The One-Day Presidency: Senator David Rice Atchison

March 1, 2016
David_Rice_Atchison_by_Mathew_Brady_March_1849

Senator David Rice Atchison in 1849. Photo Public Domain.

In the circus of a Presidential Election Year of 2016 in the United States the electorate gets to see all types on individuals seeking the office. As a Canadian these characters and Presidential oddities of history and today fascinate me. That isn’t to say Canada hasn`t had its share of strange political characters and oddities through the years. More on some of those in later posts, but for now I’ll stick with the American Presidential ones.

Sunday March 4, 1849 at noon President James K. Polk’s term in office expired. President-elect Zachary Taylor refused to be sworn into office.Why because it was Sunday, a holy day to him.

The situation is such that the incumbent President is no longer in office, the president-elect will not take the oath of office, so who is the president, or is there a power vacuum? The next person in the line of succession is the President pro tempore (chairman of the Senate). The President pro tempore is a U.S. Senator elected by his fellow senators. On Sunday March 4, 1849 that person is Senator David Rice Atchison a Democrat from Missouri. His fellow senators believe that he automatically becomes the Acting President until President-elect Zachary Taylor takes the oath of office.

Senator Atchison was a strong advocate of slavery and territorial expansion. He fought for new States to be designated pro-slavery namely Kansas and Nebraska. This was prior to the Civil War of 1860-1865. He also served as a general in the militia during the Civil War on the Confederate side.

Many believe to this day that Senator Atchison was in fact the President of the United States for one day; however, this claim is dismissed by nearly all historians, scholars, and biographers. This originates from the belief by many that the office of the President is vacant until the taking of the oath of office.

The fact is Senator Atchison’s term also ended on March 4th. He was not sworn in for another term, or re-elected President pro tempore of the Senate until March 5th. The U.S. Constitution doesn’t require the President-elect to take the oath of office to hold the office, just to execute the Presidential powers. Senator Atchison never took the oath of office, nor was he asked to, therefore he was never Acting President.

Historians and scholars assert when the outgoing President’s term ends, the President-elect automatically assumes the Presidency. In this case it was confusing because everyone went strictly by the Constitution. Zachary Taylor took the oath of office at noon on Monday March 5, 1849. Constitutionally he in fact became the President at noon on Sunday March 4, 1849. History shows he was inaugurated on March 5th. Confused yet? No wonder people of the time wondered about this. Of course the good people of Missouri, Senator Atchison’s constituents claimed him as the President, at least for one day in 1849.

Atchison was 41 years and 6 months old at the time of the alleged One-Day Presidency, younger than any official President. Theodore Roosevelt, the youngest to serve, was 42 years and 11 months old when sworn in after the assassination of President William McKinley in 1901. John F. Kennedy was the youngest elected at 43 years and 7 months old at his inauguration in 1961.

So officially and legally Senator Atchison was never the President of the United States, however, his gravestone reflects the belief of his supporters that he was history`s only one-day President.

Grave-Atchison_David_Rice_-_Plattsburg_MO_3

Grave of Senator Atchison/see photo credits below.

(By The original uploader was AmericanCentury21 at English Wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=267600)


Minority governments in Canada.

October 18, 2015

canadian-flag-blowing-in-the-wind-PublicDomanThe Canadian election is tomorrow, October 19, 2015. The present government is the Conservative Party led by Stephen Harper. They have had a majority government since the election of May 2, 2011. Prior to that the Stephen Harper and his Conservatives were elected twice before, but both times with minority governments.

In 2006 for the first time, but were 30 seats short of a majority. This government lasted 2 years, 207 days (total 937 days) before another election was held. Then in the subsequent election held October 14, 2008 the Conservatives again failed to obtain a majority. This time they fell 12 seats short. This time the minority government lasted 2 years, 4 months, 9 days (total 859 days).

Finally in the next election of May 2, 2011 the Conservatives won the majority they were seeking. The two minority governments he and his party formed are the two longest lasting in Canadian history.

There are pros and cons to both majority and minority governments. Failing to obtain a majority government forces the winning party to work with the other parties on important legislation. This need to compromise is not easy, but if important legislation such as a budget are defeated then the government must resign and another election called. With a majority these is no need to compromise. However, if the government doesn’t take other parties and stakeholders concerns into account then at the next election they may be defeated or lose their majority. Minority governments require a deft balancing act to remain in power.

Here are some interesting facts about minority governments in Canadian history since 1867,
– the longest consecutive term was 937 days (2 years, 6 months, 24 days) by the Stephen Harper Conservatives. Elected January 23, 2006 and dissolved September 7, 2008.
– the shortest duration of a minority government was the John Diefenbaker Progressive Conservatives elected April 12, 1957 and dissolved February 1, 1958. It lasted just 177 days (5 months, 25 days).
– smallest minority was the Stephen Harper Conservative government elected in 2006.
– average duration of minority governments in Canada is 479 days (about 1 year, 140 days)
– first minority government in Canadian history was William Lyon Mackenzie King led Liberals in the election of October 8, 1921. Initially this government held an exact number of seats for a majority but lost two seats in by-elections of 1924 and then continued as a minority government until later in 1924 when another by-election returned them to a majority.

