Presidential Illness: A Secret History From Washington to Trump

Jacob Appel – Brown University

The issue of presidential health has at turns fascinated, concerned and inflamed Americans since the Constitutional Convention. How to address the prospect of an impaired or incapacitated chief executive has arisen repeatedly in Unites States history, and several–including Garfield and Wilson–have been unable to conduct their duties for prolonged periods of time. Others, like Madison, Cleveland, FDR and LBJ, overtly deceived the public as to their health. This lecture will explore the history of presidential illness, focusing on the debates surrounding the medical records of candidates, the diagnosis of politicians from afar, and the scope of the 25th Amendment and related removal mechanisms. As our third-oldest president yields office to our oldest president, never has the subject been more relevant.