The 8 American presidents who died while in office

Elizabeth Smith

Throughout the history of the United States, the presidency has been a position of immense responsibility and often great scrutiny. While many presidents have completed their terms and gone on to live long lives after leaving office, there have been occasions where the weight of the office has proven too much, resulting in the untimely deaths of those serving as the nation’s leader.

These moments, marked by tragedy and often shrouded in controversy, serve as reminders of the inherent risks and challenges that come with leading a nation as vast and diverse as the United States.

In this exploration, we delve into the lives and legacies of the American presidents who met their end while in office, each leaving behind a unique imprint on the pages of history.

William Henry Harrison

  • Years in office: 1841
  • Died: April 4, 1841

Harrison has two undesirable presidential factoids to his name: the first of the presidents to die while in office and the shortest term.

The runner-up in the 1836 election, Harrison led Martin Van Buren to victory in 1840 but failed to celebrate his victory. Just 30 days after his inauguration in early March, Harrison caught a cold and died on April 4, 1841.

Zachary Taylor

  • Years in office: 1849-50
  • Died: July 9, 1850

One of the most hated American presidents had probably the most gruesome death of all the presidents who died while in office. After falling ill following some Fourth of July celebrations, Taylor developed a severe case of diarrhea and died a few days later.

Conspiracy theorists believed that Southern secessionists poisoned him because of his slavery policies, but he likely died from a food-borne illness or microbes living in Washington D.C.’s open sewers.

Abraham Lincoln

  • Years in office: 1861-65
  • Died: April 15, 1865


Lincoln was one of the most beloved presidents ever, who however was tragically assassinated at the Petersen House, which was a boarding house located across the street from Ford’s Theatre in Washington.

John Wilkes Booth shot Abraham Lincoln on Good Friday, April 14, 1865, just days after the South surrendered in the Civil War. Lincoln died in the early hours of April 15, at approximately 7:22 a.m. He was one of the first presidents to die while in office and the first to be assassinated.

James Garfield

  • Years in office: 1881
  • Died: September 19, 1881


James Garfield, the 20th President of the United States, was assassinated by Charles J. Guiteau on July 2, 1881. He was shot in the shoulder and back, but the wounds were not immediately fatal. Garfield had some ups and downs, but his condition did not improve and he died more than two months after being shot.

William McKinley

  • Years in office: 1897-1901
  • Died: September 14, 1901

Nearly 20 years after James Garfield’s assassination, William McKinley suffered the same fate. He was shot while meeting the public on September 6, 1901 and died of gangrene eight days later.

McKinley avoided having personal security, but after he was assassinated, Congress passed a law requiring the Secret Service to protect the president.

Warren G. Harding

  • Years in office: 1921-23
  • Died: August 2, 1923


Warren G. Harding led one of the most corrupt presidential administrations ever, and he did all that damage in just half a term. People theorized at the time that Harding was poisoned, but he suffered a fatal heart attack while visiting San Francisco after about 28 months in office.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

  • Years in office: 1933-1945
  • Died: April 12, 1945

Franklin Delano Roosevelt has several presidential superlatives. He is the longest-serving president, winner of four elections and the man who led the country out of the depression.

He was also one of the few presidents who died while in office. Roosevelt died of a massive stroke less than a month before the fighting of World War II ended in Europe.

John F. Kennedy

  • Years in office: 1961-63
  • Died: November 22, 1963


John F. Kennedy is the last of the presidents who died while in office. Just as with Abraham Lincoln, most people know all about his assassination.

Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States, was assassinated on November 22, 1963, in Dallas, Texas. He was riding in a motorcade through Dealey Plaza when he was shot by Lee Harvey Oswald, who was positioned in a nearby building.

Kennedy was struck by two bullets, one in the upper back and another in the head. The second shot proved fatal. Kennedy’s assassination remains one of the most significant events in modern American history, and various conspiracy theories continue to surround the circumstances of his death.

Read also: Who can run for president of the United States? Requirements, role and powers

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