David Rice Atchison, the man who is said to have been the American President for one day. You have probably never heard of him yet technically he did fill in for the president of the United States of America (USA) even if it was for only 24 hours.
Due to several legalities and the factors surrounding his rise to brief presidency, many historical books and the State don’t recognize him as one. Even the Senate web history archives refute this under his bio.
How Did David Rice Atchison Become President?
Zachary Taylor had won the election in 1848 and was due to take the Presidential Oath of office on 4th March, 1849 at noon as the former President James K. Polk was leaving office at the scheduled end of his 4-year term, but Taylor refused because it was a Sunday and said that he would do so the next day.
You must be wondering why the responsibility didn’t fall to the Vice President. In the US, the President and Vice President share the same term. So, as President Polk’s presidential term expired, so did that of his VP, George Mifflin Dallas (Fun Fact: Dallas city in Texas is named after him).
America was faced with a conundrum of having no president for 24 hours until Zachary Taylor swore in. The responsibility befell the President of the Senate Pro Tempore according to the law enacted by Congress on 1st March, 1792.
The law stated that, “in case of the removal, death, resignation or disability of both the President and Vice President of the United States, the President of the Pro Tempore shall act as a temporary President.”
To put it in simpler terms, the Vice President presides over the Senate. Remember that the VP succeeds the President if he/she is unable to perform his/her duties. The Senate selects a President Pro Tempore who is supposed to preside over it when the Vice President is absent or unable to perform his duties.
On 4th March, 1849; the President Pro Tempore happened to be David Rice Atchison who assumed office and served as the President of the United States from noon until the next day at noon when Zachary Taylor swore in.
Atchison was the president for one day and although he didn’t swear in or enact any legislation, many have argued that he was legally and technically a president and should be recognized along with other former American presidents.
Of course, the Missouri Senator who had served as a Major General in the Missouri State Militia in 1838 and a Confederate Brigadier General during the American Civil War in the Missouri Home Guard was too modest to make a fuss for recognition.
David Rice Atchison was born on 11th August, 1807 and died on 26th January, 1886 when he was 76 years old. He was a lawyer, politician, Democrat and was elected as President pro tempore of the United States Senate 16 times for six years since 1846.
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Lawrence writes about tech, lifestyle, politics, business, crypto and occasionally entertainment. He writes for Newslibre and Spur Magazine while consulting with numerous international companies on strategy, community management and marketing.
He has contributed to the journalism, open source, film, youth, web, Andela and Mozilla communities.