"Is This One?"

Frequently Asked Dead Presidents Questions

Which Presidents Have Lain In State??

After the death of President Reagan, the most frequently asked question I received concerned the presidents who have lain in state.

President Reagan's body was the 28th to lay in state or honor in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol (and Gerald Ford's was the 29th). Of these 29, eleven were Presidents:

  • Abraham Lincoln
  • April 19, 20, and 21, 1865
  • James Abram Garfield
  • September 21, 22, and 23, 1881
  • William McKinley, Jr.
  • September 17, 1901
  • Warren Gamaliel Harding
  • August 8, 1923
  • William Howard Taft
  • March 11, 1930
  • John Fitzgerald Kennedy
  • November 24 and 25, 1963
  • Herbert Clark Hoover
  • October 23, 24, and 25, 1964
  • Dwight David Eisenhower
  • March 30 and 31, 1969
  • Lyndon Baines Johnson
  • January 24 and 25, 1973
  • Ronald Wilson Reagan
  • June 9, 10, and 11, 2004
  • Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr.
  • December 30 and 31, 2006, and January 1 and 2, 2007

    Before laying in state in the Capitol rotunda, the bodies of two presidents have also lain in the White House, both in the East Room. President Lincoln's body lay in state there on April 18, 1865, and President Kennedy's body lay in repose (but not in state) there on November 23, 1865. (To lay in state allows for the public payment of respects; access to a body lain in repose is limited to the family and their invited guests.)

    The casket of each President who has lain in state has been placed on the same catafalque, which was originally constructed for Abraham Lincoln. This catafalque has also been used in the Great Hall of the U.S. Supreme Court for the laying in state there of the bodies of Chief Justice Earl Warren, Justice Thurgood Marshall, and Chief Justice William Rehnquist. Other Justices, such as William Brennan, have also lay in state in the Great Hall.

    One of the other questions I received quite often after President Reagan's death was "Why was President Nixon not given a state funeral?" Law enacted in 1923 after the death of President Harding provides that every president is entitled to a state funeral and to have his body lie in state. However, the law also provides that the decision as to whether this entitlement will be accepted is left to the family of the late president with input from congressional leaders. President Nixon's family (like those of Presidents Wilson, Coolidge, Franklin Roosevelt, and Truman) chose not to accept the honor.

    The eighteen bodies of non-Presidents that were lain in state in the Capitol were:

    Person Lay In State Claim on the Hearts of the Nation
    Henry Clay July 1, 1852 Congressman, Three-time Speaker of the House, Peace Commissioner to end the War of 1812, Secretary of State, U.S. Senator
    Thaddeus Stevens August 13 and 14, 1868 Anti-Slavery Leader of the House of Representatives, Drafter of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
    Charles Sumner March 13, 1874 Anti-Slavery Leader of the U.S. Senate, Drafter of the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
    Henry Wilson
    (born Jeremiah Jones Colbath)
    November 25 and 26, 1875 Senator and Vice-President
    John Alexander Logan December 30 and 31, 1886 Representative and Senator, Major General, U.S.A. (Civil War), Creator of Memorial Day
    Pierre Charles L'Enfant April 28, 1909 Major, Continental Army (Revolutionary War), Designer of Washington, D.C. L'Enfant had died penniless and alone on June 14, 1852 and his body was lain in state in the capitol when it was reinterred in Arlington National Cemetery 57 years later.
    George Dewey January 20, 1917 Admiral, U.S.N. (Spanish-American War)
    The Unknown Soldier November 9, 10, and 11, 1921 U.S. Military
    John Joseph Pershing July 18 and 19, 1948 General of the Armies, U.S.A. (Spanish-American War, overall American Commander in World War I)
    Robert Alphonso Taft August 2 and 3, 1953 U.S. Senator (son of President Taft; the first and only relative of another person who lay in state to be similarly honored)
    Unknown Soldier of World War II
    Unknown Soldier of the Korean War
    May 28, 29, and 30, 1958 U.S. Military
    Douglas MacArthur April 8 and 9, 1964 General of the Army, U.S.A. (World War I, World War II, Supreme Commander in Japan, Korean War)
    Everett McKinley Dirksen May 28, 29, and 30, 1958 Congressman and Senator for 36 years until his death
    John Edgar Hoover May 3 and 4, 1972 Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation for 48 years until his death
    Hubert Horatio Humphrey January 14 and 15, 1978 Senator and Vice-President
    Unknown Soldier of the Vietnam Era May 25, 26, 27, and 28, 1984 U.S. Military
    Claude Denson Pepper June 1 and 2, 1989 Senator and Representative

    Three bodies have lain in honor (but not in state) in the rotunda. These were the bodies of Private Jacob Chestnut and Detective John Gibson, both of the U.S. Capitol Police, who were killed in the line of duty at the Capitol (lay in honor July 28, 1998), and the body of Rosa Parks, civil rights pioneer (lay in honor October 30 and 31, 2005).

    Since it was not as feasible to transport corpses over long distances before the age of rail, most of the early persons to lay in state had died in or near Washington, D.C. (for example, Vice President Henry Wilson, who, like President and then-Representative John Quincy Adams before him, died while he was in the Capitol building itself).

    One final note: it is possible -- in fact, I would say it is almost certain -- that my lifelong interest in the presidency stems directly from the solemn and patriotic displays that I remember affecting me as I witnessed them on television at age five (as one of my earliest memories) during the lying in state of President Eisenhower.