How eight US Presidents died in office...
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Throughout history, eight US presidents have died while still in office.
The first US president to die in office, William Henry Harrison, took over in March 1841 and essentially fell at the first hurdle.
On the day of his inauguration, the weather was cold and wet. Despite this, Harrison decided not to wear a coat and hat and rode to the ceremony on horseback to deliver his unusually long inaugural address outside.
This turned out to be a fatal mistake. He soon developed a chill which turned into pneumonia as a result. He died one month later. After some deliberation, his Vice President, John Tyler, was sworn in as his successor.
Abraham Lincoln, who led the USA through the Civil War, was one of America’s greatest presidents.
Unfortunately, he was also the first one to be assassinated.
He was shot in the back of the head while attending the theatre with his wife to watch a play called Our American Cousin in April 1865.
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The four-year Civil War was virtually over and Lincoln’s assassin, an actor called John Wilkes Booth, had supported the losing side: the pro-slavery, southern Confederacy who had fought against Lincoln’s Union.
Booth fled the theatre but was later found in a farm in Virginia and shot. Lincoln’s successor was Andrew Johnson.
The next two presidents to die in office, James Garfield (1881) and William McKinley (1897-1901) were both also assassinated.
Garfield was shot while in a railway station by Charles J Guiteau, a disappointed office-seeker who had become deranged.
“My God, what is this?” the president had exclaimed as he was shot twice.
Garfield had only been president for four months when he had been shot and was initially expected to survive the attack. But his wounds grew infected- some of his doctors used unsterilised equipment - and he eventually died two months later.
He was succeeded by Chester Arthur. Guiteau, his assassin, was executed.
William McKinley too was expected to survive his shooting in 1901 but again died partly because his doctors used unsterilised equipment when operating on him.
His successor, Theodore ‘Teddy’ Roosevelt, was just 42 and the youngest US president there has ever been.
McKinley had been president for four years before being shot by an anarchist, Leon Czolgosz (who was later executed) while visiting New York.
In 1923, the First Lady Florence Harding read her husband an article. “That’s good – read it again,” President Warren Harding said, before suddenly collapsing with a fatal heart attack.
Harding had been a popular leader and was genuinely mourned by the general public. Under his successor, Calvin Coolidge, however, his reputation suffered as a series of scandals arose which exposed Harding’s often questionable judgement. He is now ranked amongst the very worst US presidents.
Franklin D Roosevelt (FDR), in contrast, is considered to have been one of the very best.
He was a distant cousin of Theodore Roosevelt who was mentioned earlier and his wife Eleanor (whose maiden name and married name were both ‘Roosevelt’) had been the older president’s niece.
A hugely popular figure, FDR had been president for longer than anyone else: 12 years by the time of his death in 1945.
FDR had led the USA out of the Great Depression and through most of the Second World War. But his health had been declining for years and un the end, the strain of war leadership finished him off.
He had never been able to walk since a bout of polio in the 1920s: a fact concealed from most of the American public at the time.
The assassination of John F Kennedy in November 1963 provided a tremendous shock both to Americans and the wider world.
The young and often eloquent president was shot twice as his motorcade drove down a busy plaza on a campaign visit to Dallas, Texas.
The shooting was caught on film although the unpleasant amateur footage was not shown on US or UK TV for a full 10 years afterwards. Kennedy was succeeded by Lyndon B Johnson.
Happily, no presidents have died in office since 1963.
This is the longest period when since the first presidential inauguration in 1789 when this has not occurred.