Sometimes the U.S. Constitution works in strange ways. But it works, as the story of David Atchison demonstrates.
You may not know the names of many U.S. presidents besides Ronald Reagan, George Bush and, maybe, Bill Clinton. Neither do a lot of Americans, though just about all of us have heard of some, like George Washington, the first to hold the job.
Many of the rest served so long ago, or so unmemorably, that only trivia buffs and schoolkids studying the presidency can list them all. Names like Franklin Pierce don't raise even a flicker of recognition.
And there's one president so obscure, so unaccomplished, that even most history books don't know about him!
His name is David Atchison. He was born in 1807 in tiny Frogtown, Kentucky. But that's not why he's obscure. You see, David Atchison was president of the United States for ONE DAY! This is not a joke. He was our official, bona fide president, succeeding the 11th man in the office, James Polk. But Atchison gets precious little credit for it.
President Polk's term in office expired at noon on Sunday, March 4th, 1849. His successor, Zachary Taylor, was a religious fellow who refused to be sworn in that day because it was the Christian Sabbath. Under our Constitution, Polk could not continue to hold power, and neither could his vice president. And new President Taylor's vice president couldn't fill in, either, because you can't have a vice president without a president! So according to the Constitutional line of succession, for one day, the job went to the senior member of the U.S. Senate: David Rice Atchison. Asked later what he did that day, Atchison reported that -- having worked late on Senate business Saturday night -- he spent most of his day as president. . . sleeping!