Statue of America's Only One-Day President
Whatever his talents as a lawyer, statesman, and pro-slavery rabble-rouser, David Rice Atchison will always be known as the guy who was President of the United States for just one day.
It says it right on the plaque beneath his statue: "President of United States One Day."
Atchison served as a U.S. senator from 1843 to 1855. As President pro tempore of the Senate on March 4, 1849, Atchison was shoved into the highest office in the land in a constitutional cusp between James K. Polk and Zachary Taylor. Polk's term had ended, but Taylor refused to be sworn in on a Sunday. That, in theory, left Atchison in charge for 24 hours until the ceremonies could take place.
Some scholars argue that Taylor automatically became President when Polk left office, bypassing Atchison; others say that America simply had no President for a day. But don't tell that to the citizens of Plattsburg! A statue honoring the town's favorite son stands in front of city hall on a high pedestal. It's a typical politician bronze, and even though it was splattered with mustardy yellow stains during our visit, it's clear that Atchison's home town is proud of what he achieved, even if it was accidental and brief.
We will never know what David Rice Atchison might have accomplished with a little more time as Chief Executive. His influence on the Republic during his moment in office was minimal, as he reportedly spent most of his big day asleep.
To the west, the town of Atchison, Kansas promotes itself as home to the world's "Smallest Presidential Library," an exhibit on the controversial claim of the one-day president.