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Although most historians reject the premise, the 1849 President Pro-tem of the Senate, Senator David Rice Atchison, is sometimes referred to as "President for a Day." He was never voted to be President and in fact, most people today have never heard of him. So how could he have been President?

James K. Polk's term as the 11th President of the United States ended Sunday, March 4, 1849. The new President-elect, Zachary Taylor, did not want to be inaugurated (take an oath) on a Sunday. He wanted to wait until Monday. But that would have meant there was no president in office for over 24 hours, until noon on Monday when Taylor was sworn into office. This worried few people in the government.

The succession laws in effect meant that if there was no President and no Vice President, the office would fall to the President Pro-tem of the Senate. On March 4, 1849, it was Senator Atchison, a 41-year-old slaveholder from Missouri who had been appointed a senator in 1843 after the death of the recently re-elected Lewis Finn. He was re-elected to the term from 1849 to 1855. As the elected President Pro-tempore (unusual for a junior first-time senator), he could indeed have succeeded to the Presidency.

(He was also first in line for the last 4 months of Millard Fillmore's term, after Taylor died in office.)

Easily ignored in the engaging story of a one-day President is that Atchison's term also expired until he took the oath again, and that the President-elect was already considered the President despite not being sworn in (Atchison was not sworn in either).

But he was the most senior re-elected official of the new term. His later recollection was that Polk's term ended on March 3 (which is incorrect) and that as Acting President he was jokingly asked for an appointment to the incoming Cabinet. He was sleeping for most of his 24-hour "term."

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Q: Who was the US President who admitted he slept through nearly all of his term in office?
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