradition, the doctors offered to use stimulants that would keep Madison alive long enough so he could pass away on the 60th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. But Madison didn't want to spend his days drugged up, so he declined the offer.

Madison finally shuffled off this mortal coil on June 28, 1836, five years after his friend Monroe passed away. On that summer morning, Monroe was having trouble swallowing breakfast. Concerned, his niece asked what was wrong. Sensing he didn't have long for this world, Madison responded, "Nothing more than a change of mind, my dear." As biographer Richard Brookhiser put it, Madison was "intellectual to the end ... he was his mind, and he did not say it was ending but changing." Then, according to Madison's slave and manservant, Paul Jennings, "His head instantly dropped, and he ceased breathing as quietly as the snuff of a candle goes out."

William Henry Harrison

In 1840, a 68-year-old William Henry Harrison became the oldest person ever elected president at the time. That wasn't the only record Harrison set. In 1841, the war hero-turned-politician delivered the longest inaugural speech in presidential history ... and it might've killed him.

March 4, 1841, was a pretty dismal day. It was wet and cold, and Harrison delivered a speech that was two hours long. For some reason, the ninth president had neglected to wear a coat or hat, and shortly after the speech, Harrison found himself in bed with pneumonia. Unsure of what to do, his doctor tried everything from opium to enemas. (Sources disagree on whether or not he tried "bleeding.") Unfortunately, those crazy cures didn't work, and Harrison became the first president to die in office. However, some people have cast doubt on the pneumonia story. According to one theory, Harrison actually died of typhoid fever. Back in 1841, Washington DC didn't have a sewer system. Instead, a lot of human waste was dumped a few blocks away from the White House water supply. It's theorized Harrison drank contaminated water and came down with gastroenteritis which, in turn, led to sepsis.

Whatever killed Harrison, he had the shortest presidency ever, passing away one month after he swore in. On April 4, 1841, dying and delirious, Harrison passed a bit of wisdom on to his vice president, John Tyler. "Sir," he said, "I wish you to understand the true principles of government. I wish them carried out. I ask nothing more."

Unfortunately, Tyler didn't hear Harrison's advice because he was in Virginia.

John Tyler

Throughout history, quite a few presidents knew when the Grim Reaper was on their doorstep. When James Buchanan kicked the bucket, he whispered, "O Lord God Almighty, as Thou wilt." When Dwight D. Eisenhower joined the choir invisible, he said, "I want to go. God take me." But the saddest president who ever accepted his fate has to be John Tyler.

Tyler's presidency was a tough one, as being the first Vice-President to assume the presidency due to a president's death, many people didn't consider him a real president, often referring to him as "His Accidency." Even worse, Tyler angered some high-ranking politicians and was kicked out of his own party (the Whigs). Known as "the president without a party," Tyler lost almost every member of his Cabinet and had a lot of trouble working with Congress. Then, after leaving the White House, Tyler eventually turned on the US and joined the Confederate House of Representatives. However, his new career didn't last long. In 1862, after a tough presidency and with a lot of bloodshed on the horizon, the 71-year-old Tyler suffered a stroke. Before he passed away on January 12, Tyler said, "Doctor, I am going ... Perhaps it is best."

It seems the man was ready to go, but even in death, poor Tyler couldn't catch a break. He became the only president buried under a foreign flag, and as a result, nobody in Washington DC cared about his death. The flags weren't lowered, and Abraham Lincoln didn't give a speech. After all, most Americans viewed the tenth president as a traitor.

Abraham Lincoln

There's no denying Abraham Lincoln had a difficult presidency. He was running the country during a bloody civil war, all while coping with the loss of two children. Naturally, all that pressure took a toll on his marriage to Mary Todd Lincoln, a woman who often suffered from intense bouts of depression. But things were looking up on April 14, 1865. The Civil War was over, and to celebrate, the Lincolns decided to check out a new comedy, Our American Cousin, at Ford's Theatre. Everybody knows what happened next, but what did Lincoln say before John Wilkes Booth shot him? Well, there's a bit of debate. According to some sources, Lincoln leaned over to Mary Todd and—following up on earlier conversation—whispered, "There is no city in the world that I should like to see as much as Jerusalem." But others say that Lincoln took hold of Mary Todd's hand, prompting his wife to tease, "What will Miss Harris [one of their guests] think of my hanging on to you so?" Lincoln answered, "She won't think anything about it."

