Past president: The rest of the story

Past president: The rest of the story by Bob Karolevitz Phyllis and I have followed the trail of U.S. presidents. We have been to the birthplaces of many of them, and we�ve stood at their graves, too.

Those were the real ones, of course.

A long time ago I wrote a column about John Hanson, who, I said, was the first president, not George Washington. However, that was under the Articles of Confederation in 1781, so that didn�t count.

It made a good story, though, and now I�ve got another presidential tale for you.

It has to do with David Rice Atchison of Missouri who was president for a day back in 1849 � and apparently he slept right through the experience.

Here�s how it happened.

When Gen. Zachary Taylor, hero of the Mexican War, was elected 12th president, he refused to be sworn in on March 4 which was Sunday. And James K. Polk could not legally serve beyond the end of his expired term.

That meant the country was without a chief executive for one day. According to the Succession Act of 1792, then, the president of the Senate pro tempore would automatically fill the empty seat.

But wait, there�s more!

Atchison � who was a noted party-goer � celebrated so much on Saturday night that when he came home, he was completely bushed. According to the lore, he gave explicit instructions to his landlady not to wake him up �for any reason whatever.�

The upshot was � the housekeeper later said � he slept all day Sunday and until Monday afternoon, even missing Taylor�s delayed inaugural.

Consequently, he was asleep through his entire administration. In effect, he was the 11 364/365th president of the United States!

Atchison was born in Frogtown, KY in 1807, was graduated with honors from Transylvania University, studied law and then set up his practice in Missouri where he was elected to the state legislature.

Later, he was appointed to the U.S. Senate in 1843 where he was president pro tempore of that body when Zachary Taylor � Old Rough and Ready � did his Sunday walk-out.

(It is said that Taylor, who died of gastroenteritis after being in office for less than 18 months, was a very religious man and refused to do servile work or perform official duties on the sabbath.)

While Atchison�s abortive service as president is generally forgotten, he gained notoriety for other things. He was active in the pro-slavery movement, playing a leading role in the Kansas-Missouri episode.

As a result, the city of Atchison, KS, was named after him. He also helped organize a railroad which became known as the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe.

He was defeated for re-election in 1855, probably because of his stance on slavery. He supported the Confederate cause in the Civil War and campaigned in Texas.

When it was over, he returned to his home near Gower, MO, and was engaged in farming. He died there in Jan. 26, 1886, at the age of 79.

I just thought you�d like to know!

� 2004 Robert F. Karolevitz

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