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World's smallest presidential library planned in Atchison, Kansas

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  • greg
    http://www.belleville.com/mld/belleville/news/local/12265236.htm Sat, Jul. 30, 2005 World s smallest presidential library planned in Atchison CARL MANNING
    Message 1 of 3 , Jul 30 3:04 PM
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      http://www.belleville.com/mld/belleville/news/local/12265236.htm

      Sat, Jul. 30, 2005

      World's smallest presidential library planned in Atchison

      CARL MANNING

      Associated Press

      ATCHISON, Kan. - In a state with a presidential library, a
      presidential loser's library and a gallery of Oval Office occupant
      wannabes, add what's being billed as the "world's smallest
      presidential library."

      Actually, it really will be as much a presidential library as some say
      David Rice Atchison really was president for a day in 1849.

      But it's something the Atchison County Historical Society Museum plans
      to open Feb. 20 - President's Day - using the presidential story to
      attract visitors to a larger view of the man for whom this Missouri
      River town is named.

      "It's our hook to get people in, and hopefully they will learn
      something about this man," said Chris Taylor, the society's executive
      director.

      They'll learn that Atchison was a pro-slavery but well-respected U.S.
      senator from Missouri and that his supporters founded this community
      and named it for him to give it pro-slavery cache.

      Atchison also was a major player behind the 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act
      that allowed voters to bring Kansas into the union as a free state. He
      often is portrayed as a Border Ruffian during the violent Bleeding
      Kansas period leading up to the Civil War.

      "It was all consuming to him. He saw having Kansas as a slave state as
      a way to keep the union from breaking," Taylor said. "He spent the
      vast majority of his time trying to avoid violence."

      Atchison became a senator in 1843 at age 36 and served until 1855. He
      also was Senate president pro tem most of that time, including 1849.

      Whether he ever was president has been debated for decades.

      James K. Polk's term expired at noon March 4, when the next president
      normally would have been sworn in. However, March 4 was a Sunday, so
      Zachary Taylor waited until the next day to take the oath.

      William E. Parrish, author of the only Atchison biography, sees more
      myth than reality to the story.

      "It's a nice story, and I like the story, but he wasn't president for
      a day," said Parrish, a history professor emeritus at Mississippi
      State University.

      He said Atchison's Senate term ended with the adjournment of Congress
      at midnight March 3, and he wasn't sworn in as a senator and elected
      president pro tem by colleagues until March 5, before Taylor was sworn in.

      "You could say he was president for a day, but his term as senator
      expired along with that of the old president," he said. "So,
      technically, he was out of office, too. But that doesn't make for as
      good of a story."

      Parrish said Atchison told a reporter years later that he slept most
      of that Sunday and felt there was no president that day.

      "If Atchison was right, it probably got started as a joke among the
      senators," he said.

      Others, including the historical society director, maintain that
      Atchison probably was president.

      "You could have a good argument both ways. I would come down on the
      side of him being president because such an unusual set of
      circumstances occurred," he said. "Even at the time, it was
      acknowledged he was in the line of succession."

      But, he added, "Nothing happened at the time to cause any action to
      make it apparent he was president."

      Taylor said Atchison did serve as vice president during the Millard
      Fillmore and Franklin Pierce administrations.

      As vice president, Fillmore became president when Zachary Taylor died
      in 1850; Pierce's vice president, William Rufus King, died a month
      after taking office in 1853.

      "The press at the time referred to him vice president," Taylor said.
      "He assumed the duties of the vice president, which was to preside
      over the Senate."

      Atchison's story is a favorite topic of trivia quizzes and Web sites
      devoted to exploring urban legends, such as Snopes.com.

      "It could be argued he was no more president than Zachary Taylor that
      day," Snopes founder David Mikkelson said. "If you follow the line of
      reasoning that they had - no president because nobody was sworn in -
      then we went without a president for a day because Atchison wasn't
      sworn in either."

      Finding the genesis of the President Atchison story is difficult. Most
      of his personal papers were destroyed by fire in the 1870s at his farm
      near Gower, Mo., where he lived until his 1886 death.

      Parrish said he didn't find that Atchison called himself president in
      the few surviving papers he reviewed.

      There were rumors Atchison signed some official papers as president,
      but they have never turned up. News accounts of the day focus on the
      inaugural.

      Taylor said the "presidential library" won't measure up to other
      presidential landmarks in Kansas.

      The Eisenhower Presidential Library in Abilene has millions of pages
      of documents and the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics in Lawrence
      has 4,100 boxes of personal papers from the losing 1996 presidential
      candidate. The Gallery of Also Rans in Norton has 58 portraits of
      candidates who didn't make it the White House.

      Taylor said the "Atchison library" will be housed in a couple of
      display cases taking up about 35 square feet in the museum and be part
      its Kansas Territory exhibit. It will include Atchison's pistol, along
      with some photographs, Parrish's biography and other documents. He
      said the museum is looking for additional items.

      Parrish sees no problem with officials trying to play off the Atchison
      as president story.

      "As long as you got a little myth you can hang on to, there is noting
      wrong with that as far as I'm concerned," he said.

