Weird History: Special Edition IV
Just For Today Only Mr. President
This is another of the many things forgotten about and that is David Rice Atchison. If you look in your history books for names and faces of presidents of the United States you won’t find him there but he was a sitting president—for one day.
He served as President pro tempore of the United States Senate for six years. Atchison served as a major general in the Missouri State Militia in 1838 during Missouri’s Mormon War and as a Confederate brigadier general during the American Civil War under Major General Sterling Price in the Missouri Home Guard.
He is best known for the claim that for 24 hours—Sunday, March 4, 1849, through noon on Monday—he had been Acting President of the United States.
Inauguration Day—March 4—fell on a Sunday in 1849, and so president-elect Zachary Taylor did not take the presidential oath of office until the next day, citing that Sunday is the Sabbath. Even so, the term of the outgoing president, James K. Polk, ended at noon on March 4. On March 2, outgoing vice president George M. Dallas relinquished his position as President of the Senate. Congress had previously chosen Atchison as president pro tempore.
In 1849, according to the Presidential Succession Act of 1792, the Senate president pro tempore immediately followed the vice president in the presidential line of succession. As Dallas’s term also ended at noon on the 4th, and as neither Taylor nor vice president-elect Millard Fillmore had been sworn in to office on that day, it was claimed by some of Atchison’s friends and colleagues that on March 4–5, 1849, Atchison was Acting President of the United States.
Be that as it may be, had he been recorded in history this would have made him the 12th president and Zachary Taylor, the 13th.
On A Side Note: After attending Fourth of July orations for most of the day, President Taylor walked along the Potomac River before returning to the White House. Hot and tired, he drank iced water and consumed large quantities of cherries and other fruits. The President suffered severe stomach pains for the next five days. Diagnosed as suffering from “cholera morbus” by his physicians, Taylor ate slivers of ice for relief until his body began rejecting fluids. At about ten in the morning on July 9, 1850, Taylor died.
*** Cholera morbus refers to acute gastroenteritis occurring in summer or autumn; characterized by severe cramps, diarrhea, vomiting, and severe body fluid loss. There was bacteria found on the cherries Taylor ate that gave him a severe infection that caused his death.
On A Side Note: The shortest war in American history was the Spanish-American War which lasted from April 25th to August 12, 1896. It was also the only war with the least amount of casualties—385 killed, 1,662 wounded, 11 prisoners, and 2,061 dead from disease . One cargo ship sunk and one cruiser was damaged .