President for a Day: David Rice Atchison

The notion that David Rice Atchison was “President for a Day” is a historical myth and not accurate. David Rice Atchison was a U.S. Senator from Missouri, and the claim that he served as President for a day is based on a misinterpretation of historical events.

David Rice Atchison
David Rice Atchison

The story stems from the fact that March 4, 1849, fell on a Sunday, and it was believed that incoming President-elect Zachary Taylor refused to take the oath of office on a Sunday for religious reasons.

As a result, some interpretations suggested that there was a brief gap, and Atchison, as President pro tempore of the Senate, might have been the acting president during that time.

However, there is no historical evidence to support this claim. In reality, President James K. Polk’s term ended at noon on March 4, 1849, as specified by the Constitution, and Zachary Taylor was inaugurated as the 12th President of the United States on Monday, March 5, 1849.

The myth of David Rice Atchison being “President for a Day” has persisted in popular culture, but it is not grounded in historical accuracy.

Zachary Taylor did not delay taking the oath of office due to a Sunday, and Atchison did not serve as president during that time.