Many Presidents Left Us With Some Famous Last Words


Realistic or sentimental, full of hope or delivered with an eye on the history books, the final words of America's presidents have been dutifully recorded ever since George Washington uttered his on Dec. 14, 1799.

"I die hard, but I am not afraid to go," Washington told his doctor after being stricken with a violent throat infection at his Mount Vernon, Va., estate. He was 67.

John Adams, who lived to be 91, approached his demise with humor.

"I have lived in this old and frail tenement a great many years," he wrote. "It is very much dilapidated, and from all I can learn, my landlord doesn't intend to repair it."

Adams' very last words are much quoted.

"Thomas Jefferson still lives," Adams said before his death on July 4, 1826. That was exactly 50 years after the publication of the Declaration of Independence he had championed and Jefferson had written.

In one of history's great coincidences, Jefferson died the same day asking, "Is it the Fourth?"

James Madison said in 1831 that he had traveled far further in time than he had ever anticipated. "Having outlived so many of my contemporaries, I ought not to forget that I may be thought to have outlived myself," he said. The fourth president lived still longer, dying five years later at 85.

Woodrow Wilson retained his sense of humor even after a stroke. Told that members of Congress were praying for him, Wilson had a pointed question.

"Which way, senator?" he asked.

William McKinley's actual last words in 1901, coming as they did after he was shot at a public reception in Buffalo, N.Y., were quoted--and acted upon--all over the country.

"His will, not ours, be done," McKinley said on his deathbed. "Nearer my God to Thee, nearer to Thee."

Soon bands and choruses were playing and singing the hymn McKinley had quoted, "Nearer my God to Thee.'

Dwight Eisenhower's last thoughts before his death on March 28, 1969, were accepting. "I want to go, God take me," he told his son, John.

Harry Truman did not see much choice.

"Everybody is headed for the same place, and they are headed on the same train, and under the same engineer," Truman said in March 1951. Truman did not catch his final train until Dec. 26, 1972.

Abraham Lincoln could not speak for himself after he was shot on April 14, 1865, so Edwin Stanton, his secretary of War, got the enduring last words.

"Now he belongs to the ages," Stanton said.

Andrew Johnson followed Lincoln to the White House but was impeached and came within a single vote in the Senate of being removed from office. Years later, Johnson was sent to the Senate by his fellow Tennesseans, briefly becoming a member of the body that had weighed his fate.

"When I die, I desire no better winding sheet than the Stars and Stripes, and no softer pillow than the Constitution," he said before his death in 1875.

William Henry Harrison appeared to be offering guidance to Vice President John Tyler before he died on April 4, 1841, just a month after taking office. Tyler was not in the room, but Harrison addressed his successor anyway.

"Sir--I wish you to understand the true principles of government. I wish them carried out. I ask nothing more."

Theodore Roosevelt, who had the last word on many subjects, did not have any of his own. But he came close in a 1918 newspaper editorial. It was written shortly after his son, Quentin, was killed in the skies over France in World War I and some six months before his own death.

"Only those are fit to live who are not afraid to die," Roosevelt wrote.

"And none are fit to die who have shrunk from the joy of life and the duty of life. Both life and death are part of the same Great Adventure."

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