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President Atchison statue.

Statue of America's Only One-Day President

Field review by the editors.

Plattsburg, Missouri

Whatever his legacy as a lawyer, statesman, and pro-slavery racist, 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 history-making 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 paint during our visit, it's clear that Atchison's home town wants to acknowledge what he achieved, even if it was accidental and brief.

No one really knows what David Rice Atchison might have accomplished with a little more time as Chief Executive, although if President-for-a-month William Henry Harrison is any comparison, it wouldn't have been much. Atchison's influence on the Republic during his moment in office was minimal in any case, 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.

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Also see: The One and Only Presidential Museum

Statue of America's Only One-Day President

Plattsburg City Hall

N. Main St., Plattsburg, MO
Plattsburg City Hall. On the east side of N. Main St. between E. Maple and E. Locust Sts.
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