Presidential last words

There is a common belief that our last words highlight the passions which have ruled our lives. Since the office of President of the United States is the most honored position in our country, their dying words are fascinating. These comments give rare insights into their character.

The 11th President, James K. Polk, was a dour, humorless workaholic. Two Inaugural Balls were held. The First Couple attended both, but Polk ordered the dancing stopped. Dancing and card playing were frivolous, sinful past times. The only chink in his protective armor was his devotion to his wife, Sarah. His last words were: "I love you, Sarah. For all eternity, I love you."

Rutherford B. Hayes had a wife who matched him in courage and fortitude. Hayes was a Brigadier General in the Union Army during our Civil War. Lucy Webb Hayes received two messages. One said he had been killed in action, the other that he was badly wounded. She asked a cousin to care for their children, then left for the battlefield. "If the telegram is correct, I will nurse him back to health. If the newspaper is correct, I will give him a decent burial." Hayes survived to become our 19th Chief Executive. His beloved wife predeceased him. Huis last words were "I know that I am going to the place where Lucy is."

Abe Lincoln took his wife's hand as they sat watching a play in Ford's Theater. Mrs. Lincoln wondered what the public would think of a President holding hands with his wife. "They won't think anything about it," he reassured her. Moments later the 16th president was assassinated.

Vice President John Tyler became our 10th President when Harrison died after a month in office. He retired to his Virginia plantation. After Secession, he was elected a Confederate Congressman. The divided loyalty obviously pained him. His last words were: "I am going. Perhaps it is for the best."

The 22nd and 24th President, Grover Cleveland, was known as "Grover the Good" for his honesty conducting official duties. When he was accused of fathering an illegitimate son, he sent a telegram to his supporters: "Above all else, tell the truth." His final words: "I have tried so hard to do what is right." Thomas Jefferson refused to take credit for his accomplishments in public office. These were done with others, he said, but he took great pride in writing our Declaration of Independence. As he lay dying, he asked "Is it the Fourth, yet?" as if reaching that date was a sacred duty. The third president died on July 4, 1826 the fiftieth anniversary of his historic document.

John Quincy Adams lived a turbulent career. After serving one term as president, he was elected to Congress and served 17 years as a Congressman. He suffered a stroke on the floor of the House and died in the Speaker's office on February 28, 1848. "This is the last of earth. I am content," were his final thoughts.

Number 15, James Buchanan, was president until March 1861 when Lincoln was inaugurated. Four crucial months had passed. In December 1860 South Carolina seceded. Other states followed and a Confederate government established. His final words were an apology for his inaction. "Whatever the results may be, I shall carry to my grave the consciousness that I at least meant well for my country."

Benedict Arnold was never president but his last words are noteworthy. Arnold fought bravely in the Revolutionary War but became a traitor for 20,000 pounds and a Brig. General's commission in the British Army. After the war, he settled in England. The Crown paid him only 6,000 pounds and retired him on a Colonel's half-pay. The English aristocracy rejected the American traitor. As he lay dying, he made a telling request. "Let me die in my old uniform. God forgive me for ever putting on any other."

Share This Story