State funerals in the United States
State funerals in the United States are the official funerary rites conducted by the Federal government of the United States in the nation's capital, Washington, D.C. that are offered to a sitting or former president of the United States, a president-elect, high government officials and other civilians who have rendered distinguished service to the nation. Administered by the Military District of Washington (MDW), a command unit of the Joint Force Headquarters National Capital Region, state funerals are greatly influenced by protocol, steeped in tradition, and rich in history. However, the overall planning as well as the decision to hold a state funeral, is largely determined by a president and his or her family. usually before the occupation of the office.
History and development
Funerals of Founding Fathers
The first general mourning proclaimed in the United States came upon the death of Benjamin Franklin in 1790, followed by the death of George Washington in 1799. Preparations for Franklin's funeral after his death on April 17, 1790, included a procession to Independence Hall (then known as the Pennsylvania State House) in Philadelphia and burial at Christ Church Burial Ground on April 21. It is estimated that 20,000 mourners gathered for Franklin's funeral. The cortege was composed of Philadelphia society, ranging from Mayor Samuel Powel to American astronomer David Rittenhouse. Muffled bells rang and flags on the mast of ships as well as atop all government buildings flew at half-staff. The United States Congress convened in New York City, which at the time served as the nation's capital, and passed a concurrent resolution observing an official period of mourning for one month. The French National Assembly, at the suggestion of Honoré Gabriel Riqueti, comte de Mirabeau, was so moved by the death of Franklin that the legislature observed a three-day period of mourning.
When George Washington died of acute epiglottitis at his Mount Vernon plantation on December 14, 1799, the young nation was stunned. In Philadelphia, which at the time served as the nation's capital for ten years while the new federal city was being built, Congress selected Henry Lee III to eulogize Washington. Mock funerals were held all over the United States. Perhaps the most poignant of them all occurred on December 26, 1799. At daybreak, sixteen cannons were fired and volleys were shot on a half-hour basis in Philadelphia. An empty casket was carried in an elaborate funeral procession which consisted of two marines wearing black scarves escorting a riderless horse festooned with black and white feathers, and a bald eagle depicted on the horse's breast. A religious service was held at the German Lutheran Church officiated by Reverend William White, a bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States. Washington's death was mourned not just in his own country; the news of his death had a profound effect in Europe. In France, Napoleon Bonaparte as First Consul, asked Louis-Marcelin de Fontanes to give a eulogy and ordered a ten-day requiem. In Britain, the Royal Navy was ordered to lower flags at half-mast on its entire fleet.
Washington's actual funeral was a simple affair that was organized by the local Masonic lodge and held on December 18, 1799. In his will, Washington stated, "[I]t is my express desire that my Corpse may be Interred in a private manner, without parade, or funeral Oration." The funeral procession consisted of the president's casket mounted on and using a caisson, foot soldiers, clergy, and a caparisoned, riderless horse. Upon arrival at a red brick tomb on a hillside in the environs of Mount Vernon, the casket was placed on a wood bier for grieving mourners to gather around for a final viewing and clergy to conduct funeral rites. Reverend Thomas Davis, rector of Christ Church, Alexandria, read the Episcopal Order of Burial. Next, the Reverend James Muir, minister of the Alexandria Presbyterian Church, and Dr. Elisha Dick, conducted the traditional Masonic funeral rites.
Two ex-presidents and fierce rivals, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, died within hours of each other on July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson's funeral, held in Charlottesville, Virginia, was simple. No invitations were sent out for the religious service officiated by Reverend Frederick Hatch at the Episcopal Church in Charlottesville. Only friends and family members gathered at his gravesite on the grounds of Monticello. It is likely that Jefferson's casket was wooden, built by Monticello slave John Hemings. The funeral of John Adams at the First Congregational Church (now known as the United First Parish Church) in Quincy, Massachusetts, was held on July 7 and was attended by an estimated crowd of 4,000 people. Pastor Peter Whitney officiated the service. Although many people in Boston wanted Adams's funeral to be held at the State House using taxpayer money, this idea was rejected by the Adams family. Nevertheless, cannons were fired from Mount Wollaston, bells rang, and the procession that took the president's casket from the Adams' home Peacefield to the church was followed by Massachusetts Governor Levi Lincoln Jr., Harvard University President John Thornton Kirkland, members of the state legislature, and United States Congressman Daniel Webster.
History of presidential state funerals
The first state funeral was for William Henry Harrison in 1841, the first president to die in office. Harrison had served just 31 days before succumbing to complications of pneumonia. Before this, there was no established way of mourning a president. Alexander Hunter, a Washington merchant, was commissioned to plan the ceremony. Hunter had the White House draped in black ribbon and ordered a curtained, upholstered black and white carriage to carry Harrison's casket. An invitation-only religious service was held in the East Room. Dirges were played by the United States Marine Band during the funeral procession to the Congressional Cemetery where interment occurred.
Having died of cholera on July 9, 1850, Zachary Taylor was given a state funeral that was very similar to Harrison's nine years earlier. Behind Taylor's black-and-white caisson, his horse "Old Whitey" followed riderless, with a pair of riding boots reversed in the stirrups.
It was not until the assassination of Abraham Lincoln on April 14, 1865, that the United States experienced a period of true national mourning, made possible by innovations like the railroad and telegraph. Inconsolable, Mary Todd Lincoln did not attend Lincoln's religious service in the East Room, which was conducted by Reverend Phineas D. Gurley. On the Easter Sunday after Lincoln's death, clergymen around the nation praised the president in their sermons. Millions of people witnessed Lincoln's funeral procession from Washington, D.C. on April 19, 1865, as his casket was transported 1,700 miles (2,700 km) through New York City to Springfield, Illinois. Lincoln was the first president to lie in state in the United States Capitol Rotunda.
After his assassination on September 19, 1881, the remains of James A. Garfield arrived in the nation's capital on September 21. A floral arrangement was mounted on his casket, complemented with ornate "stuffed doves of peace". A large crowd of mourners numbering over 100,000 people viewed his casket as he lay in state in the Capitol rotunda.
