The 44th President, or the 45th?
When Barack Obama takes the oath of office, he will be acclaimed as our 44th president, but that calculation omits a true footnote in history, the one-day presidency of David Rice Atchison of Missouri. Atchison was Senate President pro tempore on March 4, 1849, and served as president for 24 hours because the new president, Zachary Taylor, refused to take his oath of office on the Sabbath.
David Rice Atchison, 12th president?
Atchison was a colorful figure, as sketched out in a recent paper by Prof. Joseph Simeone of Saint Louis University. Among the intriguing events in his life were:
— Being born in Frogtown, Kentucky;
— Attending Transylvania College with future Confederate President Jefferson Davis;
— As a lawyer in Missouri, representing Mormon leader Joseph Smith and the fledgling Mormon community in land disputes that led to the “Mormon War” in Missouri in 1838;
— Serving as a militia general in helping to restore peace during that Mormon War;
— Serving in the U.S. Senate for 12 years, during which time he had his day as president;
— During his day as president, Atchison was the youngest man ever to hold the office (at 41 years and 6 months), younger than even Theodore Roosevelt;
— As a staunch advocate of slavery, leading 5,000 Border Ruffians into Kansas to terrorize the abolitionist settlers of that state during the times of Bloody Kansas in the 1850s;
— Having Atchison, Kansas named for him, which then yielded the iconic railroad known as the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe, which was such a rhythmic name that it became an Academy Award-winning song by Johnny Mercer, sung by Judy Garland; and
— Serving as an unsuccessful Confederate general.
During his day as president, Atchison evidently did nothing, least of all attempt to occupy the White House. He recalled that a fellow senator asked to be appointed Secretary of State for a day (presumably as a joke), but the Missourian boasted that he did not try to remove any public official from office. When Taylor was sworn in as president on March 5, Atchison graciously yielded all the trappings of office.
Since I expect that Obama will enter the lists as the 44th president, I have one numerological question. Am I the only one who has noted that Henry Aaron’s number was 44, as was Jim Brown’s, and finds some resonance in those coincidences?
Leave a Comment