"Is This One?"

Frequently Asked Dead Presidents Questions

How Did Each Dead President Die??

An inquiry seeking the cause of death for one or more of the presidents is certainly the second most frequently asked question I receive. Here are the officially recognized causes of death for each man. Some have been modified as medicine advanced, such that they now differ from the cause initially listed on the death certificate. The deaths of John Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe can probably be better attributed nowadays than to "old age" (no one dies of that anymore; there's always some root event or cause).

George Washington
pneumonia, aggravated by weakening of immune system (caught cold while riding on his estate, developed pneumonia, Doctors were called in and they bled him profusely with leeches [because that's what they did] to the point where he could not fight the disease. Probably would have survived with different treatment. Today, doctors believe Washington died of an acute streptococchal infection of the larynx, which caused a painful swelling of the interior of the larynx resulting in suffocation. A tracheostomy probably would have saved his life, and indeed one was suggested by the youngest doctor in attendance, Elisha Dick, but the technique was new and considered unsafe by the elder physicians.)

John Adams
debility (old age; most likely heart failure caused by arteriosclerosis)

Thomas Jefferson
debility (most likely dehydration resulting from amoebic dysentery)

James Madison

James Monroe
debility (most likely tuberculosis, caught after the onset of a cold)

John Quincy Adams
paralysis (stroke), at his desk in the House of Representatives. Adams had risen and loudly exclaimed his "No!" vote to a resolution to present swords to veterans of the Mexican War (which Adams had strongly opposed) when he became flushed and unable to speak. He then clutched his chair and fell into the arms of his fellow House members.

Andrew Jackson
comsumption, dropsy, tubercular hemorrhaging

Martin Van Buren
asthmatic suffocation

William Harrison
pleurisy, pneumonia (gave his inaugural address in snow and freezing rain without adequate clothing; caught a severe cold that developed quickly into fatal pneumonia, because he failed to heed the chills and fever that developed immediately after the speech, instead appearing, dancing, and drinking at all of the inaugural balls)

John Tyler
bilious fever, respiratory failure

James Polk
cholera morbus resulting in debilitating diarrhea (nutritive expulsion and dehydration; buildup of excretive acids in bowels and intestines)

Zachary Taylor
heat stroke, bringing on bilious fever, typhoid fever, and cholera morbus. (Taylor dressed himself in a black high-collar suit for the July 4, 1850 dedication of the Washington Monument, got overheated, then shocked his system by consuming copious quantities of iced milk and cold cherries, and his internal organs began to shut down -- basically, he waterlogged himself to death. William Henry Harrison "got too cold and died," and Zachary Taylor "got too hot and died.")

Millard Fillmore
paralysis (cerebral hemorrhage, stroke)

Franklin Pierce
stomach inflammation, caused by years of alchohol's effects on the walls and linings of his internal organs

James Buchanan
respiratory failure, rheumatic gout

Abraham Lincoln
assassinated (actually, probably killed by doctors probing for bullet, but he would have been a "vegetable" at best had he lived)

Andrew Johnson
paralysis (stroke)

Ulysses Grant
carcinoma (cancer) of the tongue and tonsils

Rutherford Hayes
heart disease

James Garfield
assassinated (Actually, Garfield was definitely killed by his doctors probing for bullet; he would have completely recovered otherwise -- the doctors who thought the bullet went where in fact it did were overruled by their elders who thought otherwise, and who stuck unclean metal probes into the President's wounds in vain attempts to locate the bullet, introducing infection and making brand new holes and paths that just confused them all the more. The metal detector they tried would have worked to find the bullet, but they didn't think to move him off the metal bedsprings, so instead they kept poking, believing that Alexander Graham Bell's invention was useless.)

Chester Arthur
Bright's disease, apoplexy (cerebral hemorrhage, stroke)

Grover Cleveland
debility, coronary sclerosis, stroke, or intestinal obstruction (doctors differed as to the cause)

Benjamin Harrison

William McKinley
assassinated. McKinley may have been saved if doctors knew where the bullet was lodged. Since he was shot at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, NY there was an interesting new invention on display only a few yards from where McKinley lay -- the X-Ray machine! If they had carried him those few yards to this exhibit, doctors could have determined the exact location of the bullet, and would have probably been able to save his life. But as fate would have it, they did not consider the possibility and he died some days later from his wounds.

Theodore Roosevelt
coronary embolism (assumed), inflammatory rheumatism

William Taft
heart attack

Woodrow Wilson
apoplexy, paralysis (stroke) -- had survived a number of minor and at least two major strokes.

Warren Harding
apoplexy (rupture of brain artery, stroke), pneumonia, and enlargement of the heart, all brought on by high blood pressure (his "friends" basically killed him with the scandals that racked his presidency)

Calvin Coolidge
heart failure (coronary thrombosis)

Herbert Hoover
massive internal hemorrhaging, bleeding from upper gastrointestinal tract; strained vascular system

Franklin Roosevelt
cerebral hemorrhage (stroke)

Harry Truman
minor lung congestion; complexity of organic failures; collapse of cardiovascular systems

Dwight Eisenhower
heart disease (coronary thrombosis) (One month before his death, Ike underwent necessary surgery to unblock his intestines. Doctors feared that the surgery would weaken his heart, but without it, he would die of self-poisoning. The month he lived after the surgery was possible only through the use of extraordinary life support measures, for which his doctors were later fiercely criticized.)

John Kennedy

Lyndon Johnson
heart failure

Richard Nixon
paralysis (stroke), swelling of the brain

Gerald Ford
cerebrovascular disease and diffuse arteriosclerosis

Ronald Reagan