Ulysses S. Grant died on July 23, 1885, after a battle with throat cancer that had been extensively covered by the press. His funeral was held August 8, 1885, in New York, featuring a funeral procession of 60,000 men as well as a 30-day, nationwide period of mourning. People who eulogized him likened him to George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, then the nation's two greatest heroes.
When the funeral train of William McKinley arrived in Washington, D.C., on September 16, 1901, two days after his death, the casket was taken to the East Room in the White House where a lavish display of palms, fruit trees, and floral arrangements transversed into the Cross Hall. The following day, McKinley's casket was transported to the Capitol rotunda to lie in state.
The nation was stunned in 1923 when Warren G. Harding died of a heart attack in San Francisco on August 2. When Harding's funeral train arrived at Union Station on August 7, the casket was taken to the East Room in the White House. The following morning, the casket was mounted on a caisson and taken to the Capitol to lie in state. A funeral service was held in the presence of members of Congress, the Cabinet, and dignitaries inside the Capitol rotunda. The silver casket was covered with a flag, a spread eagle, and topped off with red, white, and blue flowers personally designed by Harding's widow Florence.
As the only man to be president as well as Chief Justice of the United States, William Howard Taft was given a state funeral in Washington, D.C., that was scheduled for March 11, 1930, three days after his death. He lay in state in the Capitol rotunda and a funeral service was held at All Souls' Unitarian Church. Herbert Hoover had offered the East Room in the White House for the service. However, the president's widow, Helen Taft, decided that it would be more appropriate at the church of which the president was a member. Justices of the United States Supreme Court acted as honorary pallbearers.
Due to active military participation of the United States in World War II, it was decided ahead of time that Franklin D. Roosevelt, who experienced a progressive deterioration of his health due to heart disease, would not be given a state funeral as any public display of ceremonial pomp undertaken in Washington, D.C., during a time of war was deemed inappropriate while American G.I.'s were dying overseas. After Roosevelt died of a cerebral hemorrhage on April 12, 1945, his remains were taken from his presidential retreat, the Little White House in Warm Springs, Georgia, and sent back to the White House to lie in repose in the East Room. A private funeral service was conducted in the East Room where only family members, close friends, high government officials, members of both chambers of the Congress, and heads of foreign missions attended. There was no lying in state in the Capitol rotunda. However, flags were lowered to half-staff at the White House and the Capitol, an honor that had last gone to Harding in 1923. After private funeral services were held in Washington, D.C., Roosevelt's remains were transported on a funeral train to his Hyde Park, New York residence, Springwood Estate, for interment.
Subsequent state funerals over the years have henceforth been loosely modeled on the Lincoln state funeral, in large part due to Jacqueline Kennedy who instructed White House Chief Usher J.B. West to follow 19th-century protocol during the state funeral of John F. Kennedy. Upon hearing the news of the Kennedy assassination, military and federal government officials immediately began planning for a state funeral. Extensive research on Lincoln's state funeral was performed on the evening of November 23, 1963, by Professor James Robertson, the executive director of the United States Civil War Centennial Commission, and David Mearns, the director of the Library of Congress. The two men went to the government repository where the lights were discovered to be inoperative since they were connected to a timer switch and set to only operate during the library's regular hours. Using flashlights they found copies of Frank Leslie's Illustrated and Harper's Weekly which depicted the Lincoln state funeral in full graphic detail. Using this information, the East Room was quickly transformed into a venue for Kennedy's remains to lie in repose, which matched the exact description of what it was like nearly a century earlier for Lincoln. It is estimated that over 250,000 mourners filed past the slain president's casket in the Capitol rotunda.
Dying in his suite at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City on October 20, 1964, Herbert Hoover had made plans in 1958 for a state funeral. Accorded with full military honors, over 70 soldiers from the First Army at Fort Jay on Governors Island in the city as guards of honor during the funeral service held at St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church on October 22. When Hoover's casket arrived in Washington, D.C., on October 23, his remains lay in state in the Capitol rotunda for two days before they were flown to West Branch, Iowa, for interment.
When Dwight D. Eisenhower died at Walter Reed Army Medical Center on March 28, 1969, plans for his state funeral had already been drawn up earlier, in 1966, although they were somewhat altered by the Eisenhower family. With a strong emphasis on military rites in honor of Eisenhower's contribution as Supreme Allied Commander during World War II, ceremonial and religious aspects also called for flags to be lowered to half-staff for 30 days, a lying in state in the Capitol rotunda, as well as a religious service held at Washington National Cathedral.
On January 22, 1973, Lyndon B. Johnson died of a heart attack. Johnson's state funeral overlapped the mourning period of another former president, Harry S. Truman, who had died one month earlier (on December 26). Truman's family opted not to have a state funeral, instead preferring a more private funeral held at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum in Independence, Missouri. Johnson lay in state for two days in the Capitol rotunda, the United States Air Force performed a flyover during the funeral procession to the Capitol, and flags were lowered to half-staff for 30 days as had been observed for Truman. The Johnson family stayed at Blair House during the state funeral. After funeral services were held at National City Christian Church on January 25, the Johnsons flew back to Texas where interment later that afternoon occurred at the Johnson ranch in Stonewall, Texas.
On April 18, 1994, Richard Nixon suffered a stroke in his Park Ridge, New Jersey home and died four days later at New York Hospital–Cornell Medical Center in Manhattan. Despite being a former president eligible for the honor of a full state funeral, and in keeping with Nixon’s expressed personal wishes prior to his death, his family opted for a subdued funeral service on the grounds of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda, California. Consensus was held by members of the Nixon family that had any events occurred at the Capitol, visitors might not be respectful towards the memory of Nixon. After his death, Nixon’s remains were flown to California in an Air Force jet where his body lay in repose at his presidential library from the morning of April 26 until his funeral service the following day. An estimated 42,000 people passed by Nixon’s casket in order to pay their respects. Eulogies were delivered by President Bill Clinton, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Senator Bob Dole, California Governor Pete Wilson, and Reverend Billy Graham. Also in attendance were former Presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and their wives. After the funeral service concluded, Nixon was buried beside his wife Pat.