The election of 2015 is too close to call at this writing, but polls show the Liberals led by Justin Trudeau forming a minority government. The other two parties having a realistic chance are the incumbant Conservatives led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the New Democratic Party (NDP) led by Thomas Mulcair. It would be a huge surprise if a majority government is elected on October 15th. Voter turnout is anticipated to be heavy based on the Advance Polls so anything can happen.

** Update – Liberals pull off upset majority government. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (son of the late Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau) will be sworn in November 4, 2015.


John Kennedy Wins Nomination – 50 years ago

July 13, 2010

JFK and Caroline in August 1963-White House photo

I can’t let this anniversary pass. On this day in 1960, Senator John F. Kennedy won the Democratic nomination for president at their convention in Los Angeles, California.

Of course, he went on to win the general election in November 1960 by the slimmest of margins to become president-elect. On January 20, 1961 he was sworn in as the 35th president of the United States. He was also the youngest elected president to take office and the first person of the Roman Catholic faith to become president.

Tragically, he became the youngest president (46 years of age) to die in office when he was assassinated on November 22, 1963 while riding in a motorcade through downtown Dallas, Texas.


Hillary Clinton and the Super-Delegates

April 23, 2008

Hillary Clinton’s big primary win yesterday in Pennsylvania kept her hopes alive for the Democatic Party nomination. She still trails Barack Obama in pledged delegates, but the gap has been closed. The big question is what impact the so-called “super-delegates” will have on who the final nominee with be. Super-delegates are made up of Democratic Senators, Representatives, party officials, former Presidents, etc. These delegates are not decided or assigned by the primary results. They can vote as they wish. Normally they don’t vote until the convention and there are several hundred of them. (Above: Hillary Clinton after Pennsylvania primary, AP Photo)

Most of all she has demonstrated she can carry the big states like Ohio, New York, Texas, California, Florida, Michigan and Pennsylvania, all of which she won the primaries in.

If the goal of the Democratic Party is to win the general election against the strong Republican candidate John McCann, then they need to consider Hillary’s ability to win those states having the most Electoral College Votes. Remember that winning the popular vote has nothing to do with winning the presidency. The candidate winning the majority of Electoral Votes wins. Here is the breakdown of Electoral Votes up for grabs in the large states in the general election:

California – 55
Florida – 27
Michigan – 17
New York – 20
Ohio – 20
Pennsylvania – 21
Texas – 34
Total = 194

You can see that if a candidate can carry all the large states they would be well on the way to reaching the magic number of 270 Electoral Votes needed to win the presidency. This certainly doesn’t dimish the importance of those states having smaller numbers of Electoral Votes because they would have a major impact in a tight election.

The most populous states have the most Electoral Votes because the number of Electors a state has is equal to the number of Senators and Representatives that states sends to Washington as elected officials. The total number of Electoral Votes is 538. A winning candidate in the general election has to win 270 (one more than half).

By winning the primaries in those states with the most Electoral Votes available in the general election Hillary Clinton hopes to be able to convince the unpledged “super-delegates” to support her. If she can do that, she will win the nomination.


Democratic Roadshow Continues- Pennsylvania Primary

April 21, 2008

Tomorrow, April 22, is another big day in the race for the Democratic Presidential nomination. The present delegate standing according to CNN Election central <www.cnn.com> is,

Senator Barack Obama
Pledged delegates = 1437
Super-delegates = 226
Total = 1663

Senator Hillary Clinton
Pledged delegates = 1264
Super-delegates = 248
Total = 1512

Candidates need a total of 2,025 delegates to win the nomination. It is becoming clear neither candidate will win the required votes prior to the convention in August. Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean is pushing for the super-delegates to publicly declare their votes by July 1st to break the deadlock. Normally they would not vote until the convention. This would allow the party to unite behind the winning candidate earlier than August. Democrats need to get a candidate selected so they can focus on the general election scheduled for November 4, 2008.

Dean is also advocating for the Florida delegates to be seated at the convention and to divide their candidates proportionally based on the results of the Florida primary. The results of this primary were not recognized because Florida scheduled their primary early against the wishes of the Democratic Party. So far none of the delegates have been factored into the totals. Hillary Clinton won the Florida primary so she would get the majority of the over 200 delegates at stake. Michigan is another state that Clinton won and again it has not been seated, nor the delegates assigned.

It is a certainty if the race is not decided before the convention, the super-delegates will decide the race. They vote at the convention under existing rules. These 800 super-delegates consist of party leaders and officials such as congressmen, senators, etc. Howard Dean himself is a super-delegate.

The Pennsylvania primary will allocate 158 delegates based on the voting results tomorrow. Clinton is expected to be the winner, but the vote will likely be close, so each will pick up many delegates. Again nothing will be decided. One candidate or the other would have to win an overwhelming majority for any kind of knockout blow to be landed.


Book Review – Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years

March 31, 2008

brothersbookcvr.jpgBrothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years

by David Talbot, Free Press a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc., New York, NY, 2007

This is a riveting expose of the Kennedy era through the eyes of John Kennedy’s most trusted adviser and confidant, his brother Robert Kennedy and other close friends from that era. It begins with John F. Kennedy’s presidency in January 1961 and continues through his brother, Robert Kennedy’s assassination, on June 6, 1968.

