“It falls to my lot to communicate to you the death of our excillent [sic] friend Mr Monroe. he died exactly at half past 3 oClock P.M after a lingering illness, but easy death. … What a remarkable coincidence of the deaths of three of our venerable revolationary [sic] Patriots & Presidents” (Tench Ringgold to James Madison, 4 July 1831 )
Numerous sources of presidential trivia cite Monroe’s last words as “I regret that I should leave this world without again beholding him,” referencing his friend of four decades, James Madison. None of the websites or publications reviewed have provided a citation to verify sourcing.
To date, Monroe’s last words have not been identified. The account of his death is largely drawn from Tench Ringgold, who was Monroe’s “…constant attendant & nurse” for the final months of his life and the author of the above-cited letter to Madison. On 7 July, Ringgold shared a more complete account of Monroe’s final months:
“During his illness he often mentioned you to me; and expressed not only his most affectionate regard, respect, and esteem for you, which it gave him pleasure to say had never for forty years been for one moment interrupted, but his great regret that he should leave this world without having the happiness of once more beholding you, his oldest and most valued friend. Of Mrs Madison he likewise often spoke with affectionate respect and esteem.” (Tench Ringgold to James Madison, 7 July 1831 )
Fortunately, Monroe had been able to share these sentiments with Madison directly, writing in April:
“I deeply regret that there is no prospect of our ever meeting again, since so long have we been connected, & in the most friendly intercourse, in publick & private life, that a final separation is among the most distressing incidents that cod occur.”(James Monroe to James Madison, 11 April 1831 )
Madison responded to Ringgold with a touching eulogy that highlighted both their long-standing friendship and his respect for Monroe’s character and decades of public service:
“I need not say to you who so well know how highly I rated the comprehensiveness & character of his mind; the purity & nobleness of his principles; the importance of his patriotic services; and the many private virtues of which his whole life was a model, nor how deeply therefore I must sympathize, on his loss with those who feel it most. A close friendship, continued thro’ so long [a pe]riod & such diversified scenes had grown into an affection very i[mp]erfectly expressed by that term; and I value accordingly the [ma]nifestation in his last hours that the reciprocity never abated.” (James Madison to Tench Ringgold, 12 July 1831 )
It would appear that Monroe’s comment about his regret at not being able to see Madison before his death has been taken out of the context of what he mentioned in his final months and applied instead as his last words. It remains a touching sentiment, regardless of its timing.
While not his final words, Monroe did have a notable “dying request”: the manumission of Peter Marks, a member of his enslaved community, and his only known emancipation of a slave.
 Tench Ringgold to James Madison, 4 July 1831 (Madison Papers, Library of Congress); Ringgold also references the deaths of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson 5 years earlier, on 4 July 1826.
 Tench Ringgold to James Madison, 7 July 1831 (Madison Papers, Library of Congress)
 Tench Ringgold to James Madison, 7 July 1831 (Madison Papers, Library of Congress; “Tench Ringgold to James Madison, 7 July 1831,” Founders Online, National Archives [Early Access document])
 James Monroe to James Madison, 11 April 1831 (James Monroe Museum)
 James Madison to Tench Ringgold, 12 July 1831 (Madison Papers, Library of Congress)
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