Ronald Reagan died on June 5, 2004, in Los Angeles, California, from complications of Alzheimer's disease. A state funeral occurred in Washington, D.C., and Simi Valley, California, where Reagan was interred at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. 200,000 mourners (5,000 per hour) filed past Reagan's casket in the Capitol rotunda June 9–11, 2004. Over two dozen world leaders listened to eulogies given by President George W. Bush, former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher during a national funeral service held at Washington National Cathedral. This funeral also featured a new element: a massive security operation. The state funeral marked the first time that Washington hosted a major event since the September 11, 2001 attacks. As a result, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) designated the state funeral a National Special Security Event (NSSE), making the United States Secret Service in charge of security. Attorney General John Ashcroft told a Senate hearing before the funeral: "It is a sad commentary when the observation of a memorial service for a former president of the United States must be labeled a National Special Security Event. Such is the fact of modern life in Washington and such is the nature of the war against al Qaeda."
When Gerald Ford died on December 26, 2006, of arteriosclerotic cerebrovascular disease and diffuse arteriosclerosis, a state funeral was held in Palm Desert, California, Washington D.C., and Grand Rapids, Michigan. Eulogies were given at Washington National Cathedral by former Presidents George H. W. Bush and Jimmy Carter, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, journalist Tom Brokaw, and sitting President George W. Bush. Ford's remains were then flown to Michigan for interment at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum.
George H. W. Bush died on November 30, 2018, in Houston, Texas, from complications of Parkinson’s Disease. Departing from Ellington Airport on December 3, Bush’s remains were transported on a Boeing VC-25 dubbed “Special Air Mission 41” to Washington for a state funeral. After an arrival at Joint Base Andrews and a brief ceremony in the Capitol rotunda where members of Congress, the Supreme Court and the Bush family paid tribute to the life of the president, Bush’s remains lay in state for public viewing until the morning of December 5. On December 5, a funeral service was held at Washington National Cathedral with eulogies delivered by Bush’s son and former president, George W. Bush, former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, former Senator Alan Simpson, and historian and author Jon Meacham. President Donald Trump declared a national day of mourning on the day of the state funeral. In addition to Trump and First Lady Melania Trump, guests included former Presidents Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter. Several world leaders including Polish President Andrzej Duda, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, King Abullah II and Queen Rania of Jordan, and Charles, Prince of Wales representing Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II attended the funeral service. After the funeral service at the Cathedral, Bush’s remains were flown back to Texas where his remains lay in repose and a private funeral service was conducted at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston on December 6. Bush’s remains then traveled for two hours and twenty-five minutes via a Union Pacific 4141 funeral train from Spring to College Station, Texas. Interment and burial occurred at the George Bush Presidential Library.
History of non-presidential state funerals
The first non-presidential state funeral was for Thaddeus Stevens in 1868. When Stevens died on August 11, mourners came to his home in Washington, D.C., to pay their respects, including U.S. Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts. Stevens's remains were transported by a cavalry regiment to the Capitol where he lay in state in the rotunda on August 13, 1868, until the morning of August 14. After a short funeral service, Stevens's remains were taken to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, for interment.
In 1921, a state funeral was conducted for the Unknown Soldier of World War I. The idea of honoring the unknown dead of World War I originated in Europe, the first being the United Kingdom and France on November 11, 1920. Other nations such as Italy soon followed this custom. At first, the idea of honoring a fallen and unknown soldier from World War I was met with resistance in the United States since there was no established place for burial of a fallen soldier similar to Westminster Abbey in London or the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. In addition, all American servicemen who fought in the war were in the process of being identified and accounted for by the Army Graves Registration, unlike the British and French who had many unknown dead. By 1920, a resolution in Congress was proposed for such an honor and by March 4, 1921, Public Resolution 67 was approved by the 66th United States Congress for the construction of the tomb of the unknown soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. Congress on October 20, 1921, declared November 11, 1921, the third anniversary of Armistice Day, a legal holiday. The War Department then began a selection process of an unknown soldier. Four bodies were exhumed from four cemeteries; Aisne-Marne American Cemetery and Memorial, Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery and Memorial, Somme American Cemetery and Memorial, and St. Mihiel American Cemetery and Memorial in France. During the selection ceremony at Châlons-sur-Marne, it was Edward F. Younger of Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 50th Infantry, American Forces in Germany who selected the third casket from left that contained an unknown soldier to be honored with a state funeral in Washington D C. and for burial at Arlington. In Washington, D.C., the unknown soldier was escorted to the Capitol in a funeral procession on November 9. With lying in state occurring in the rotunda, some 90,000 people on November 9–10 filed past the casket that rested on the Lincoln Catafalque. A funeral service was conducted at the Arlington Memorial Amphitheater in the presence of President Warren G. Harding. Interment and burial of the unknown soldier with military rites took place at the newly constructed tomb.
On July 15, 1948, General of the Armies John J. Pershing died at Walter Reed Army Hospital. Initially, plans for a state funeral were drawn up ten years earlier when it seemed that the general was near death. The plan was kept a closely guarded secret and during those ten years, Pershing's funeral was revised. As a military man and as one of the highest ranking commissioned officers in the United States Army, Pershing insisted that his state funeral be a military one. His remains lay in repose in the chapel at Walter Reed Army Hospital. During the state funeral scheduled for July 17–19, 1948, the public would be admitted to view Pershing lying in state in the Capitol rotunda and a funeral procession from the Capitol to Arlington National Cemetery would occur. A funeral service was held at the Memorial Amphitheatre and interment was given with military rites at the gravesite in Arlington National Cemetery. A proposal to posthumously award Pershing a six-star rank was swiftly dropped in favor of the four-star rank that the general attained in his military career.
