You may have noticed that you have a three-day weekend coming up, and it has nothing to do with Valentine’s Day.
Nope, you are getting some time off for good behavior because we are celebrating a holiday originally designed around the birthday of George Washington that morphed into a celebration of Washington and Abraham Lincoln, and finally, post 1971, it took on the form of Presidents’ Day.
In this Friday Flash, we are going to take you down the road of some lesser known moments in presidential history because, like a strong PR campaign, you often have to think outside the box.
- March 4, 1849: This may be the oddest day in the history of the American presidency because no one is really sure who was in charge for about 24 hours. What happened? President James Polk stepped down as president officially that day, but neither president-elect Zachary Taylor nor his vice president Millard Fillmore were willing to be inaugurated because it was a Sunday. Under the rules of succession at that time, Senate Pro Tem David Rice Atchison was acting president. Atchison joked later about his time in office saying he napped a good portion of the day. But, wait! There is a flag on the play. Technically, Atchison was no longer Senate Pro Tem because his final session of Congress under Polk had expired. Now, Atchison would get the Senate Pro Tem gig again, but he wasn’t that day.
- · John Tyler: When William Henry Harrison died 41 days into his term, no one was really quite sure who was in charge. John Tyler was the vice president and the cabinet decided to make him “acting President.” Tyler, though, had other ideas and named himself “President” citing the Constitution, which was a little unclear on the subject. Several members of Congress contested, but Tyler finished out the term. However, he was so unpopular that neither party nominated him for re-election, and Tyler goes down in history as the only president never to have received a single vote. But wait, what about Gerald Ford? Yes, Ford became president in 1974 when he replaced Richard Nixon, but the man who made Chevy Chase famous ran in 1976 – getting votes in his loss to Jimmy Carter.
- · Another common link for the Bushes: Yes, George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush are in the rare world of father-son presidencies. But they also share another odd link in the term “acting president.” The 25th Amendment established formal procedures for addressing instances of presidential disability and succession. One of those was what would happen if a president was incapacicated temporarily. Since being passed in 1967, this clause of the 25th Amendment has been used twice. Once in 1985, when President Reagan underwent colon cancer surgery while under anesthesia. His vice president, Bush the Elder, was acting president during those few hours. His son, would thrice go under anesthesia during his presidency, and both times Dick Cheney served as acting vice president.
- Not done yet: While most presidents retire to everyday life after they leave 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, some have gotten back into politics. John Quincy Adams served in Congress from 1831 through 1848 after his presidency. William Howard Taft served as Chief Justice of the United States from 1921 through 1930 — more than a decade after leaving office.
- Those were the days: During his second term, Woodrow Wilson suffered a stroke that left him paralyzed and blind on the left side of his body, thus heavily incapacitating him. Instead of resigning, his doctors and his wife, Edith, hid that information for more than a year. Even the vice president was kept out of the loop. While Edith claimed that her husband made the final decision on all the matters she brought to his attention, many presidential scholars have since asserted that this was likely not true and that Edith probably consulted the president little due to his poor health. So maybe we actually have had a female president and just didn’t know it.
And there you go. Enjoy your three-day weekend and hopefully, you can share some of these stories.