Sunday, March 04, 2012

President For a Day

163 years ago today, March 4, 1849, the United States didn't have a President.....or, did it?

Outgoing president James Polk's term ended at noon on March 4, which was a today.  Zachary Taylor, his successor, didn't want to be sworn in on a Sunday, and neither did his Vice Presidential running mate, Millard Fillmore.  History holds debatable claims whether that put David Rice Atchison, the Senate President, or President pro tempore, into the Office of  President for that one day.  When interviewed about March 4, 1849, David Rice Atchison himself revealed that he slept most of the day because he was tired after working three or four nights finishing up the work of the Senate.

Atchison was the oldest of six children.  His father came from Ireland, and his mother from Georgia.  He was born in Frogtown, Kentucky, which is now part of Lexington.  He died in 1886, and was buried at his home in Plattsburg, Missouri.  His tombstone reads that he was President for One Day, but notice that it does not have a Presidential Seal.

Atchison, Kansas, is named for him, and the town later gave its name to the famous Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad.  A bronze bust of Atchison is on  display in the rotunda of the Missouri State Capitol.  

Atchison, a Democrat from Missouri, was devoted to farming and to slavery.  He managed a 1,500-acre farm, owned 16 slaves and four slave cabins.  He favored secession from the Union, fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War, resigned his commission after the Confederate defeat at the Battle of Pea Ridge, and then went to live on his farm in Plattsburg, Missouri.

Was he President for a Day?  or, wasn't he?

Guess it really doesn't matter anymore.  But, it sure makes for interesting historical trivia.  Anyway, I think it does.