Using startling new evidence and interviews, the author reveals for the first time that Robert Kennedy did not believe the Warren Commission’s lone gunman theory and was convinced his brother was the victim of a conspiracy. When he became president he intended to re-open the Warren Commission Investigation into his brother’s assassination.

 

Previously unknown and chilling facts about the era are uncovered. The historical characters come to life in the pages of this book. The reader will be pulled into the events as if they were there. For example, the Joint Chiefs-of-Staff of the American military planned to carry out a surprise nuclear attack on the Soviet Union in the early 1960s to remove the communist threat. President Kennedy asked them what American losses would result. The reply was, “only 20 or 30 million deaths, and a few major cities would be obliterated.” It was inconceivable to him they would seriously consider such a thing. During his entire administration the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the military were conducting operations that he would not sanction, yet they went ahead regardless.

Some key points made by the author put this era in context,

          This was the height of the Cold War and the communist threat was the dominating fear of the CIA, FBI, and the military.

          The use of nuclear weapons and nuclear war were not unthinkable concepts to the military.

          The CIA was fixated on Fidel Castro’s Cuba and overthrowing its socialist government.

          The assassination of Castro was actively pursued with the help of the Mafia and without Kennedy’s approval or knowledge.

Any and all attempts by Kennedy to ease tensions with the Soviet Union were strongly opposed by the military and others who said he was “soft” on communism and believed as a result he was endangering the security of the United States.

He was opposed in his attempt to assist Martin Luther King, Jr. and his drive for civil rights for black Americans. The resulting split in the Democratic Party seriously endangered the re-election of Kennedy in 1964. If he did not win the state of Texas in the election of 1964, he would not be re-elected, hence the urgency of his trip to Texas in 1963. He needed to attack extremism in America and promote his view of world peace that relied on peaceful co-existence, not nuclear confrontation.

Reading this book made me believe in conspiracy simply because he had so many powerful enemies who had the motive, means and opportunity to murder the president. The author answers another statement made by those who don’t believe in conspiracy – “someone would have talked”. Talbot documents the fact that many reliable witnesses have talked over the years. They have not been taken seriously, eliminated, or their testimony buried. Although the story is woven into the assassinations of both John and Robert, it is not a true assassination book. It doesn’t advance a specific conspiracy scenario, rather it summarizes the most significant theories on the subject. What he does do most effectively is lift the veil on the many enemies of the Kennedy presidency. Bottom line thesis the book seems to advance is that Kennedy’s approach to the Cold War was so revolutionary, sinister forces fought to end it.

To anyone interested in the history of this era, this book will be a page-turner. I read it in a couple of days and couldn’t leave it alone. Talbot has so well-researched and documented his story the reader will be thinking about it for a very long time. It reads like a thriller. He accomplished the goal of examining the Kennedy Era through the eyes of those who lived it. After reading this book I am amazed that nuclear war did not occur.

Previously unpublished interviews with Jackie Kennedy and Robert Kennedy concerning the events of November 22, 1963 and their aftermath are a highlight of the book. Jackie’s descriptions of the bloodbath inside the presidential Lincoln are especially gut-wrenching. These descriptions serve to force the reader to look beyond the Zapruder film and realize the human carnage that was taking place.

The final question posed by the author is, “Why should we care after all these years?”  His book argues that democracy is threatened by lies and untruths perpetuated by governments. For this reader, a child of the sixties, the Kennedy assassinations were the beginning of my cynicism of governments. This book reconfirms my beliefs.

The author, David Talbot is the founder and former editor-in-chief of Salon, one of the most respected on-line magazines. He has written for The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, and other publications. When Robert Kennedy was assassinated, Talbot was a sixteen-year old worker in Kennedy’s campaign for the presidency.

This was the most thought-provoking book I have read for a long time. I highly recommend it.

  


Barack and Hillary: Showdown in Texas and Ohio

February 29, 2008

March 4, this coming Tuesday – will it solve anything in the race for the Democratic nomination? Primaries and caucuses are taking place in Texas and Ohio, key states because there are large numbers of delegates at stake. Neither state is a winner take all election. The allocation of delegates to the candidates will be based on percentage of the vote in the primaries. This means that unless one candidate wins an overwhelming percentage of the votes the total delegate count will still be very close. Right now in the polls, Obama and Clinton are running virtually neck and neck in both states.

Texas has 193 delegates at stake in their primary and Ohio has around 100 so you can see there is a lot at stake here in the race to reach the magic number of 2,025 needed to win the nomination. It appears that this race might have to be decided at the convention it is so close.

Clinton desparately needs a convincing win in either Texas or Ohio or she may face elimination. Obama on the other hand might be able to take an insurmountable lead should he win a large percentage in one or the other. I don’t believe that will happen, but watch closely to see if one or the other can deliver a knockout blow. Democrats need to get this race decided so they can focus on the apparent Republican nominee John McCain, instead of fighting each other.


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