We also have a good idea of what the last words Lincoln ever heard were. Before Booth fired, an actor on stage delivered the old-timey insult, "You sockdologizing old mantrap!" The line sent the audience into hysterics, and their laughter muffled the sound of Booth's gun.

Tragically, Lincoln passed away at 7:22 AM on April 15. As for John Wilkes Booth, he was cornered in a barn a few days later and shot. As he lay dying in the snow, Booth looked down at his hands and muttered his own final words: "Useless. Useless."

James Garfield and William McKinley

On July 2, 1881, James Garfield was shot by a deranged individual named Charles Guiteau. Evidently, Garfield possessed incredible willpower, and the president survived until September 19 before succumbing to blood poisoning. In great pain, Garfield asked his doctor, "Oh, Swaim, can't you stop this?"

Unfortunately, Swaim couldn't.

The next presidential assassination occurred just a few years later, on September 6, 1901. The 25th president was shaking hands in New York when he was shot by an anarchist named Leon Czolgosz. McKinley managed to last a few days before fading away on September 14 due to gangrene. However, sources disagree on what McKinley said before he became America's third murdered president. Some believe he whispered, "Goodbye, all, goodbye. It is God's way. His will be done." But according to another story, First Lady Ida McKinley couldn't stand the sight of her husband suffering. Distraught, she said, "I want to go too. I want to go too." With his last breath, McKinley told his wife, "We are all going. We are all going. We are all going."

And just like that, he was gone.

Woodrow Wilson

Woodrow Wilson wasn't exactly America's healthiest president. In 1918, Wilson had trouble breathing, so he had to have surgery on his nose. In 1919, he came down with a devastating case of influenza. On top of that, the man was working nonstop to end World War I. When the war finally ended, Wilson began working on the League of Nations, a proto-United Nations that would allow different countries to discuss their problems and prevent future conflicts.

While most of the world liked his plan, America wasn't on board. Determined to prove his case, Wilson traveled across the country in 1919, giving speeches and championing his idea. Unfortunately, the tour destroyed Wilson's health. At one point, his wife Edith found him on the floor, muscles twitching like crazy. His personal physician, Cary Grayson, noticed that Wilson's face was drooping to one side. Eventually, the tour was cancelled, but after returning to DC, Wilson suffered a major stroke, leaving him blind in his right eye and paralyzed on his left side. The stroke was followed by a near-fatal urinary tract infection, and another bout of influenza. (Adding insult to injury, Congress rejected his plan for the League of Nations.) However, Wilson kept his troubles secret from almost everyone. As he struggled with his health, his wife Edith basically became the de facto president, helping Wilson run the country and controlling who could see him and when. She even helped mask his sickness from both the public and key politicians.

Unfortunately, Wilson never recovered, and his condition only grew worse. On February 2, 1924, Wilson acknowledged his situation by saying, "I am a broken piece of machinery. When the machinery is broken—I am ready." The next day, the machinery shut down forever.

John F. Kennedy

Of all the presidents who were assassinated, John F. Kennedy's last words were the most ironic. In 1963, the 35th president was touring the Lone Star State, hoping to charm southern voters. On Day Two of his tour, the plan was to start in Fort Worth and end in Austin, but before they arrived at the Texas capital, they would have to stop in Dallas, which had a reputation as an anti-Kennedy town. When the president showed up, the Dallas Morning News ran a full-page ad criticizing Kennedy. There were also flyers on the street claiming Kennedy was wanted for "Betraying the Constitution." Even Kennedy described Dallas as "nut country," but when he arrived at the Big D, he was shocked at the reception.

Sure, there were a few people carrying anti-Kennedy signs, but most of Dallas was excited to see the president. After Jackie Kennedy was given a bouquet of roses, the first couple climbed into car with Texas Governor John Connally and his wife Nellie. As they drove through Dallas, children and nuns stopped the vehicle to shake Kennedy's hand, and the streets were packed with cheering and waving Texans. As Kennedy's motorcade drove through Dealey Plaza, Nellie Connally leaned over to Kennedy and said, "Mr. President, you can't say Dallas doesn't love you." A pleased Kennedy responded, "That is very obvious." (Depending on who you ask, Kennedy might've said, "No, you certainly can't.)

And that's when Dallas-resident Lee Harvey Oswald opened fire.