Sudden Deaths in Office

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First published
in The
Rothbard-Rockwell Report
(August, 1991) as “Exhume, Exhume, Or, Who Put the Arsenic in Rough
and Ready’s Cherries?”

So what if
it didn’t work out? It was a great theory. Like Miss Clara Rising,
I, a long-time fan of historical whodunits, had long been suspicious
of the remarkably sudden death of Zachary Taylor, twelfth president
of what used to be called These United States. The difference is
that Miss Rising, a descendant of Old Rough-and-Ready, had the moxie
to do something about it. Getting the necessary bureaucratic clearances,
she plunked down $1,200 to get old Zack’s body disinterred and exhumed,
to find out at last what done him in.

The facts of
the case are these. Zack, though a man with no political experience,
was inflicted on the country in 1848 by the increasingly desperate
Whig Party, purely on the strength of his being a hero of the Mexican
War. It proved, indeed, to be the last presidential election won
by the Whigs. At a July 4 picnic, after eating a bowl of cold cherries
in milk, he was taken violently ill and died several days later.
As in every other case of a president dying in office, his death
was minimized. The invariable rule has been: if a president is not
visibly shot, then his death, though sudden, must have been by natural
causes. If actually and visibly shot, then the perpetrator must
have been a “lone nut.” God forbid that more than one person might
have been involved in the assassination, because that, heaven forfend,
would be a “conspiracy theory,” and we all know that the Establishment
in the U.S. has virtually outlawed any such theory. Or, at the very
least, it has been quite beyond the pale of correct thinking and
permissible discourse.

To return to
old Zack: his death had always seemed peculiar to me. If ptomaine
or whatever had run rampant at this presidential picnic in the July
heat of our nation’s capital, why is it that only Zack Taylor, of
all the picnickers, had caught this disease? Was the stomach disease
aimed only at him? In short, was he poisoned?

It’s peculiar
that no one else seems to have even thought of this possibility.
Miss Rising reveals that the Taylor family has long been rife with
such speculation, but it took until 1991 for a family member to
do something about it. The suspicion is that Taylor had been put
under by a massive dose of arsenic, and the body was now exhumed
to test for that poison.

Establishment historians, as always, sniffed at the very idea. Take,
for example, the reaction of Professor Roger Brown, distinguished
expert, at American University, on the history of violence in the
United States. “If you’re going to construct a theory of assassination,
you’ve got to find somebody who would stand to gain from killing
Taylor. I’m not sure that she has constructed a persuasive hypothesis
about what somebody would gain.” Cutting through the convoluted
English, this strikes me as an astonishingly silly remark. Look,
Professor Brown: In any death of a president, there is always one
person who clearly stands to gain: the vice president, in this case
Millard Fillmore, who, because of these possibly lethal cherries
vaulted to the august office of the presidency.

Is this being
outrageous? But as everyone knows, in any murder or suspicious demise,
the first suspect that the police investigate is the person who
most stands to gain by the death. Who is the beneficiary of granddaddy’s
will? Etc. Now, this does not of course mean that the main beneficiary
was actually responsible for grandpa’s death. But at least the theory
has to be investigated. So why not also in a sudden death of someone
who means more to most of us than one wealthy individual: the president
of the U.S.? Shouldn’t the vice president always be the first suspect,
his whereabouts checked, etc.? So why has this never happened? Why,
for example, did not Lyndon Baines Johnson immediately become the
first prime suspect in the indubitable murder of John F. Kennedy?

If anything,
Miss Rising’s own theory of the assassination is a bit too broad.
Zachary Taylor, though born in Orange County, Virginia and himself
a slaveholder, surprised everyone by leading the battle to prohibit
any admission of western slave states into the Union. He also opposed
the Compromise of 1850, which managed to delay the War Between the
States for a number of years. So Miss Rising postulates that Southern
slave-owners bumped off this dangerous traitor to his region and
culture. Well, that’s certainly interesting, but where’s the evidence?
Surely Millard Fillmore is a more plausible a priori bet.

