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)


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.


The Day We Almost Lost Ronnie

March 31, 2009
Reagan Just Before the Shots

Reagan Just Before the Shots

March 30, 1981 Ronald Reagan just 70 days into his first term was leaving the Washington Hilton after giving a speech. Outside a young man waited. He was fixated on actress Jodie Foster and was sure what he was about to do would impress her.

John Hinckley, Jr. was only 25 years old and was out to make a name for himself.

Outside the hotel onlookers and media pressed forward to see the president. Reagan appeared and his press secretary, James Brady stepped forward to field questions. Reagan waved. Hinckley pointed a  .22-caliber revolver and fired six shots in two seconds. Secret Service agent Jerry Parr shoved Reagan into the waiting limousine and left.

The car headed for the White House. Agent Parr noticed Reagan was coughing blood and complaining of a sore rib. He ordered the driver to head for the hospital a mile away. This quick action by the Secret Service agent almost certainly saved Reagan’s life.

There doctors revealed Reagan was bleeding “at a rather alarming rate”, this even though he walked into the hospital. To ease his wife’s fears he joked, “Honey I forgot to duck.”

One of Hinckley’s bullets had ricocheted off the car, struck Reagan’s rib, and entered his lung. The President had gone into shock by the time surgery was started. Doctors found the bullet, which had narrowly missed his heart, and stopped the bleeding. It took them almost three hours of surgery.

The most seriously injured was James Brady who was shot in the head and wasn’t expected to survive. He did survive. Also injured was a Secret Service agent who was shot while wrestling with the would-be assassin Hinckley.

At the time it seemed Reagan wasn’t injured that badly. The public didn’t realize how close a call it was. Think of how history would have been changed if instead of having Ronald Reagan as president for eight years, he served only 70 days. How quickly things can change.


Inauguration 2009 – Commentary

January 21, 2009
1789_washington_use
1789, Washington Inauguration

As a Canadian watching the inaugural celebrations held in Washington and throughout the United States yesterday, one thing struck me.

Peaceful transistion of power. How many other countries in the world see the incumbant head-of-state quietly and voluntarily leave the highest post in the country, to be succeeded immediately by the next head-of-state.

I believe the Founding Fathers of the United States wanted the inauguration to be a public demonstration of the effectiveness of the Constitution. A clear message to the American people and the rest of the world that democracy is alive and well.

1981, Reagan

1981, 1st Reagan Inauguration

To the American people, you have succeeded. To the outgoing president, your service to your country is appreciated. To the incoming president, may you succeed in addressing the problems facing you.

This Canadian appreciates the demonstration of democracy by my neighbor and best friend, America.


Presidential Inaugural Firsts

January 4, 2009
Reagan Inauguration 1981

Reagan Inauguration 1981

With the inguration of a new president coming up on January 20th, I did some research and found some interesting “firsts” for this event.

January 20th is the constitutional date specified for the end of a president’s four year term. The swearing in of a president is a symbol of the smooth transistion of power in the case of a new president. In the instance of a re-elected president, it is the end of one elected term and the beginning of a new one. The Constitution also specifies the “oath-of-office” is to be taken  by the president-elect.

 Here are some of the tidbits I found,

1837 – Martin Van Buren was the first president to call on his predecessor, Andrew Jackson, at the White House, and ride with him to the Capitol for the swearing in. He was also the first president who was born an American citizen.

1841 – William Henry Harrison was the first president to arrive in Washington by train for the inauguration.

1841 – John Tyler was the first president who was sworn in after the death of a president. He was never elected to his own term so didn’t have an inauguration of his own.

1845 – James Polk’s inaugural address was the first one relayed by telegraph (to Baltimore).

1853 – Franklin Pierce was the first, and so far only, president to “affirm” rather than swear his loyalty to the Constitution.

1865 – Black soldiers marched in the inaugural parade for the first time.

1897 – William McKinley’s first inauguration was filmed by motion-picture cameramen.

1921 – Presidential party rode in automobiles to the inauguration for Warren Harding’s inauguration.

1925 – Calvin Coolidge’s inaugural address was broadcast on radio.

1929 – Herbert Hoover’s address was recorded for “talking pictures”.

1949 – Harry Truman’s inauguration was first to appear on television.

1961 – John F. Kennedy’s inauguration appeared on color TV.

1977 – Jimmy Carter walked back to the White House with his family after taking his oath at the Capitol.

2009 – Will this be the first broadcast live on the internet? Most likely.


RFK: Death of a Dream June 6, 1968

June 5, 2008

The year was 1968. It was a contentious presidential election year. The incumbant president Democrat Lyndon Baines Johnson had bowed out of the election with a shocking announcement in March. The Vietnam War was tearing Americans apart. Johnson’s popularity was at an all-time low. The Republican frontrunner for the nomination was former Vice President Richard M. Nixon who promised peace with honor in Vietnam if he was elected. (Above: Photo taken from RFK funeral train. Paul Fusco photo.)

On the Democratic side President Johnson had lost the New Hampshire primary to little-known Senator Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota who promised unconditional withdrawal from the war. After this primary loss President Johnson suddenly announced that he would not stand for re-election. The sudden withdrawal of Johnson opened the field. Vice President Hubert Humphrey entered the race late, after the primaries (only thirteen states had primaries at this time), and promised to continue Johnson’s policies. He proposed to negotiage a peace, but not at any cost.