Like the Unknown Soldier of World War I, it was decided in June 1946 by the 79th United States Congress that a state funeral and burial in Arlington National Cemetery would be given to an unknown soldier after the end of World War II. However, the selection process would be simplified—an unidentified serviceman was to be chosen from each of the following: the European area, the Far East area, the Mediterranean zone, the Pacific area, the former Africa-Middle East zone now part of the Mediterranean zone, and the Alaskan Command chosen by one of five representatives of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard, each of whom had received the highest award of his service during World War II. Plans for a state funeral was to occur between May 27–30, 1950, but this was shelved because of the outbreak of the Korean War. Interest though was revived in August 1955 long after the war concluded and on August 2, 1956, the 84th United States Congress enacted Public Law 975 that authorized the burial of an unknown soldier of the Korean War in addition to the unknown soldier of World War II. The two caskets bearing the remains of the two unknown soldiers rested atop two catafalques in the Capitol rotunda. Lying in state occurred from May 28–30, 1958. A funeral procession of two horse-drawn caissons traveled from the Capitol on Constitution Avenue, 23rd Street, Arlington Memorial Bridge, and Memorial Drive to Arlington National Cemetery. As the funeral cortege reached the Memorial Gate, twenty jet fighters and bombers passed overhead with one plane missing from each formation. A funeral service was held at the Memorial Amphitheatre attended by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Vice-President Richard Nixon, and members of Congress. A burial service conducted with military rites included a three-volley salute, the playing of Taps, and the folding of flags. It is estimated that over 4,800 members of the Armed Forces participated in the state funeral of the unknown soldiers of World War II and the Korean War.
A state funeral was held for General of the Army Douglas MacArthur in 1964. President John F. Kennedy had authorized a state funeral for MacArthur and President Lyndon B. Johnson confirmed Kennedy's directive. Funeral plans drawn up in 1958 called for seven days rather than four days of ceremonial events. When MacArthur died on April 5, 1964, at Walter Reed Army Hospital, his remains were transported to New York City, where he lay in repose at the Seventh Regiment Armory. Mounted city police from the New York City Police Department, soldiers from the First Army, and cadets from the United States Military Academy participated in the funeral procession on Park Avenue, 66th Street, 57th Street, Fifth Avenue, Broadway and Seventh Avenue en route to Pennsylvania Station. A funeral train transported MacArthur's remains from New York to Union Station in Washington, D.C. A funeral procession on both Pennsylvania and Constitution Avenues using a horse-drawn caisson took the General's remains to the Capitol for lying in state. Over the course of two days, April 8–9, over 150,000 people filed past MacArthur's casket in the Capitol rotunda. A third funeral procession occurred on Constitution Avenue that included a flyover of fifty Air Force planes over the column in salute as the horse-drawn caisson neared the site of the casket transfer to a hearse. MacArthur's remains were then transported to Washington National Airport and flown to Naval Station Norfolk on a Lockheed C-130 Hercules. A fourth funeral procession occurred in the streets of Norfolk, stopping at the MacArthur Memorial where lying in repose occurred in the rotunda from April 9–11. After a religious service was held at St. Paul's Episcopal Church on April 11 in Norfolk for an invited 400 guests, a fifth and final horse-drawn procession back to the MacArthur Memorial occurred. A three-volley salute, the folding of the flag, and a 19-gun salute accorded to a five-star rank of general, which MacArthur possessed, was fired before burial in a crypt.
On August 25, 2012, Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first person to walk on the moon, died after complications from coronary artery bypass surgery. Congressman Bill Johnson from Armstrong's home state of Ohio, led calls for President Barack Obama to authorize a state funeral in Washington, D.C. Throughout his lifetime, Armstrong shunned publicity and rarely gave interviews. Mindful that Armstrong would have objected to a state funeral, his family opted to have a private funeral in Cincinnati. His remains were scattered in the Atlantic Ocean during a burial-at-sea ceremony on September 14, 2012, aboard the USS Philippine Sea.
Presidential places of burial
Many presidents have been interred in cemeteries, tombs, crypts, vaults, in the grounds at a place of residence, and inside cathedrals. Some examples include the following. The remains of George Washington were interred in a tomb at his Virginia plantation, Mount Vernon, in 1799. After falling into disrepair as well as grave robbers attempting to steal the remains of Washington, a new and more secure vault was constructed at Mount Vernon in 1831. Thomas Jefferson was interred at the Monticello Graveyard in the grounds of his Virginia plantation, Monticello, in 1826. The remains of Abraham Lincoln were exhumed and moved a total of seventeen times, the first exhumation occurring in 1865, before the ornate and lavish Lincoln Tomb was finally built for final interment in 1901 at Oak Ridge Cemetery located in Springfield, Illinois. Ulysses S. Grant, who died in 1885, was interred in Riverside Park in New York City where eventually, the construction of Grant's Tomb housing the former president's remains was finally completed and dedicated in 1897. The remains of Woodrow Wilson were interred in a sarcophagus inside Washington National Cathedral in 1924. In 1933 Calvin Coolidge was interred with minimal ceremony in the village cemetery in Plymouth Notch, Vermont, becoming the last president to be buried in a public cemetery. William Howard Taft and John F. Kennedy were interred at Arlington National Cemetery in the years 1930 and 1963 respectively.
Many presidents in recent years have been interred at their presidential libraries around the nation. Examples include Ronald Reagan, whose remains are interred at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, Gerald Ford, whose remains are located at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and George H. W. Bush, whose remains are interred at the George Bush Presidential Library in College Station, Texas.
In the United States, a sitting president while in office will immediately issue a presidential proclamation allowing for the flag of the United States to be flown at half-staff upon the death of principal figures in the federal government, such as a former president, and others, as a mark of respect to their memory. When such a proclamation is issued, all government buildings, offices, public schools and military bases are to fly their flags at half-staff. Under federal law (4 U.S.C. § 7(f)), the flags of states, cities, localities, and pennants of societies, shall never be placed above the flag of the United States. Thus, all other flags also fly at half-staff when the flag of the United States has been ordered to fly at half-staff. Protocol dictates that flags will be flown at half-staff for a period of thirty days for a former president, beginning at the time a presidential proclamation is made effective. At the discretion of the sitting president, he will also issue an executive order which authorizes the closure of all federal departments, agencies, and buildings on a national day of mourning during a state funeral.