      ON THE NET

      Atchison County Historical Society: http://www.atchisonhistory.org

      Snopes: http://www.snopes.com
    • Ram Lau
      ... Thanks Greg! Great article. I didn t know about Atchison being in a leadership position of the Senate and referred to as the Veep. As a follow-up, the
      Message 2 of 3 , Jul 31 11:49 PM
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        > "The press at the time referred to him vice president," Taylor said.
        > "He assumed the duties of the vice president, which was to preside
        > over the Senate."

        Thanks Greg! Great article. I didn't know about Atchison being in a
        leadership position of the Senate and referred to as the Veep. As a
        follow-up, the following excerpt is from Atchison's bio page on Wikipedia:

        While it is true that the offices of President and Vice President were
        vacant, Atchison in fact was not next in line. While the terms of
        James K. Polk and Vice President George Mifflin Dallas expired at noon
        on March 4, Atchison's tenure as President Pro Tempore did as well. He
        also never took the oath of office, although there is no
        constitutional requirement, then or now, for an Acting President to do
        so. No disability or lack of qualification prevented Taylor and
        Fillmore from taking office, and as they had been duly certified as
        President-elect and Vice-President elect, if Taylor was not President
        because he had not been sworn in as such, then Atchison, who hadn't
        been sworn in either, certainly wasn't.

        The highest-ranking officer who legally continued in office during the
        interim was Polk's Secretary of State, James Buchanan, so one could
        argue that he was President for a day. Interestingly, Buchanan was
        actually elected President in his own right in 1856.

        Atchison was sworn in for his new term as President Pro Tem minutes
        before both Fillmore and Taylor, which might theoretically make him
        Acting President for at least that length of time; however, this also
        implies that any time the Vice President is sworn in before the
        President, the Vice President is the de facto Acting President. Since
        this is a common occurrence, if Atchison is considered President, so
        must every Vice President whose inauguration preceded that of the
        President. Obviously this is not the case. Therefore, while one could
        argue that Atchison was legally President for a few minutes (though
        even this much is debatable), claims that he should be considered an
        "official" President are absurd.

        When asked what he did on March 4, 1849, Atchison replied, "I went to
        bed. There had been two or three busy nights finishing up the work of
        the Senate, and I slept most of that Sunday." He jokingly boasted that
        his "presidency" was the "most honest administration this country ever
        had."

        Ram
      • Greg Cannon
        Thanks, Ram. I ve always regarded Atchison s claim as fishy, but haven t had the information to disprove it.
        Message 3 of 3 , Aug 1, 2005
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          Thanks, Ram. I've always regarded Atchison's claim as
          fishy, but haven't had the information to disprove it.

          --- Ram Lau <ramlau@...> wrote:

          > > "The press at the time referred to him vice
          > president," Taylor said.
          > > "He assumed the duties of the vice president,
          > which was to preside
          > > over the Senate."
          >
          > Thanks Greg! Great article. I didn't know about
          > Atchison being in a
          > leadership position of the Senate and referred to as
          > the Veep. As a
          > follow-up, the following excerpt is from Atchison's
          > bio page on Wikipedia:
          >
          > While it is true that the offices of President and
          > Vice President were
          > vacant, Atchison in fact was not next in line. While
          > the terms of
          > James K. Polk and Vice President George Mifflin
          > Dallas expired at noon
          > on March 4, Atchison's tenure as President Pro
          > Tempore did as well. He
          > also never took the oath of office, although there
          > is no
          > constitutional requirement, then or now, for an
          > Acting President to do
          > so. No disability or lack of qualification prevented
          > Taylor and
          > Fillmore from taking office, and as they had been
          > duly certified as
          > President-elect and Vice-President elect, if Taylor
          > was not President
          > because he had not been sworn in as such, then
          > Atchison, who hadn't
          > been sworn in either, certainly wasn't.
          >
          > The highest-ranking officer who legally continued in
          > office during the
          > interim was Polk's Secretary of State, James
          > Buchanan, so one could
          > argue that he was President for a day.
          > Interestingly, Buchanan was
          > actually elected President in his own right in 1856.
          >
          > Atchison was sworn in for his new term as President
          > Pro Tem minutes
          > before both Fillmore and Taylor, which might
          > theoretically make him
          > Acting President for at least that length of time;
          > however, this also
          > implies that any time the Vice President is sworn in
          > before the
          > President, the Vice President is the de facto Acting
          > President. Since
          > this is a common occurrence, if Atchison is
          > considered President, so
          > must every Vice President whose inauguration
          > preceded that of the
          > President. Obviously this is not the case.
          > Therefore, while one could
          > argue that Atchison was legally President for a few
          > minutes (though
          > even this much is debatable), claims that he should
          > be considered an
          > "official" President are absurd.
          >
          > When asked what he did on March 4, 1849, Atchison
          > replied, "I went to
          > bed. There had been two or three busy nights
          > finishing up the work of
          > the Senate, and I slept most of that Sunday." He
          > jokingly boasted that
          > his "presidency" was the "most honest administration
          > this country ever
          > had."
          >
          > Ram
          >
          >
          >
          >
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