Senator McCarthy was winning primaries and support as the anti-war candidate. Sitting on the sidelines was Senator Robert F. Kennedy of New York. At the urging of supporters he entered the race and he too began winning primaries and support as an anti-war candidate. He brought the Kennedy name and support to the race. McCarthy did not have a national base and began losing ground to Kennedy. Humphrey was the party favorite, except he didn’t enter any primaries and Kennedy began gaining in delegate support and in public support. Kennedy hoped to force McCarthy out of the race by winning the delegate-rich California primary, then it would be just Kennedy and Humphrey at the convention. By the time the California primary came on June 4th, it was obvious the nomination would have to be decided at the convention in Chicago in August.

The California primary was the biggest and most delegate-rich for any candidate. Senator Kennedy won it overwhelming. It was also the last primary. The next event to determine the Democratic nominee was the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

In the early hours of June 5th, after his primary victory, Senator Robert F. Kennedy went to the Ambassador Hotel ballroom in Los Angeles and gave a victory speech to his supporters. Shortly after midnight, he concluded his speech with the words of encouragement to them, “Now on to Chicago and let’s win there.”

He planned to go into the crowd and shake hands, but his friends directed him to leave backstage through the kitchen area to avoid the crowds. Kennedy was shaking hands with kitchen staff on his way out, when a Palestinian immigrant Sirhan B. Sirhan stepped forward and at point blank range emptied his eight-shot Ivor Johnson revolver at the senator. Kennedy slumped to the concrete floor of the kitchen and lay on his back bleeding profusely from his head. One of the kitchen staff cradled his head as friends and supporters wrestled with Sirhan and finally subdued him. Several others were wounded.

Senator Kennedy was rushed to the hospital where doctors performed surgery, but in the early morning hours of June 6, 1968 Robert Francis Kennedy died of his gunshot wounds. The hopes and dreams for real change died with him.

Hubert Humphrey became the Democratic nominee without virtually any opposition, and Richard Nixon was the Republican nominee. Nixon was elected in a landslide in November 1968. A peace was negotiated in Vietnam after several more years of fighting. Nixon and Spiro Agnew, his Vice President, were re-elected in 1972, and both subsequently resigned in disgrace.

I still remember Bobby’s inspiring words,

“There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why… I dream of things that never were and ask why not.”


U.S. postage stamp issued in 1978 to honor Robert Kennedy.


Election 2008: The Contenders

June 3, 2008

Someone once said, “It ain’t over til it’s over.” Well I believe it’s all over and the candidates are set for the general election in November, vice presidential running mates to be decided soon.

In the Democratic corner is Senator Barack Obama from Illinois trying to become the first African-American president.

Factoids:
Photo: Associated Press

Born August 4, 1961, Honolulu, Hawaii (age when inaugurated would be 47)
Family: Married Michelle Robinson (1992-present); Children: Natasha (2001) and Malia Ann (1999)
Religion: Christian; attends Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago
Education: Columbia University, B.A., 1983; Harvard University, J.D., 1991
1990s: Practiced civil rights law and taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School.
1997-2005: Illinois state senator, representing the 13th District.
July 27, 2004: Delivered keynote address at the Democratic National Convention.
November 2004: Won the U.S. Senate seat in Illinois, defeating Alan Keyes.
Author: “Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance” (1995); “The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream” (2006) and “It Takes a Nation: How Strangers Became Family in the Wake of Hurricane Katrina” (2006).
2008: presumptive Democratic nominee for President of the United States.

And in the Republican corner is Senator John McCain from Arizona attempting to be the oldest president.

Factoids
Photo: Official U.S. Senate photo

Born: August 29, 1936, Panama Canal Zone (age when inaugurated would be 72)
Family: Married Cindy Hensley (May 17, 1980 – present); Carol Shepp (1965-1980, divorced); Children: Bridget, 1991 (adopted from Bangladesh, 1992); Jimmy, 1988; Jack, 1986; Meghan, 1984; Sidney, 1966; Adopted sons from Carol’s previous marriage: Andy, 1962, and Doug, 1959.
Religion: Episcopalian
Education: U.S. Naval Academy, B.S.
1967-1973: McCain held prisoner by the North Vietnamese after his plane shot down.
1977-1981: Director at the Navy Senate Liaison Office.
1981-1982: Vice president of Hensley & Company.
1983-1987: U.S. representative from Arizona’s 1st District.
1986: Won the U.S. Senate seat vacated by retiring Sen. Barry Goldwater.
1990s: Worked with Democrats on normalizing relations and increasing trade with Vietnam.
March 9, 2000: Dropped out of the presidential race after Super Tuesday losses, and endorsed George W. Bush.
2004: Apparently Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry asked McCain to be his vice-presidential running mate, and that McCain refused.

Awarded the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, the Legion of Merit, a Purple Heart and the Distinguished Flying Cross after his release as a POW in Vietnam. McCain’s father and grandfather were both U.S. Navy admirals. They were the first father and son to achieve that rank.


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