On the day after the death of a president, a former president, or a president-elect unless the day falls on a Sunday or holiday, in which case the honor will be rendered the following day, the commanders of Army installations with the necessary personnel and material traditionally order that one gun be fired every half hour, beginning at reveille and ending at retreat. On the day of interment for a president, a 21-gun salute traditionally is fired starting at noon at all military installations with the necessary personnel and material. Guns will be fired at one-minute intervals. Also on the day of interment, those installations will fire a 50-gun salute with one round for each of the 50 U.S. states and at five-second intervals immediately following a lowering of the flag. 19-gun salutes are reserved for deputy heads of state, chiefs of staff, cabinet members, and 5-star generals. For each flag rank junior to a five-star officer, two guns are subtracted.
The commanding general of the Joint Force Headquarters National Capital Region will act as a military escort for the president's family from the time of the official announcement of death until interment occurs. Two examples of this role was by Major General Galen B. Jackman who escorted former First Lady Nancy Reagan during the state funeral of Ronald Reagan in 2004 and Lieutenant General Guy C. Swan III who escorted former First Lady Betty Ford during the state funeral of Gerald Ford in 2006–07.
Most state funerals include a nine-person honor guard acting as pallbearers (also known as body bearers) from all five branches of the Armed Forces, a series of gun salutes using cannons from the Presidential Salute Battery of the 3rd United States Infantry Regiment "The Old Guard", flyovers in missing man formation, various musical selections performed by military bands and choirs, a military chaplain for the immediate family, and a flag-draped casket or pall.
Sitting presidents who die while in office may lie in repose in the East Room of the White House. Former presidents may lie in repose in their home or adopted state, usually at their presidential library, before traveling to Washington, D.C. when thereafter, lying in state in the United States Capitol Rotunda will occur. Dwight D. Eisenhower was an exception to this general rule. Following his death at Walter Reed Army Hospital in 1969, Eisenhower lay in repose in the Bethlehem Chapel at Washington National Cathedral for 28 hours, rather than at his presidential library in Abilene, Kansas.
A funeral procession occurs during a state funeral on Pennsylvania or Constitution Avenue en route to the United States Capitol. Every funeral procession is led by a civilian police escort, usually by the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department. Next, the formal, ceremonial aspects of a procession are organized. A funeral procession uses a four-wheeled caisson to transport the flag-draped casket, which was originally intended to carry a 75 mm cannon when it was built in 1918. The caisson is drawn by a draft-mix of 6 same-colored horses with three riders and a section chief mounted on a separate horse from the United States Army Caisson Platoon of the 3rd United States Infantry Regiment "The Old Guard". In addition, 2 sets of four body bearers (8 total) will march on foot alongside both sides of the caisson transporting the flag-draped casket. The entire funeral procession is composed of three march units consisting of National Guard, reserve, active-duty, and academy personnel that represent the five branches of the United States Armed Forces. Moving at 3 miles per hour, the funeral procession begins in sight of the White House and travels to the United States Capitol. For former presidents, the casket is unloaded from a hearse and transferred to a caisson at 16th Street and Constitution Avenue in view of the South Lawn. The funeral procession then proceeds down Constitution Avenue. For sitting presidents, the casket is transferred at the North Portico entrance of the White House. Thereafter, the funeral procession proceeds down Pennsylvania Avenue. Two exceptions for this funeral procession were made during the state funerals of Gerald Ford on December 30, 2006, and George H. W. Bush on December 3, 2018. Respecting Ford's and Bush’s personal wishes of not having a funeral procession using a horse-drawn caisson, their caskets were transported in hearses to the United States Capitol. For Ford, the procession stopped at the National World War II Memorial in order to pay tribute to his service in the United States Navy during World War II.
Each of the three march units are led by a military band. Positioned directly in front of the caisson, three color guards will march on foot, with the center color guard having responsibility for trooping the national colors, the flag of the United States. Following immediately behind the caisson, a single color guard will march on foot trooping the presidential standard, the flag of the President of the United States.
Next, a single honor guard will march on foot holding the reins of a caparisoned, riderless horse with a set of boots reversed in the stirrups, symbolizing a fallen warrior who will never ride again which also betokens the commander's parting look on his troops, who march behind. The equipment mounted on the caparisoned, riderless horse varies according to color of the horse. If black, a saddle blanket, saddle, and bridle are mounted on the horse. If any other color, the horse carries a folded hood and cape, along with a blanket, saddle and bridle. For presidential state funerals, the Presidential Seal is emblazoned on the blanket, four inches from the bottom. The inclusion of a riderless horse in a funeral procession dates back to the death of George Washington in 1799 when a caparisoned, riderless horse carried Washington's saddle, holsters, and pistol during the president's funeral. In 1865, Abraham Lincoln was honored by the inclusion of a riderless horse at his state funeral. When Lincoln's funeral train reached Springfield, Illinois, his horse "Old Bob", who was draped in a black mourning blanket, followed the funeral procession and led mourners to the president's burial plot. The most famous riderless horse was "Black Jack" who was foaled January 19, 1947, and was the last of the Quartermaster-issue horses branded with the Army's "US" brand. He was named after General of the Armies John J. "Black Jack" Pershing. He participated in the state funerals of John F. Kennedy, Herbert Hoover, and Lyndon B. Johnson, as well as the state funeral of General of the Army Douglas MacArthur. The deceased president's family, who are accompanied by federal government officials, will follow behind the funeral procession in a presidential motorcade.
During the funeral procession midway between the White House and the Capitol as the caisson passes through the intersection of Constitution Avenue and 4th Street, N.W., a flyover consisting of 21 tactical fighter aircraft from the United States Air Force, will fly in formation as a single lead aircraft followed by 5 flights of four aircraft each. The #3 aircraft in the final flight executes the maneuver of missing man low enough to be clearly seen by on-looking spectators below.
