President of the United States for a Day — The Short Presidency of David Rice Atchison.
Until the 1930’s the terms of US Presidents and many congressmen ended on March 4th. On the date Zachary Taylor was to be inaugurated in 1849, March 4th fell on a Sunday. To the deeply religious Taylor, it was inappropriate to the inaugurated on a Sunday since it was the Lord’s Day, a day of religious worship and rest. As a result, Taylor’s presidency was postponed to March 5th.
For some a question was raised as to who was Commander-in-Chief from noon of March 4th to noon of March 5th. Both the president and vice president were out of office as well as the Speaker of the House, so according to the rules of succession the powers of the presidency rested in the hands of the President Pro Tempore of the Senate. For those who are unfamiliar of the title, the President Pro Tem is a senior senator who presides as chairman over the Senate when the Vice President is absent. At the time the President Pro Tem was Missouri Senator David Rice Atchison. At 3 o’clock in the morning his friend and colleague Willie Magnum jocularly informed him that he was president, at which point Atchison jokingly named him Secretary of State. Atchison’s brief presidency ended at 12:00pm on March 15th with the swearing in of Zachary Taylor. Atchison would later describe his presidency as “the honestest administration the country had ever had.”
Unfortunately Atchison is not considered and never was an official POTUS. Under the rules of succession only the Vice President can officially become president after the death, resignation, or removal of the president. All others merely assume the powers of the presidency until the real president returns to power or an election is held. For Atchison, this power only lasted 24 hours. Not that it mattered anyway. According to Atchison he spent much of his “presidency” sleeping as he was weary after a four day stretch of non-stop hard work. His “presidential library”, claimed to be the smallest presidential library in the country, is located in the Atchison County Historical Museum in Kansas.