8 Presidents Who Fell Ill While in Office

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George Washington

Where better place to start than at the beginning with our first president. While COVID-19 (and perhaps a less than healthy diet and lifestyle) is the major health threat facing our current president, Washington had to suffer through a laundry list of diseases in his time in office. Just two months after being elected president on April 30, 1789, Washington required surgery to remove a tumor and was out of action for six weeks as the surgery meant he could only rest on his right side.

In the early days of the republic, diseases and outbreaks were a serious threat to American cities and neither poor man or president could escape the possibility of contracting something life threatening. In Washington’s second term he would suffer a bout of influenza. One so severe that it threatened to damage his hearing and sight.

And only few moths after the Electoral College unanimously elected him president for a second time on February 13, 1793, an outbreak of yellow fever caused the president and his government to flee to the countryside. It seems our first commander-in-chief was was made of more hardy stuff. Not only did he survive this particular outbreak but went on to surive survive diphtheria, tuberculosis, smallpox, malaria, dysentery, quinsy, and carbuncle, along with many close calls on the battlefield.

His luck would finally run out on December 14, 1799, when he died from cynanche trachealis (essentially a throat infection) but this cause of death is still widely debated by medical authors and scholars to this day.


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William Henry Harrison

The 9th president of the United States is immortalized in American history for two rather unwanted distinctions. The first being that he is the first ever president to die in office, which also made him the shortest serving president in U.S. history as his tenure lasted only 31 days. As with Washington, the cause of his death is still debated today, but many believe it was either typhoid, pneumonia, or paratyphoid fever.

His death would cause a constitutional crisis as the Constitution had not yet established clear protocols regarding the succession to the presidency. However, Harrison’s vice president John Tyler claimed a constitutional mandate and took the oath of office, becoming the longest serving president not elected to the office.



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