The funeral procession traditionally ends at the center steps on the east front of the Capitol. Exceptions were made for Lyndon B. Johnson, Ronald Reagan, and Gerald Ford. Johnson's casket was carried up the Senate wing steps because the center steps were blocked with construction scaffolding from the second inauguration of Richard Nixon which occurred just days earlier. As a break with tradition, Reagan, as former Governor of California, requested that his casket be carried up the steps of the Capitol's West Front facing California. Ford, as a former member of the United States House of Representatives, requested that his casket be carried up the House wing steps.
Funeral processions on Pennsylvania Avenue
Pennsylvania Avenue has been used for eight presidential funeral processions, including the four who died by assassination. In 1841, William Henry Harrison was escorted up the avenue by twenty-six pallbearers, one for each of the twenty-six U.S. states in the Union. On July 13, 1850, the funeral procession for Zachary Taylor on Pennsylvania Avenue stretched for over two miles. On April 19, 1865, a cortege numbering an unprecedented 30,000 people escorted the remains of Abraham Lincoln on the avenue from the White House to the Capitol. In 1881, the body of James A. Garfield was escorted on Pennsylvania Avenue by the new president, Chester A. Arthur, and ex-President Ulysses S. Grant. Returned to Washington D.C. ten days earlier by a funeral train, the remains of William McKinley were escorted on the rain-dampened avenue from the White House to the Capitol on September 17, 1901. Carriages bearing the new president, Theodore Roosevelt, and ex-President Grover Cleveland, preceded the marchers. On August 8, 1923, Warren G. Harding was honored by a cavalry escort led by General John J. Pershing during the president's funeral procession on the avenue to the Capitol. Perhaps one of the most poignant funeral processions in the 20th century occurred on November 24, 1963, for John F. Kennedy. Televised worldwide, the slain president's casket rode on the same caisson that had borne Franklin D. Roosevelt's body on Constitution Avenue eighteen years earlier, making Roosevelt the only president to die in office whose funeral procession did not take place on Pennsylvania Avenue. After Lyndon B. Johnson died in 1973, his funeral procession went down Pennsylvania Avenue, but from the Capitol, as it was on the way to National City Christian Church, as the funeral services were held there on January 25.
The nation has also honored other people with a funeral procession on Pennsylvania Avenue. They include Vice-President George Clinton in 1812; Presidents John Quincy Adams in 1848 (serving as a member of Congress in the House of Representatives) and William Howard Taft in 1930 (serving as Chief Justice of the United States until just one month before his death); Generals Jacob Brown in 1828, Alexander Macomb in 1841 and Philip Sheridan in 1888; Admiral George Dewey in 1917; and Ambassador Adlai Stevenson in 1965. On March 2, 1844, Secretary of State Abel Upshur and Secretary of the Navy Thomas Walker Gilmer, as well as three other victims of the 1844 gun explosion disaster aboard the USS Princeton, were all honored with a funeral procession led by Zachary Taylor on Pennsylvania Avenue. The nation also honored the Unknown Soldier of World War I with a funeral procession on the avenue on November 11, 1921. President Harding, General Pershing, and Chief Justice Taft all walked on foot behind the caisson while ailing ex-President Woodrow Wilson rode in a horse-drawn carriage, which was followed by the entire Congress.
Capitol rotunda service and lying in state
Shortly after the casket is moved onto the floor of the Capitol rotunda and placed on top of the Lincoln Catafalque, members of the United States Congress gather to pay tribute. A program which includes eulogies, a benediction, prayers, and the laying of floral wreaths will be conducted. Afterward, the president's remains lie in state or an honoree's remains lie in honor for public viewing. Although lying in state continues for a period of at least 24 hours, it differs from lying in honor. Five honor guards, each representing a branch of the Armed Forces, will face the flag-draped casket while holding their rifles with their right hand and keeping the rifle butt resting on the floor. These honor guards will periodically rotate in order to relieve previous honor guards during their constant vigil over the casket. A mass public viewing is permitted during the lying in state until one hour before the next departure ceremony begins.
A national funeral service, with a religious theme, is traditionally held at Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., or at another church, depending on the president's religious faith. Funeral services for Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford, and George H.W. Bush were held at the Cathedral. William Howard Taft had his funeral at All Souls' Church, Unitarian, where he was a congregant. John F. Kennedy's requiem mass was held at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle, as he was a Roman Catholic. A funeral service was held for Lyndon B. Johnson at National City Christian Church, as he worshipped there often while president.
Various foreign dignitaries, heads of state, royalty, and government officials attend. On the matter of seating arrangements, the family of the deceased is immediately followed by federal government officials, and then by foreign heads of state who are arranged alphabetically by the English spelling of the countries in which they represent. Royalty representing heads of state, such as princes and dukes, come next, followed by foreign heads of government, such as prime ministers and premiers. During the funeral service, military top brass sit in the north transept and extended family members sit in the south transept, if the funeral service is held at Washington National Cathedral. The length of these religious services has varied. More recent ones have tended to include multiple eulogies and thus have been longer. Eisenhower's was roughly thirty minutes. Bush's was slightly over two hours.
Immediately after the national funeral service is completed, the casket travels to its final resting place for interment. Before the mid-20th century, the casket was moved long distances across the nation by a funeral train procession, where thousands of mourners would line the railroad tracks to pay homage. VIP transport in recent decades between the deceased president's home state and Washington, D.C. has been aboard one of the two Boeing VC-25 jets (tail codes SAM 28000 and SAM 29000) in the presidential fleet which are operated by the 89th Airlift Wing at Joint Base Andrews. As protocol dictates, any deceased president whose remains are flown on an Air Force jet are not entitled to use the call sign Air Force One since this call sign is exclusively reserved for any aircraft in the Air Force with a sitting and living president aboard. The departure and arrival ceremonies held at Joint Base Andrews as well as at the final destination of interment are met with honor guards, a military band, and a 21-gun salute as the casket is loaded on and unloaded off the aft section of a Boeing VC-25. Because of air transportation in the modern era, it has now become possible for a funeral service and interment to be completed within the same day, as seen during the state funerals of Lyndon B. Johnson in January 1973, Ronald Reagan in June 2004, and Gerald Ford In December 2006 – January 2007. However, there were two notable exceptions for Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1969 and George H. W. Bush in 2018. Instead of using a Boeing VC-137C jet (tail code SAM 26000) which at the time typically served the role as Air Force One, a funeral train was used to carry and transport Eisenhower’s casket. Departing from Union Station in Washington, D.C., on March 31, 1969, Eisenhower's funeral train arrived in his hometown of Abilene, Kansas, on April 2, 1969. Interment inside the 'Place of Meditation' located on the grounds of the Eisenhower Presidential Library occurred later that day. Although Bush’s casket was flown back to Texas from Washington using a Boeing VC-25 on December 5, 2018, his remains were transported on December 6, 2018, for interment at the George Bush Presidential Library in College Station using a funeral train that was powered by a specially painted EMD SD70ACe locomotive known as Union Pacific 4141.