It turns out
that the exhumation shows only normal trace quantities of arsenic
in Old Rough-n-Ready’s remains. Shucks. The terrible thing is that
this result might discredit the exhumation movement. It shouldn’t.
Let’s find out, at long last. Let’s follow the path blazed by the
courageous Miss Rising; let’s exhume the body of every president
who died in office, and let’s take another more scientific look.

Let’s go down
the list. First was “Old Tippecanoe” William Henry Harrison, another
verdamte war hero (the War of 1812), who allegedly spoke
too long at his inaugural, walked out in the rain, caught the flu,
and died, only a month after his inaugural. Supposedly natural causes.
Humph. Let’s exhume Old Tippecanoe and look for poison. Beneficiary?
John Tyler, a Democrat when Harrison was a Whig. Another Southern
Democratic plot?

Then came Zack
Taylor. The third death in office, of course, was the sainted Abraham
Lincoln. Oddly, even though his killing was clearly a conspiracy,
the Establishment has injected into the popular consciousness the
image of a lone nut, John Wilkes Booth, declaiming wildly after
he shot Lincoln. Moreover, the conspiracy was hushed up, military
courts delivering summary justice in secret. There is a substantial
revisionist review that the major conspirator was Secretary of War
Edwin M. Stanton, who contrived to have every one above him in the
line of succession to the presidency shot at (only the assassination
of Lincoln was successful). I don’t know exactly how an exhumation
of Lincoln’s body would help test the Stanton thesis, but since
the body is being exhumed anyway (to test for Marfan’s Syndrome,
and why should anyone care whether Abe had Marfan’s Syndrome or
not?), they may as well poke around further and see what they can
find. It sure can’t hurt.

Next came James
A. Garfield, bumped off by someone eternally tarred with the epithet
“disappointed office-seeker.” Another lone nut. Charles Guiteau
was apparently driven off his nut by not getting a job in the Garfield
administration, and this was then successfully used by the Establishment
to inflict the monstrous Civil Service system on this country, protecting
every bureaucrat for life in his invasion of the pockets and the
liberties of the taxpayer. Let’s exhume and investigate. Beneficiary?
Vice President Chester A. Arthur, a New York corruptionist and protectionist,
opposed to Garfield’s relatively laissez-faire wing of the Republican
Party. Or maybe the civil service reformers were responsible, using
Guiteau as an excuse for pushing through their Civil Service.

Next president
to die in office was William McKinley of Ohio, long-time Rockefeller
tool. Another lone nut was responsible, the “anarchist” Leon Czolgosz,
who, like Guiteau, was quickly tried and executed by the Establishment.
Even though Czolgosz was considered a flake and was not a member
of any organized anarchist group, the assassination was used by
the Establishment to smear anarchism and to outlaw anarchist ideas
and agitation. Various obscure anti-sedition and anti-conspiracy
laws trotted out from time to time by the Establishment were passed
during this post-McKinley assassination hysteria. Beneficiary? The
vaulting to power of Teddy Roosevelt, long-time tool of the competing
Morgan (as opposed to Rockefeller) wing of the Republican Party.
Teddy immediately started using the anti-trust weapon to try to
destroy Rockefeller’s Standard Oil and Harriman’s Northern Securities,
both bitter enemies of the Morgan world empire. Exhume McKinley,
and also start a deep investigation of the possible role of Teddy
and the Morgans. Was Czolgosz only a lone nut?

Next sudden
death in office was that of my favorite president of the twentieth
century, Warren Gamaliel Harding, in the camp of the Rockefellers.
His death was quickly dismissed by the Establishment as of natural
causes, but Gaston Means, a Secret Service agent in the Harding
White House, wrote a sensational book, The Strange Death of Warren
Harding, charging that Harding was poisoned by his wife, for
two possible, though somewhat contradictory reasons: (a) Harding’s
notorious womanizing, and (b) to spare Harding the scandal of the
Teapot Dome revelations, which were just emerging. Means’s charge
was brusquely dismissed on the grounds that he was an unreliable
character. Perhaps, but so what? Surely, the grounds for exhumation
are overwhelming. Chief beneficiary of Harding’s death? Vice President
Calvin Coolidge, member of the prominent Massachusetts family long
in the Morgan ambit. (Hmmm. Another sudden death that replaced a
Rockefeller person with a Morgan man?!)

