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)

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Prince William as King: Not very soon

November 17, 2010

Kate and William discussing engagement/Photo MSNBC

Everyone is excited about Prince William and his new bride-to-be Kate Middleton. Both are young and vibrant. What a great king he would make for the 21st century. Sorry to dash your hopes, but it will likely be a long time before he is king, and he will be old when he ascends the throne.

Queen Elizabeth II is now 85 and aging well. Her mother lived in excess of 100 years. Health is not a problem. The heir to the throne, her son Charles is 62 and again health is not an issue.

Assume the Queen lives at least another 10 years. Charles will ascend the throne at age 72. Barring anything unexpected he will likely live into his 80s. Assume he will live until 90. Do the math, that’s another 30 years before William becomes king, he will ascend the throne at age 58 years, no more the young man he is now. Some thoughts on this situation,

1. Would Charles consider stepping aside or abdicating to allow his son William to become king at a younger age.

Not likely. Charles is very much a traditionalist. He has trained all his life to be king and wants to be king.

2. Would the Queen consider stepping down if her health fails? Again not likely as she too is a traditionalist. It could happen though. She may defer to relative youth. Still Charles will likely not be king until he is in his late 70s or early 80s.

Bottom line, the English monarchy is an hereditary institution and will continue to be so. The only modern abdication took place when King Edward VIII decided he wanted to marry the American divorcee Wallis Simpson, rather than remain king. This opened the way for his younger brother George to become King George VI and subsequently his daughter Elizabeth to become the present Queen.

Ah but wouldn’t it be something to have a King William who was 28 or 30. It will never happen.


Is John McCain Nuts!?

August 31, 2008

McCain has lost it. Selecting Sarah Palin for his vice presidential candidate. It is downright scary.

Mr. McCain will be 72 if he is elected president. Not only that he is an individual who has had cancer several times. Now I surely hope he keeps his health and I don’t wish the worse on anyone, but like insurance agents we should all think – what if the worst case does happen.

Is Palin ready to be president? I think not. She has been the governor of a large, but sparsely populated state for less than two years. Before that she was the mayor of a town of 9,000 persons. Great experience granted, but certainly not enough to qualify her to be president. Foreign policy experience and military experience nil. Oh I forgot she does have a son who is in the military, guess that counts.

Sorry to be cynical, but this is a person who could be a heartbeat away from being President of the United States. Would I feel comfortable if she got a crisis call at three in the morning? No I wouldn’t.


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