The Best Last Words of American Presidents
For the last 238 years Presidents of the United States of America have been some of the most powerful people on the planet. They were all men of many words, and some of them kept this up unto their dying breath. Below are the last words of six American Presidents.
1. George Washington.
George Washington was many things. Gentleman farmer. Military genius. Statesman. He was the father or the United States, and a resounding badass. He never had actual children of his own, but all citizens of the United States can consider him their paternal ancestor. Like all good fathers, he aspired to instill wisdom and courage in those that looked up to him, and he left the mortal plane doing so.
The final words of George Washington were, “It is well. I die hard, but am not afraid to go.”
There was also something about his burial arrangements. “Have me decently buried and do not let my body be put into the vault in less than three days after I am dead.”
But that’s not weird, because in those days, people were often buried alive!
2. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.
John Adams was the second president of the United States, and Thomas Jefferson was the third. Poor Adams was sandwiched between the great Cincinnatus of the West, as they called Washington, and Jefferson with his fascinating contradictions of lofty prose mixed with reprehensible behavior.
Adams, on the other hand, was a man of simple honor and humble loyalty. He and Jefferson were great friends, until they ran for president against each other. Jefferson in his skill and passion introduced his friend John Adams to the sophistication of modern political campaigns.
Jefferson, in his dastardly use of the media during the election of 1800, made Rupert Murdoch look like Mr. Rodgers.
Things were said on both sides. Jefferson accused Adams of being a weakling hermaphrodite, unfit to guide the country. In return, Adams called Jefferson an atheist, a coward, and accused him of sleeping with a comely slave. While only Mrs. Adams knew of the conditions of her husbands genitals, the accusations against Jefferson were all pretty easy to prove. Adams did his own smearing, while Jefferson hired a patsy to do it for him. Coward. And his extramarital affairs with the un-paid help are fairly well-documented.
Jefferson won the election. In his inauguration speech he tried to brush all of his misdeeds under the rug with poetic prose. He declared about Americans that, “We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists.”
Both men went on to lead long and happy lives, although they didn’t go out and have a beer together very often. But their friendship did recover a little. After a while they began sending letters to each other and both delighted in the correspondence.
They both died on the same day. July 4, 1826.
In his last utterance, John Adams paid homage to his life-long frienemy. “Thomas Jefferson still lives.” He said before succumbing to death.
Thomas Jefferson couldn’t even remember what day it was, and he ended his life with the eloquent crap he is still famous for.
“Is it the fourth? I resign my spirit to God, my daughter to my country.”
What does that even mean!
3. James Madison.
Madison doesn’t get the same spotlight as other founding fathers. He wasn’t a great general, he didn’t come from a prominent family, and he was not a blaring hypocrite like some of his contemporaries. James Madison was just a really smart guy who was good with words, and better at politics. He was also responsible for a really important document that slips my mind.
Madison also had a great sense of humor. As he lay on his deathbed he was asked what was wrong by a young relative.
“Nothing more than a change of mind, my dear,” he said. “I always talk better lying down.”
James Madison might not be the best remembered of the presidents, but at least one fellow head of state paid him tribute. On his own deathbed James Monroe, the fifth president, used his final breath to say of Madison, “I regret that I should leave this world without again beholding him.”
That’s nice. Creepy. But nice.
4. Andrew Jackson.
Andrew Jackson was one of the most influential presidents in American history. And he was also a giant dick. Old Hickory’s career was a series of arrogant successes. He was a general in the war of 1812, and was the hero of the Battle of New Orleans. It was too bad the war had already been over for two weeks when the battle was fought.
Jackson was elected president in 1828. He fancied himself a champion of the common people. He believed that, as the only official elected directly by the people, the President was the extension of the will of the people. Anything he did was something the people wanted, whether they knew it or not.
He also believed that, since he worked so hard to earn his office, he should be able to award offices and other favors to his friends and family. He called this the spoils system, as in the spoils of war are the victors to distribute. It is also called patronage.
Strong will and liberal interpretation of election results aside, Andrew Jackson was villainous for his part in the relocation of Native Americans. In the 1830’s Jackson had a simple goal of removing native Americans, mostly the Cherokee, from their lands east of the Mississippi river. He argued that the Indians could never live among the ‘civilized people,’ and would be better off in strange lands to the west. This, despite the fact that the Cherokee had already adopted many traits of ‘civilization.’ They had developed a written language, participated in complex litigation with the U.S. government, and even owned slaves to work the land that Jackson wanted to take from them.
After years of ignoring the pleas of people who would be forced to leave their homes, opinions of the Supreme Court that the U.S. government had no right to do this, and objections by several prominent members of congress, Jackson got his wish. In 1836 the New Echota treaty was ratified. Most of the people it affected refused to be present for its signing, and their silence was interpreted as consent. Two years later, the Cherokee were on the Trail of Tears, and enjoyed all the benefits of forced migration. They were essentially treated like cattle. Cattle you could lie to and steal from.
Andrew Jackson died in 1845. His last words were, “Be good children, all of you, and strive to be ready when the change comes.” That’s funny. Andrew Jackson telling his children to be nice, when he most certainly was not.
Then, the other part of his statement. “Strive to be ready when the change comes.” He was probably encouraging his children to get ready for a great societal shift.
5. Millard Fillmore:
Millard Fillmore was president from 1850 to 1853. Fillmore exhibits sort of a rags-to-riches story. He was born in a log cabin in New York state, and eventually came to reside in the White House, but only after the untimely death of his predecessor. Millard Fillmore was a member of the Northern Whig party, but was willing to, “reach across the isle,” in modern language. He was instrumental in the Compromise of 1850, a set of laws that put off the tension caused by slavery vs. abolition in the Union.
Besides having a famous cartoon duck named after him, Millard Fillmore is not one of the best-remembered presidents. He was president when California was admitted as a free state, a plus for abolitionists, but also signed into law a bill that gave slave owners looking for runaways the full resources of federal law enforcement. Signing the Fugitive Slave Act alieniated him from his party. When the Whigs transformed into Republicans, Fillmore went rogue and ran for president on the ticket of the No-Nothing party.
In 1874, after eating a spoonful of soup he said, “The nourishment is palatable.” And then he died.
6. Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln’s death is perhaps the most famous of all presidential exits. He was assassinated before he had time to enjoy the end of the conflict that defined his presidency. His assassination was a tragedy for the already-wounded country, but the final utterances of Lincoln were not sad or remorseful, but bittersweet.
On April 14, 1865 Lincoln and his wife went to see the play Our American Cousin at Ford’s theater in Washington D.C. His last words were, “it doesn’t really matter.” He said this to his wife who was afraid people might see them holding hands. (Scandalous!) He wanted to enjoy the show, and hold the hand of his wife whom he loved dearly.
His final utterance was a laugh, in response to the punch line of a joke in the play. “One of the actresses called for a shawl to protect her from the draft. An actor then ad-libbed a reply, “You are mistaken, Miss Mary, the draft has been stopped by order of the President.” Lincoln was laughing at this line when he was shot.”
In his death, Lincoln teaches us a lesson:
If you must face a violent end, then you might as well go out laughing.