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)


Presidential Oddities: “Natural born Citizen” what does it mean exactly?

April 3, 2015

seal-presidential-colorThe Constitution of the United States (Article II, Section I) outlines minimum qualifications a person must meet to be eligible to serve as the President of the United States. The Constitution states that to be President a person must,

  • Be at least thirty-five years of age
  • Have at least fourteen years of residency in the United States
  • Be a natural born citizen.

Over the years the first two have never been an issue. The last condition of being a “natural born Citizen” has several times been contentious.

It’s all in how the clause in the Constitution is interpreted. Some think it means born within the borders of the United States. The Constitution did not define “natural born Citizen”, and the Supreme Court has never ruled on its meaning. The vagueness has been used for political purposes by many opponents of the candidates.

Taken literally it would mean no one born outside the borders of the United States could be president. Scholars of the Constitution do not believe this to be the true intent. Most believe natural born extends to anyone born to U.S. citizens no matter where the birth occurred. To clarify the clause once and for all recommendations have been made to amend the Constitution.

In the race to the 2016 Presidential Election another example has arisen. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas who recently announced his candidacy was born in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He was born to an American mother and a Cuban father. Under U.S. law he automatically became an American citizen at birth because one of his parents was a citizen. Is this considered natural born? Therein is the ambiguity of the Constitutional clause. Without an amendment or a Supreme Court ruling the parameters of the clause remain uncertain.

Here are some examples of history,

Former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California was born in Austria to Austrian parents. Because neither parent was an American citizen he was not an American citizen at birth. He attained citizenship by naturalization after he immigrated. It is clear he would not be eligible to be president unless the Constitution was amended to enable it.

Senator John McCain of Arizona was born in the Panama Canal Zone. Both his parents were American citizens and also he was born on an American military base. Some questioned his qualifications when he ran in 2008, but in the end most agreed he met the natural born criteria. In fact in April 2008 the Senate passed a resolution declaring that McCain was a natural born citizen under the Constitution. This may have reassured many, but it had no real legal significance.
McCain Ineligible to be President?

Back in 1964 the natural born issue was raised against Republican Senator Barry Goldwater. He was born in Arizona prior to statehood. Arizona at the time was only a territory. Therefore was he natural born? Once again this was never resolved. Had he become president it may have been challenged in the courts.

Once again in 1968 legal actions threatened candidate George Romney, former Governor of Michigan, who was born in Mexico. Although he was born to parents who were both American citizens many arguments against his eligibility were made. His candidacy was unsuccessful and again no court ruling resulted.

During the 2008 and 2012 Presidential Elections so-called “birthers” challenged Barack Obama’s natural born credentials. In his case he was born in Hawaii to an American mother and a Kenyan born father. They even argued that he wasn’t born in Hawaii an American state since 1960, but actually in Kenya. The State of Hawaii produced a copy of his birth certificate.

President Chester Arthur ascended to the Presidency on the assassination of President James Garfield in 1881. His opponents dogged him with the issue of not being a natural born citizen.

He was born October 5, 1829 in Fairfield, Vermont according the family bible held by the U.S. National Archives, but no birth certificate exists. His father was Irish born and emigrated to Lower Canada, present day Quebec in 1818. Arthur’s mother was born in Vermont. They were married in Lower Canada in 1821. They moved to Fairfield in 1828 where Chester was born. The family’s many moves led to accusations Chester Arthur was not a natural born citizen of the United States. Once again these claims were never ruled on or proven.
Illegal President? Chester Alan Arthur.

To clarify and rid American politics of these arguments Sarah Helene Duggin from the Catholic University of America, who is an acknowledged expert on this topic believes the Constitution should be amended. The issue is not going away and is likely to arise again in the future.

What if someone is elected or becomes President and someone files in court to have them removed from office because of the natural born clause. If this filing is ruled legitimate and proceeds then what happens until the ruling is made? Does the person still continue be president or are they removed until a ruling is made? What if the ruling goes against the sitting president? As you can see confusion and potential gridlock may result. This is the reason most Constitutional scholars such as Ms Duggin believe the solution is an amendment.


Campaign bus revamped.

March 24, 2012

This is the design painted on the bus when they kicked off the party’s provincial election campaign a week ago. In the Calgary Herald it now says they have repainted the bus and located the leader’s picture more towards the middle of the bus.