The next presidential
death in office was of course that of the revered Franklin Delano
Roosevelt. This is perhaps the most mysterious death of all. FDR’s
health had long been swathed in layer after layer of official and
medical lies. And when he died, in his fourth term, the official
mystery was unprecedented: his coffin was covered, and an autopsy
was never performed on the body. All sorts of rumors abounded: that
he died of syphilis, or of a gunshot wound, either self-inflicted
or inflicted by someone else. Was Mrs. Lucy Mercer there when he
died? And what was the role of the mysterious Russian painter, Mrs.
Elizabeth Shoumatoff? The cause of historical truth and justice
cries out for exhumation and deep analysis of FDR’s remains.

Main beneficiary
of FDR’s death was, of course, Harry S. Truman. In broader political
terms, a pro-Commie president, manipulated as we know now by brain
truster, top foreign policy adviser, and unregistered KGB agent
Harry "the Hop” Hopkins, was suddenly replaced by the first
launcher of the Cold War, at the behest of such venerable Establishment
“Wise Men” (as they modestly called themselves): Henry L. Stimson,
W. Averill Harriman, Dean G. Acheson, and John J. McCloy. Exhume,

Finally, of
course, matching FDR in mystery is the last president to die in
office; the shining prince of Camelot, whose shine gets more tarnished
every year: John Fitzgerald Kennedy, allegedly assassinated by lone
nut Lee Harvey Oswald, who in turn was promptly assassinated by
another, independent lone nut: Jack Ruby! This is the shakiest,
most convoluted Establishment theory of all: for the two lone nuts
had to be independent, couldn’t have known each other so that this
kooky official theory could work. So much so in fact that the mysteriously
sudden deaths of all those who knew both Oswald and Ruby and who
knew that the two were linked, is one of the most powerful counter-indications
to the official doctrine. Here the number of books and investigations
rebutting Establishment theory is legion, although orthodox writers
still act as if dissenters are somehow tetched: powerful works from
such writers as Mark Lane, the bullet-and-body revisionism of David
Lifton (in his Best Evidence), the work of the smeared Jim
Garrison, etc.

Here the case
for a new investigation with subpoena power is overwhelming. Not
only is there persuasive evidence that the Parkland autopsy report
was to say the least deeply flawed, as well as the possibility that
the Kennedy body was switched, but also we find that Kennedy’s brain
is mysteriously “missing” from the National Archives. Hell, libraries
lose books all the time, right? Exhume, investigate!

As I indicated, Lyndon Baines Johnson, who as Texan students of
his career know, was not above using a little hanky-panky to advance
his political career. And what about that intrepid Kennedy assassination
researcher who, analyzing the motorcade with Zapruder, etc. films,
concluded that Lyndon hit the deck of his car 2.7 seconds before
the sound of the first shot? More broadly, the assassination of
Kennedy removed from power, by force and violence, a representative
of the “Yankee” Eastern Establishment, and replaced him by a leader
of the Sun Belt (Florida, Texas, southern California) “Cowboys”
– as explained in Carl Oglesby’s perceptive work, The Yankee
and Cowboy War. On this analysis, the Watergate Affair consisted
of a counter-coup leveled by the Yankees, installing Establishment
rep Gerald Ford, and ousting Cowboy (southern California) Richard
Nixon (see Carl Oglesby, The Yankee and Cowboy War, Kansas
City: Sheed Andrews & McMeel, 1976).

All this is
not only of fascinating interest to the history buff. Who knows:
there might come a time when yet another beloved president dies,
unexpectedly and quite suddenly, in office. What we need to adopt
is a mind-set that, if and when such an event occurs, we better
be prepared to cast a cold eye and ask all the right and the upsetting

N. Rothbard
(1926–1995) was the author of Man,
Economy, and State
, Conceived
in Liberty
, What
Has Government Done to Our Money
, For
a New Liberty
, The
Case Against the Fed
, and many
other books and articles
. He
was also the editor – with Lew Rockwell – of The
Rothbard-Rockwell Report

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