More reminiscent of a military funeral during interment, presidents are automatically accorded full military honors in recognition of their role as Commander-in-Chief of the United States Armed Forces. A three-volley salute is fired over the gravesite by seven members who form a rifle party. This however, does not constitute a 21-gun salute. Taps, a bugle call sounded over the grave dating from the era of the American Civil War is performed by one lone bugler from the United States Marine Band, thirty to fifty yards away. Immediately thereafter, the United States Marine Band will perform William Whiting's Eternal Father, Strong to Save as the "Final Salute" is given.
During interment, fighter aircraft provided by the United States Air Force will perform a second and final aerial flyover in missing man formation, as would be previously observed during a ceremonial procession on Constitution Avenue in Washington, D.C.
Flag folding and presentation
A final component of a state funeral, as is typically offered during military funerals for fallen veterans, is the folding of the flag of the United States and its presentation to the next of kin. The flag draped over the casket is meticulously folded twelve times by a total of eight honor guards, four on each side of the casket. Next, an honor guard representing one of the five branches of the Armed Forces will present the flag to the next of kin by kneeling in front of the recipient, holding the folded flag waist high with the straight edge facing the recipient, while leaning toward the recipient. Until 2012, depending on the service of the selected honor guard chosen to present the flag to the next of kin, each of the five military branches used slightly different wording.
The premier military bands from the five branches of the Armed Forces have an approved musical repertoire that they perform while marching on Pennsylvania or Constitution Avenue. The use of muffled drums and bagpipes are common as well.
During the state funeral of John F. Kennedy in 1963, as an example, the United States Marine Band performed Holy, Holy, Holy by Reginald Heber, Our Fallen Heroes, and The Vanished Army after clearing the Capitol Plaza and joining military units for the 35-minute march on Constitution Avenue to the White House. The United States Navy Band selected Symphony No. 3 "The Funeral March" by Ludwig Van Beethoven, The Funeral March by Robert Browne Hall, and the hymn Onward, Christian Soldiers by Arthur Sullivan. The United States Air Force Band chose to perform Piano Sonata No. 2 "The Funeral March", by Frédéric Chopin, the hymn Vigor in Arduis (also known as Hymn to the Holy Name), and America the Beautiful by Samuel A. Ward. During the funeral procession from the White House to the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle, Kennedy was honored by nine bagpipers from the Black Watch, an infantry battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland, who traveled from the United Kingdom to participate in the state funeral. They performed The Brown Haired Maiden, The Badge of Scotland, The 51st Highland Division, and The Barren Rocks of Aden.
During a national funeral service, such as those held at Washington National Cathedral, the Cathedral Choir or the Armed Forces Choir will sing a selection of religious and patriotic music. In 1969, Dwight D. Eisenhower's state funeral included a religious service at the Cathedral that incorporated music such as Schmucke dich, o liebe Seele by Johann Sebastian Bach and O Welt, ich muss dich lassen by Johannes Brahms. During the state funeral of Ronald Reagan in 2004, Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee by Ludwig van Beethoven and Mansions of the Lord by Nick Glennie-Smith were performed in the Cathedral. The state funeral of Gerald Ford in 2006–07 included music such as O God, Our Help in Ages Past by William Croft, Eternal Father, Strong to Save (also known as The Navy Hymn), and Fanfare for the Common Man by Aaron Copland. In 2018, the state funeral of George H. W. Bush included the hymns The King of Love My Shepherd Is by Henry Williams Baker, My House Shall Be Called a House of Prayer by Douglas Major, Eternal Father, Strong to Save, and Croft’s O God, Our Help in Ages Past. During John F. Kennedy's Requiem Mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in 1963, the St. Matthew's Choir sang Subvenite and Sanctus and Benedictus. Tenor soloist Luigi Vena sang Pie Jesu by Ignace Leybach, Ave Maria by Franz Schubert, and In Manus Tuus by Vincent Novello. The organist and choirmaster was Eugene Stewart.
Solo musicians who are globally acclaimed have also performed during a funeral service, a recent example being Irish tenor Ronan Tynan who at the request of First Lady Nancy Reagan, sang Amazing Grace at Washington National Cathedral during the Reagan state funeral in 2004. During the Ford state funeral in 2007, renowned Metropolitan Opera singer Denyce Graves sangThe Lord’s Prayer by Albert Hay Malotte at the Cathedral during the homily. In 2018, Irish tenor Ronan Tynan was invited again to the Cathedral to sing during the Bush state funeral. His musical selections included Malotte’s The Lord’s Prayer and Last Full Measure of Devotion by Larry Grossman. In addition, Christian contemporary soloist Michael W. Smith sang Friends, a piece of music attributed to him. Other venues, such as National City Christian Church invited American soprano Leontyne Price to sing Take My Hand, Precious Lord during Lyndon B. Johnson's state funeral in 1973.
List of lying in state and honor recipients
Since the death of Henry Clay in 1852, the United States Capitol rotunda has served as the venue for honoring 34 military officers and politicians - including 12 presidents - with a lying in state. Not all who lie in state nor all for whom flags are flown at half-staff, receive a state funeral. A distinction is made between recipients who are permitted to lie in state and those who lie in honor. Incumbent and past government officials whose remains are placed in the rotunda for view by the public to pay their respects will lie in state. Individuals other than members of the government will lie in honor. The rotunda has been used five times for six individuals who have lain in honor: four members of the United States Capitol Police killed defending the building (two in 1998 and two in separate incidents in 2021); civil rights activist Rosa Parks in 2005; and evangelist and minister Billy Graham in 2018.
