David Rice AtchisonForget what the history books say. The 12th president of the United States was David Rice Atchison, a man so obscure that Chester A. Arthur seems a household word by comparison.
At exactly 12 noon on March 4, 1849, Zachary Taylor was scheduled to succeed James Polk as chief executive. But March 4 was a Sunday and Taylor, a devout old general, refused to take the oath of office on the Sabbath. Thus, under the Succession Act of 1792, Missouri Senator Atchison, as President ProTempore of the Senate, automatically became president.
Atchison was said to have taken the responsibilities of his office very much in stride. Tongue in cheek, he appointed a number of his cronies to high cabinet positions, then had a few drinks, and went to bed to sleep out the remainder of his brief administration. On Monday at noon Taylor took over the reins, but the nation can look back fondly on the Atchison presidency as a peaceful one, untainted by even a hint of corruption.