The Last Thing John F. Kennedy and Other American Presidents Said Before Dying

When American presidents talk, people pay close attention and often take their words to heart. Consider a now-famous quote from the late John F. Kennedy: “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.” Words such as this have inspired patriotism in the hearts of many Americans.

Even — or especially — while on their deathbeds, our former presidents’ dying words have been duly noted. Some spoke with great wisdom. Others made more mundane statements, and some said things that were downright strange.

Here we’ll look at the famous last words spoken by 15 U.S. presidents, including the final words of Kennedy and Abraham Lincoln before their untimely deaths.

1. George Washington

Washington was worried about getting his affairs in order. | Wikimedia Commons

  • Last words: “Tis well.”
  • Cause of death: Acute laryngitis, blood loss

After serving as president, Washington retired to his Virginia plantation in 1797. During a harsh winter of inspecting his property on horseback, he developed a soar throat and difficulty breathing.

Washington soon realized the end was near. He asked his secretary to arrange his accounts, record his military letters, and ensure a proper burial. He asked if it was all understood, to which his secretary replied yes. “Tis well,” Washington responded, which proved to be his final words. He died in 1799 at the age of 67.

Next: John Adams

2. John Adams

President John Adams

John Adams died the same day as Thomas Jefferson. | Hulton Archive/Getty Images

  • Last words: “Thomas Jefferson survives.”
  • Cause of death: Congestive heart failure

According to one report, John Adams’ last words were “Thomas Jefferson survives.” Coincidentally, Jefferson died on the same day, just hours before Adams; but Adams did not know that. The two were longtime friends and rivals. Both passed away on July 4, the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence.

According to another account, Adams’ last words were actually, “It is a great day. It is a good day.” He died at home of congestive heart failure at age 90.

Next: Thomas Jefferson

3. Thomas Jefferson

3rd President of the US Thomas Jefferson

Jefferson’s last words are a subject of debate among scholars. | Wikimedia Commons

  • Last words: “I resign my spirit to God, my daughter, and my country.”
  • Cause of death: Kidney failure

Like with Adams, reports are conflicting regarding Thomas Jefferson’s last words. The former president, 83, was suffering from rheumatism and other ailments. On his deathbed, he refused a dose of opium by saying, “No, Doctor, nothing more.” Some said those were his last words.

According to a more poetic account, Jefferson asked the date and then uttered the final words, “Is it the Fourth? I resign my spirit to God, my daughter, and my country.”

Next: James Madison

4. James Madison

James Madison portrait

Madison died peacefully. | The White House Historical Association

  • Last words: “Nothing more than a change of mind, my dear.”
  • Cause of death: Old age

James Madison died peacefully of old age when he was 83. His niece noticed he was having trouble swallowing his breakfast and asked what was wrong. “Nothing more than a change of mind, my dear,” he responded. Soon later, “His head instantly dropped, and he ceased breathing as quietly as the snuff as a candle goes out,” said his manservant, Paul Jennings, who witnessed the death.

Next: John Quincy Adams

5. John Quincy Adams

John Quincy Adams, 6th president of the US

Adams died in the Capital. | Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons

  • Last words: “This is the last of Earth. I am content.”
  • Cause of death: Stroke

America’s sixth president had a stroke on the floor of the House of Representatives after yelling out, “No!” to protest a bill on the Mexican-American War. (He staunchly opposed the war.) After shouting, he immediately collapsed, having suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage. He died two days later in the Speaker’s Room in the Capital Building in 1848 at age 80. His last words were, “This is the last of Earth. I am content.”

Next: James Polk

6. James Polk

James K. Polk

Polk dided talking to his wife. | Wikimedia Commons

  • Last words: “I love you, Sarah. For all eternity, I love you.”
  • Cause of death: Cholera

James Polk spoke his last words, “I love you, Sarah. For all eternity, I love you.” He was talking to his wife, who was by his side. He had developed symptoms of cholera while visiting Louisiana which gradually worsened. In the weeks leading up to his death, Polk chose to be baptized into the Methodist Church, which he had long admired. He was 53 when he passed away in 1849.

Next: Zachary Taylor

7. Zachary Taylor

President Zachary Taylor

Taylor was the second president to die in office. | National Archive/Getty Images

  • Last words: “I regret nothing, but I am sorry that I am about to leave my friends.”
  • Cause of death: Foodborne illness

Zachary Taylor was the second president to die in office. One summer day in 1850, he ate a couple of green apples before attending the groundbreaking ceremony for the Washington Monument’s construction. He returned to the White House, overheated and thirsty, and ate a huge bowl of cherries along with cold water and unpasteurized milk. He became violently ill and died four days later, likely from Salmonella. He was 65.

