All about dead presidents

Don’t let the headline fool you.

This column has nothing to do with those two-and-a-half inch by six-inch pieces of green paper that a few people over the age of 50 still use to purchase things. This essay concerns America’s actual presidents, or more specifically the 39 of them who are no longer living.

When June 1st dawned and Joe Biden, Donald Trump, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter were still breathing, it continued one of the most unnoticed but remarkable streaks in American history.

Since the nation inaugurated its first chief executive in 1789, no American ex- president has ever died during the calendar’s fifth month. That’s 235 Mays (and counting) without a single presidential death.

There are two other months when no former president has died, but August’s and September’s streaks come with asterisks. Warren Harding succumbed to a heart attack on August 2, 1923, while James Garfield (September 19, 1881) and William McKinley (September 14, 1901) were both felled by assassins. But each of them was a sitting president when he died, so August and September remain technically unsullied by the demise of any former chief executives.

While May remains a safe haven for America’s ex-commanders-in-chief, the two months that follow it are extraordinarily perilous ones. A half-dozen ex- presidents died in June, specifically Andrew Jackson, Grover Cleveland, Ronald Reagan, and a trio of Jameses (Madison, Polk, and Buchanan). And the following month is even deadlier: seven presidents (John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, Martin Van Buren, Zachary Taylor, Andrew Johnson, and Ulysses S. Grant) expired during July.

Ironically the deadliest day for ex-presidents is July 4th. Three of them (John Adams and Thomas Jefferson in 1826 and James Monroe in 1831) have died on the nation’s nominal birthday. December 26th (Harry Truman in 1972 and Gerald Ford in 2006) and March 8th (Millard Fillmore in 1874 and William Howard Taft in 1930) are the only two other dates to have marked the end of more than one ex- presidential life.

Five former White House occupants died in January: John Tyler, Rutherford Hayes, Theodore Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, and Lyndon Johnson. Next up on the presidential death-by-month list, with four each: March (Fillmore, Taft, Benjamin Harrison, and Dwight Eisenhower) and April (William Henry Harrison, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, and Richard Nixon). December (George Washington, along with the aforementioned Truman and Ford) and November (Chester Arthur, John F. Kennedy, and George H. W. Bush) follow with three each. Two presidents died in the months of September (Garfield and McKinley), October (Franklin Pierce and Herbert Hoover) and February (John Quincy Adams and Woodrow Wilson).

New York is clearly the most dangerous state for ex-presidents: nine of the 39 no-longer-extant chief executives expired there. Seven more died in Washington DC, four had their lives conclude in Virginia, and Texas, California, and Tennessee have each had three presidents die inside their borders.

The longest America has gone between presidential deaths was 26 years, six months, and 20 days, which was the time span between George Washington’s demise on December 14, 1799 and the deaths of Adams and Jefferson on the nation’s 50th birthday, 9698 days later. The second-longest death-free span was the 7760 days that transpired between the passings of Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon.

So what exactly can be learned from all of this painstaking research? Maybe nothing. However, if I were a current or former president of the United States who was interested in continuing to stay alive for a while longer, I think I’d steer clear of New York and Washington DC for the next couple of months.

Andy Young
June 7, 2024

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