When lying in state, six guards of honor, each representing the six branches of the Armed Forces, will periodically rotate and relieve the preceding set of guards of honor who watch over the remains. For recipients who have been designated to lie in honor, the United States Capitol Police will act as guards of honor. No law, written rule, or regulation specifies who may lie in state. Use of the Capitol rotunda is controlled by a concurrent resolution of the House of Representatives and the Senate. Any person who has rendered distinguished service to the nation may lie in state if the family so wishes and the United States Congress approves. In the case of unknown soldiers, the president or the appropriate branch of the Armed Forces initiates the action.
People who have lain in state in the United States Capitol rotunda are as follows:
- Henry Clay (July 1, 1852)
- Abraham Lincoln (April 19–21, 1865)
- Thaddeus Stevens (August 13–14, 1868)
- Charles Sumner (March 13, 1874)
- Henry Wilson (November 25–26, 1875)
- James A. Garfield (September 21–23, 1881)
- John Alexander Logan (December 30–31, 1886)
- William McKinley (September 17, 1901)
- Pierre Charles L'Enfant (April 28, 1909)
- George Dewey (January 20, 1917)
- Unknown Soldier of World War I (November 9–11, 1921)
- Warren G. Harding (August 8, 1923)
- William Howard Taft (March 11, 1930)
- John Joseph Pershing (July 18–19, 1948)
- Robert Alphonso Taft (August 2–3, 1953)
- Unknown Soldiers of World War II and the Korean War (May 28–30, 1958)
- John F. Kennedy (November 24–25, 1963)
- Douglas MacArthur (April 8–9, 1964)
- Herbert Hoover (October 23–25, 1964)
- Dwight D. Eisenhower (March 30–31, 1969)
- Everett McKinley Dirksen (September 9–10, 1969)
- J. Edgar Hoover (May 3–4, 1972)
- Lyndon B. Johnson (January 24–25, 1973)
- Hubert Humphrey (January 14–15, 1978)
- Unknown Soldier of the Vietnam War, later identified as Michael J. Blassie (May 25–28, 1984)
- Claude Denson Pepper (June 1–2, 1989)
- Ronald Reagan (June 9–11, 2004)
- Gerald Ford (December 30, 2006 – January 2, 2007)
- Daniel Inouye (December 20, 2012)
- John McCain (August 31, 2018)
- George H. W. Bush (December 3–5, 2018)
- John Lewis (July 27–29, 2020) (laid atop the East Front steps during public viewing hours)
- Bob Dole (December 9, 2021)
- Harry Reid (January 12, 2022)
People who have lain in honor in the United States Capitol rotunda are as follows:
- Jacob Chestnut and John Gibson, Capitol Police officers killed in a 1998 shooting (July 28, 1998)
- Rosa Parks (October 30–31, 2005)
- Billy Graham (February 28 – March 1, 2018)
- Brian Sicknick, Capitol Police officer killed in the 2021 Capitol attack (February 2, 2021)
- William Evans, Capitol Police officer killed in the 2021 Capitol car attack (April 13, 2021)
People who have lain in state in the House Chamber at the United States Capitol are as follows:
- Samuel Hooper (February 16, 1875)
- Ronald H. Brown (April 9–10, 1996)
People who have lain in repose in the Senate Chamber at the United States Capitol are as follows:
- Frank Lautenberg (June 6, 2013)
- William Henry Harrison (April 4–7, 1841)
- Zachary Taylor (July 10–13, 1850)
- Abraham Lincoln (April 19–21, 1865)
- William McKinley (September 16–17, 1901)
- Warren G. Harding (August 7–8, 1923)
- Franklin D. Roosevelt (April 14, 1945)
- John F. Kennedy (November 23–24, 1963)
- Salmon P. Chase (May 11, 1873)
- Earl Warren (July 11–12, 1974)
- Thurgood Marshall (January 27, 1993)
- Warren E. Burger (June 28, 1995)
- William J. Brennan Jr. (July 28, 1997)
- Harry A. Blackmun (March 8, 1999)
- William H. Rehnquist (September 6–7, 2005)
- Antonin Scalia (February 19, 2016)
- John Paul Stevens (July 22, 2019)
- Ruth Bader Ginsburg (September 23–24, 2020) (laid atop the front steps during public viewing hours)
Since state funerals in the United States are elaborate affairs which are in themselves rare occurrences, they are planned years in advance. Each president living, sitting or former, is generally expected to have funeral plans in place on becoming president. However, these details become more important after a president leaves office, and serves to reduce stress for the president's family in an era of worldwide media scrutiny.
The Military District of Washington (MDW) has primary responsibility in overseeing state funerals and in all cases, must strictly follow the outline of a 138-page planning document. Detailed funeral arrangements have emerged for Jimmy Carter: a 411-page document outlining a state funeral for Carter has been filed with the Military District of Washington, including a national funeral service at National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., and a public viewing of the former president's remains at the Carter Center in Atlanta, Georgia. Carter has stated that his final interment and burial will be in the front yard of his family's residence, which is now a component of the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site in Plains, Georgia.
Living former presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Donald Trump and incumbent president Joe Biden have not revealed full information regarding their funeral plans, but Bush does have a burial plot in the Texas State Cemetery in Austin (to which he is entitled as a former Governor of Texas), while Trump had previously stated as early as 2014 that he wished to be buried in a newly constructed family cemetery in Bedminster, New Jersey, overlooking the Trump National Golf Club.
State funerals of American presidents
- Funeral and burial of Abraham Lincoln
- State funeral of John F. Kennedy
- Death and state funeral of Richard Nixon
- Death and state funeral of Ronald Reagan
- Death and state funeral of Gerald Ford
- Death and state funeral of George H. W. Bush
State funerals of Hawaiian monarchs
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