Next: Abraham Lincoln

8. Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln Assassination Illustration

Lincolk was holding his wife’s hand when he was shot. | Currier & Ives/Wikimedia Commons

  • Last words: “She won’t think anything about it.”
  • Cause of death: Assassination

Abraham Lincoln was attending a play in 1865 when tragedy struck. By one account, Lincoln was holding the hand of his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, when she asked, “What will [one of the guests] think of my hanging onto you so?” Lincoln answered, “She won’t think anything about it.” Moments later, John Wilkes Booth fired a bullet that ultimately killed the president. He died the following day. He was 56.

Next: Andrew Jackson

9. Andrew Johnson

Andrew Johnson, seventeenth President of the United States

Johnson refused medical attention. | National Archive/Newsmakers

  • Last words: “I need no doctor. I can overcome my own troubles.”
  • Cause of death: Stroke

Andrew Johnson, 66, died when he was visiting his daughter’s home near present-day Elizabethton, Tennessee in 1875. The former president suddenly fell off his chair and told his daughter or granddaughter (accounts vary) not to send for a doctor. “My right side is paralyzed. I need no doctor. I can overcome my own troubles,” he said.

Next: Ulysses S. Grant

10. Ulysses S. Grant

Ulysses S. Grant

Grand had a long and painful fight with throat cancer. | Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons

  • Last word: “Water.”
  • Cause of death: Cancer

Toward the end of his life, Ulysses S. Grant was suffering from throat cancer and couldn’t speak much. In addition to asking for water, he also wrote something more telling shortly before dying: “There was never one more willing to go than I am.” When he was sick and nearing death, Grant worked feverishly on his memoir, which he wanted to be published in order to provide money for his wife. He died in 1885 at age 63 a few days after he finished the work.

Next: Theodore Roosevelt

11. Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt

Roosevelt died in his sleep. | Hulton Archive/Stringer/Getty Images

  • Last words: “Please put out the light.”
  • Cause of death: Pulmonary embolism

When he turned in one night in 1919, Theodore Roosevelt said to his valet, “Please put out the light, James.” Those were the last known words he spoke. He was found dead in his bed the next day. He was 60 years old. While he didn’t offer any words of wisdom on his deathbed, he did write in a newspaper editorial the previous year, “Only those are fit to live who are not afraid to die.”

Next: Franklin D. Roosevelt

12. Franklin Delano Roosevelt

United States president Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Roosevelt’s death came as a shock to the American people. | Central Press/Getty Images

  • Last words: “I have a terrific pain in the back of my head.”
  • Cause of death: Cerebral hemorrhage

Franklin Delano Roosevelt probably saw something bad coming when he complained of a severe headache. He then slumped forward, unconscious, in his chair and was carried to his bedroom. He died that day in 1945 at age 63. The president’s failing health had been kept secret, so his sudden passing away was met with shock and grief across the country.

Next: Dwight Eisenhower

13. Dwight D. Eisenhower


Eisenhower felt that he was ready to die. | Fox Photos/Getty Images

  • Last words: “I want to go. I’m ready to go. God, take me.”
  • Cause of death: Congestive heart failure

Dwight Eisenhower died of congestive heart failure after having seven heart attacks between 1955 and his death in 1969 at age 78. The five-star Army general and World War II veteran was surrounded by immediate family when he passed away. His final words were, “I want to go. I’m ready to go. God, take me.” After his sixth heart attack, he had spoken of death as preferable to a life being bedridden and a burden to his family.

Next: John F. Kennedy

14. John F. Kennedy

The President and Mrs. Kennedy ride in a parade March 27, 1963 in Washington

Kennedy was talking to a passenger in his limo just before he was shot. | National Archive/Newsmakers/Getty Images

  • Last words: “No, you certainly can’t.”
  • Cause of death: Assassination

In 1963, tragedy struck the entire nation when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated during a motorcade trip through the streets of Dallas. While you’ll occasionally read that Kennedy’s last words were, “My God, I’ve been hit,” other reports say his final statement was, “No, you certainly can’t.”

Kennedy spoke these words in response to fellow passenger Nellie Connally, wife of Governor John Connally. She had said, “You certainly can’t say that the people of Dallas haven’t given you a nice welcome, Mr. President.”

Next: Richard Nixon

15. Richard M. Nixon

Richard Nixon

Nixon suffered a stroke. | Keystone Features / Stringer/Getty Images

  • Last word: “Help.”
  • Cause of death: Stroke

Richard Nixon was preparing to eat dinner at home in New Jersey in 1994 when he suffered a major stroke. His last word was “help” as he called out to his housekeeper. He was taken to the hospital, initially alert but unable to speak or move his right side. Nixon slipped into a coma and died the following day. He was 81. Five U.S. presidents, including then-incumbent Bill Clinton, attended the funeral.

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