Atchison home to President of United States; contains smallest Presidential Library

Portrait of David Rice Atchison, President of the United States for a day. Photo from of 
www.loc.gov

By Rocky DeSantis, The Circuit.

Atchison, like most towns and cities that have been around since the mid-19th century, has an immense history. Incorporated in to a city in 1858, Atchison was a major hub for settlers heading out west.

The town of Atchison, later to become the city of Atchison, was named after David Rice Atchison, a U.S. senator from Missouri in 1843-1855.

Atchison is best known for his claim to have been president of the United States for twenty-four hours.

In 1849, Major General of the U.S. Army, Zachary Taylor, was elected president. The inauguration was traditionally on March 4 of every presidential election year, but was moved back to January 20 in 1937.

When Taylor was elected president, his inauguration date was set for a Sunday. Taylor refused to be sworn in on a Sunday for religious purposes. Present day inaugurations are not held on Sundays for this reason.

With Taylor refusing to be sworn in, Atchison was elected by his peers to be the standing president for the time being due to the absence a vice president.

Maria Miller is the tourism director for VisitAtchison.com. Miller backs Atchison’s claim of being president for a little over a day.

“Atchison was sworn in as president pro tempore of the Senate,” said Miller. He was sworn in for 24 hours, and slept most of the day.”

Presidents are often remembered by having a library to honor them. Atchison is no exception, and his devoted followers claim that he has the world’s smallest presidential library. A list of the books is located inside the Atchison County Historical Society Museum; Atchison’s library is a collection of 20 books. Only a few of the books can be found in the display case of the museum.   

Ken Newton, senior reporter and columnist for the St. Joseph News-Press, wrote an article in February 2014 about the claims of Senator Atchison.

Despite being from the state of Missouri, Newton had not heard of the claims made by the local Senator until he moved to the Atchison-St. Joseph area in the 90s.

“[The people of Plattsburgh Missouri] take it darn seriously,” Newton said. “They have a statue outside of the courthouse with a plaque that states [the claim of Atchison] just like it’s fact.”

In Newton’s initial article in 2014, he spoke with Chris Taylor, the executive director of the museum. Newton recalled how Taylor spoke with a sense of whimsy about the credibility of the topic.

Although the pro tempore swearing in of Atchison followed the proper procedure, the senate that elected him as standing president expired on March 4. This rendered Atchison’s claim of being standing president widely speculated.

Miller does not buy into the speculation. She questions the opposition asking “So we didn’t have a president for a day?”

The legal answer would be yes. With his own term expired, Atchison could not have been sworn in as the president pro tempore of the Senate because that is something only an active standing Senator can do.

Even though the official election of Atchison as president is controversial, Atchison’s followers claim that he did legally hold office.

Senate.gov quotes Atchison saying he “had the honestest administration this country ever had.”

For more information, or to visit the country’s smallest presidential library, visit the Atchison County Historical Society Museum on 10th and Commercial.

Ken Newton’s original article can be found at: www.newspressnow.com