“Everyone will be famous for 15 minutes,” artist Andy Warhol famously stated. Imagine if you were the President of the United States of America for one day? Well, one man might have been.
David Rice Atchison was born on August 11, 1807, and became the Democratic President pro tempore of the United States Senate on August 8, 1846, and would remain so until December 2, 1849. Here are the events that led up to Atchison’s “Presidency”; Zachary Taylor was elected President of the United States in the election of 1848. In those days, the Presidential oath of office was taken on March 4th instead of January 20th. However, March 4th of 1849 fell on a Sunday, so Taylor decided to take it the next day on the 5th instead. As the President pro tempore at the time, Atchison theoretically would have become Acting President of the United States until Taylor took the oath of office. Atchison spent his day of fame and power sleeping. After his “term,” Atchison would remain as President pro tempore of the Senate, and would briefly join the army of the Confederate States of America during the American Civil War as a Brigadier General. Atchison died on January 26, 1886.
While some believe Atchison to have been “President for a day”, most historians and scholars dismiss this claim. It must be pointed out that the Constitution of the United States does not require a President to take the oath of office in order to become president, just to execute his powers. Furthermore, even if the laws permitted Atchison to become Acting President, his own Senate term expired on that day, and he would not be re-elected as President pro tempore of the Senate until March 5th himself.
While he may not have been the technical “President for a day”, Atchison still gained recognition and fame for both what happened (becoming “President”) and what he did (slept) during his supposed Presidency.