Most liked it the original way. It injected a little humor into the political arena.

The Wildrose Party is a relatively new, but powerful party here in the Province of Alberta and they are hoping to knock off the long serving Progressive Conservatives. Wildrose is a right leaning party. The election will most certainly come down to a battle between Wildrose and PC both whom have female leaders interesting enough.


Outrageous Makeover: Palin as Fashion Diva

October 23, 2008

I see the Republican party didn’t like Palin’s hockey mom image. Over the last few months they’ve spent more than $150,000 to make her over. Apparently the clothes (listed as “campaign accessories” in the Republican expenses) are to be donated to charity.

No wonder Palin wanted to be the V-P candidate. Any person male or female would love to have a shopping spree like this one. Substance can’t be bought, so they bought appearance instead.

Fortunately after November 4, 2008, Palin can return to Alaska. I wager that a year from now she will just be a footnote in history.  Palin’s selection as McCain’s running mate will go down as one of his biggest blunders. Not because she is a woman, but for lack of substance.


Politics Canadian Style: Election 2008

October 15, 2008

Prime Minister Stephen Harper

Canadian politics are likely as confusing to an outsider as American politics can be to an outsider. Yesterday we had our general election. It was the 40th in Canadian history. The result was the re-election of the Conservative Party minority government with their leader Stephen Harper as Prime Minister. They did increase the number of seats by ten, but still didn’t achieve their hoped for majority in Parliament.

In Canada the leader of the party with the most seats in Parliament becomes the Prime Minister. To gain a majority government, the party needs 155 seats. Each representative elected is called an M.P. (Member of Parliament).

There are two main parties in Canada. The Liberals who have historically governed Canada the longest, and the Conservatives. The Conservative Party as it exists now is the result of a merger between the Progressive Conservative Party and the Reform Party. The Liberals are the Canadian equivalent of the Democrats in the U.S., the Conservatives are the equivalent of the Republicans.

Canada’s House of Parliament is representation by population. The American equvalent is the House of Representatives. Our Senate consists of appointed members and is not equal in representation like the America Senate. Many in our country would like to see reform in this body. Right now it is a reward for party faithful. Their power is severely limited.

The only thing at all like the U.S. Executive Branch is the Prime Minister and his Cabinet. Cabinet members are appointed by the Prime Minister, but must hold a seat in Parliament or in the Senate. Only rarely does a cabinet member come from the Senate.

Here are some pertinent facts about Prime Minister Stephen Joseph Harper,

  • born April 30, 1959 in Toronto, Ontario.
  • first Canadian prime minister born in the second half of the 20th century
  • Member of Parliament (MP) for Calgary Southwest
  • one of the founding members of the Reform Party
  • Prime Minister since February 6, 2006
  • has Bachelor’s degree and Master’s degree in Economics from University of Calgary
  • married Laureen Teskey in 1993. They have two children: Ben, born 1996, and Rachel, born 1999.

“A Dream” Come True

August 28, 2008

Martin Luther King, Jr. giving his "Dream" speech. AFP-Getty Images

Forty-five years ago this very day, on August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. and gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

Barack Obama was only two years old at the time. Little did anyone know that part of the “dream” would come true in such a relatively short time.

Tonight on the anniversary of King’s speech, Senator Barack Obama will stand in front of 80,000 people and millions of others watching on television and accept the nomination of the Democratic Party for President of the United States. A truly historic moment.

Whether you are support Obama or are a Republican, Democratic, or Independent, you should be proud of your country for the great strides that have been made.

In 1963 Mr. Obama would have been riding in the back of the bus, attending segregated schools, using “colored” only restrooms and drinking fountains, and being denied his most essential civil rights simply because he of the color of his skin.

Today he has a very real chance to attain the highest elected office in his country – President of the United States. Even if he fails his accomplishment has to be recognized as truly ground-breaking. Congratulations to the American electorate for having the courage and intelligence to see the man, not the color.


Vice Presidential Candidate Predictions

August 20, 2008

Before Barack Obama and John McCain announce their choices of running mates I thought I would post my predictions.

Republican Ticket
John McCain and Tom Ridge

Democratic Ticket
Barack Obama and Joe Biden

If this comes about I actually believe they would be excellent choices. We’ll soon see as the conventions for both parties near. Traditionally the VP choices are announced a week or two before the conventions open.


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