August 11 – Happy Birthday to a Fellow who was President for a Day

Posted on August 11, 2014

You can't hold a presidential inauguration on a Sunday!

We're talking U.S. presidential inaugurations here, and there has always been one Constitutionally-set day on which inaugurations are held. For decades, the inauguration was held on March 4. But after the Twentieth Amendment to the Constitution, it has been held on January 20.

Unless Inauguration Day falls on a Sunday!

In that case...

This was the 2013 private swearing-in
of President Obama on Sunday, Jan. 20.

The public inauguration ceremony followed
custom and was held on the next day. 
Well, in that case, slightly different solutions were used. The Inauguration-on-a-Sunday problem has happened seven times in the nation's history. The last time it happened was in 2013, when President Barack Obama was sworn into office in a private ceremony on Sunday, January 20, and then again in public ceremonies the next day, Monday, January 21. That sort of solution has happened with four other presidents before him, although some of the private swearing-ins occurred on Saturdays, and others on Sunday.

But the first two times the Inauguration-on-a-Sunday conundrum occurred, there was no private swearing in of the president elect.

Back in 1849, the second time that Inauguration Day fell on a Sunday, the outgoing president, James Polk, had a term that ended at noon on Saturday, March 3, 1849. The new president-elect, Zachary Taylor, refused to be inaugurated on a Sunday, so the President Pro Tem of the U.S. Senate was the President of the United States.

For a day!

On March 4, 1849, the then-President Pro Tem of the Senate, David Atchison, was (theoretically, at least) the head honcho of the country. However, he was never sworn in as president, and he did no presidential duties.

You might think, wait a minute, if the president of the United States can't serve, doesn't the Vice-President serve in his place?

Well, Polk's VP, George M. Dallas, had the same term as Polk, so HIS term ended on Saturday, March 3, as well.

Presidential Succession

These days, after the Presidential Succession Act of 1947, the powers of the presidency fall to people in this order:

Speaker of the House,
President Pro Tempore of the Senate,
Secretary of State,
Secretary of the Treasury,
Secretary of Defense,
Attorney General,
Secretary of the Interior,
Secretary of Agriculture,
Secretary of Commerce,
Secretary of Labor,
Secretary of Health and Human Services,
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development,
Secretary of Tranportation,
Secretary of Energy,
Secretary of Education,
Secretary of Veterans Affairs, and
Secretary of Homeland Security.

But if any of these people do not meet the eligibility requirements to be President, they are skipped. Eligibility requirements include being born in the United States, being a resident of the U.S. for at least 14 years, and being at least 35 years old. Our current Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, was born in the United Kingdom (and is a naturalized U.S. citizen), so she would be skipped in the line of succession.

By the way...

In case you lost sight of the connection of this story to today's date, David Atchison was born in Kentucky on this date in 1807.

David Atchison may have been on of the nation's less lovely presidents; he was a slave owner (as many of the early presidents were), and he was fiercely pro-slavery (as many of the early presidents, even the slave-owning ones, were NOT). Not only that, he was deeply involved with violence against abolitionists and against people who wanted Kansas to be a free state rather than a slave state.

It takes a special kind of unloveliness to not only want to own people, but also to be willing to kill free people who are citizens of your own nation just because they are against people owning people.

Notice that Atchison's tombstone reads “President of the United States for one day....Sunday, March 4, 1849.”

Also on this date:

Apple computer inventor Steve Wozniak's birthday

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