"I slept most of that Sunday."
August 9, 2006 10:06 PM   Subscribe

David Rice Atchison is claimed by some to have been President for one day, Sunday, March 4, 1849, since the incoming president, Zachary Taylor, was a religious man who refused to take the Oath of Office on the Sabbath. Even the inscribers of his gravestone thought so. The truth, however, is somewhat more subtle.
posted by starkeffect (11 comments total)
good fpp.
posted by rbs at 10:24 PM on August 9, 2006

Wonder why someone would refuse to take an oath on a day he considered religiously significant. Seems like that'd be the ideal time.
posted by RavinDave at 11:18 PM on August 9, 2006

Because they were very rabid about the separation between Church and State back then, perhaps?

The whole 'America is a Christian nation and has been since inception' is a meme that actually started in the 1950s or thereabouts. Christianity was a major differentiation between us and the godless communists. And as soon as it's two generations, it's forever, back to the dawn of time.

Back then, folks were very religious... but many of them tried very, very hard to keep it out of government completely.

That may not be the actual reason, but it's certainly a good possibility.
posted by Malor at 11:36 PM on August 9, 2006

Probably because he was more devout rather than having any huge amount of respect for separation...

I liked reading about the theoretical takeover by a vice president.
posted by beerbajay at 2:05 AM on August 10, 2006

What does devotion have to do with swearing an oath? How does it interfere in the least?
posted by RavinDave at 2:47 AM on August 10, 2006

Admit it, he had a bloody hangover and needed to get in a good 18 hours sleep.
posted by Jimbob at 3:21 AM on August 10, 2006

The most compelling (and obvious) argument against this idea is in the final link:
Another point to consider ... is the equally acknowledged fact that Senator Atchison himself never took the oath either.
posted by Doofus Magoo at 4:21 AM on August 10, 2006

I would assume that by swearing an oath to office, he would have been assuming his job as president, and therefore doing work. These mid-19th century guys got pretty serious about observing the Sabbath.
posted by Atreides at 4:34 AM on August 10, 2006

I think the idea is not to "work" no the Sabbath, and taking the oath would have been considered "work". Or something. Different religions have different rules about what you can and can't due on the Sabbath. Lieberman, for example, wouldn't do speeches or campaign on the Sabbath after sundown, even though that doesn’t seem very "work-like" to me.
posted by delmoi at 5:38 AM on August 10, 2006

I would also cite Matthew 22:16-22:
16They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. "Teacher," they said, "we know you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren't swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are. 17Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?"

18But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, "You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? 19Show me the coin used for paying the tax." They brought him a denarius, 20and he asked them, "Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?"

21"Caesar's," they replied.
Then he said to them, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's."

22When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.
Point being that the oath of office is a secular duty, and while serious and important (many early Christians who were Roman citizens were devoted public servants), it's not "of God." Taken in tandem, and in the spirit of the time, it's perfectly reasonable.

The whole argument is quite specious, at any rate. Atchison simply never was President; that holds even on the arguments of those who'd say he was. If it's the oath that makes you President (which it's not, but let's say it is), then Atchison fails that logical test because he never took the oath.

In fact, this whole thing makes a great case study in fallacious argumentation.
posted by lodurr at 7:11 AM on August 10, 2006

As pointed out, you don't need to take the oath to assume the office. Still, a neat little historical curiosity.
posted by spaltavian at 8:43 PM on August 10, 2006

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