After the death of President Reagan, the most frequently asked question I received concerned the presidents who have lain in state.
President Reagan's body was the 28th to lay in state or honor in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol. Of these 28, ten were Presidents:
|April 19, 20, and 21, 1865|
|September 21, 22, and 23, 1865|
|September 17, 1901|
|August 8, 1923|
|March 11, 1930|
|November 24 and 25, 1963|
|October 23, 24, and 25, 1964|
|March 30 and 31, 1969|
|January 24 and 25, 1973|
|June 9, 10, and 11, 2004|
The casket of each President who has lain in state has been placed on the same catafalque, which was originally constructed for Abraham Lincoln. This catafalque has also been used in the Great Hall of the U.S. Supreme Court for the laying in state there of the bodies of Chief Justice Earl Warren and Justice Thurgood Marshall. Other Justices, such as William Brennan, have also lay in state in the Great Hall.
One of the other questions I received quite often after President Reagan's death was "Why was President Nixon not given a state funeral?" Law enacted in 1923 after the death of President Harding provides that every president is entitled to a state funeral and to have his body lie in state. However, the law also provides that the decision as to whether this entitlement will be accepted is left to the family of the late president with input from congressional leaders. President Nixon's family (like those of Presidents Wilson, Coolidge, Franklin Roosevelt, and Truman) chose not to accept the honor.
The eighteen bodies of non-Presidents that were lain in state or honor in the Capitol were:
|Henry Clay||July 1, 1852||Congressman, Three-time Speaker of the House, Peace Commissioner to end the War of 1812, Secretary of State, U.S. Senator|
|Thaddeus Stevens||August 13 and 14, 1868||Anti-Slavery Leader of the House of Representatives, Drafter of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution|
|Charles Sumner||March 13, 1874||Anti-Slavery Leader of the U.S. Senate, Drafter of the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution|
(born Jeremiah Jones Colbath)
|November 25 and 26, 1875||Senator and Vice-President|
|John Alexander Logan||December 30 and 31, 1886||Representative and Senator, Major General, U.S.A. (Civil War), Creator of Memorial Day|
|Pierre Charles L'Enfant||April 28, 1909||Major, Continental Army (Revolutionary War), Designer of Washington, D.C. L'Enfant had died penniless and alone on June 14, 1852 and his body was lain in state in the capitol when it was reinterred in Arlington National Cemetery 57 years later.|
|George Dewey||January 20, 1917||Admiral, U.S.N. (Spanish-American War)|
|The Unknown Soldier||November 9, 10, and 11, 1921||U.S. Military|
|John Joseph Pershing||July 18 and 19, 1948||General of the Armies, U.S.A. (Spanish-American War, overall American Commander in World War I)|
|Robert Alphonso Taft||August 2 and 3, 1953||U.S. Senator (son of President Taft; the first and only relative of another person who lay in state to be similarly honored)|
Unknown Soldier of World War II
||May 28, 29, and 30, 1958||U.S. Military|
|Douglas MacArthur||April 8 and 9, 1964||General of the Army, U.S.A. (World War I, World War II, Supreme Commander in Japan, Korean War)|
|Everett McKinley Dirksen||May 28, 29, and 30, 1958||Congressman and Senator for 36 years until his death|
|John Edgar Hoover||May 3 and 4, 1972||Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation for 48 years until his death|
|Hubert Horatio Humphrey||January 14 and 15, 1978||Senator and Vice-President|
|Unknown Soldier of the Vietnam Era||May 25, 26, 27, and 28, 1984||U.S. Military|
|Claude Denson Pepper||June 1 and 2, 1989||Senator and Representative|
Since it was not as feasible to transport corpses over long distances before the age of rail, most of the early persons to lay in state had died in or near Washington, D.C. (for example, Vice President Henry Wilson, who, like President and then-Representative John Quincy Adams before him, died while he was in the Capitol building itself).
One final note: it is possible -- in fact, I would say it is almost certain -- that my lifelong interest in the presidency stems directly from the solemn and patriotic displays that I remember affecting me as I witnessed them on television at age five (as who, one of my earliest memories) during the lying in state of President Eisenhower.