DAVID RICE ATCHISON Biography - Polititians


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Name: David Rice Atchison                                                                   
Born: 11 August 1807 Frogtown, Kentucky, U.S.                                               
Died: 26 January 1886 Gower, Missouri, U.S.                                                 
David Rice Atchison (11 August 1807 – 26 January 1886) was a mid-19th century             
Democratic United States Senator from Missouri. He served as President Pro                   
Tempore of the United States Senate for a total of six years. He is probably                 
best known for the urban legend claiming that, for one day in March 1849, he was             
de jure President of the United States.                                                     
Atchison was born to William Atchison in Frogtown (later Kirklevington), which               
is now part of Lexington, Kentucky. He was educated at Transylvania University               
in Lexington, where his classmates included five future Democratic Senators (Solomon         
Downs of Louisiana, Jesse Bright of Indiana, George W. Jones of Iowa, Edward                 
Hannegan of Indiana, and Jefferson Davis of Mississippi). Atchison was admitted             
to the Kentucky bar in 1829.                                                                 
In 1830 he moved to Liberty in Clay County in western Missouri, and set up                   
practice there. He also farmed. Atchison's law practice flourished, and his best-known       
client was Mormon leader Joseph Smith, Jr.. Atchison represented Smith in land               
disputes with non-Mormon settlers in Caldwell County and Daviess County                     
Atchison was elected to the Missouri General Assembly in 1834. He worked hard               
for the Platte Purchase, which extended the northwestern boundary of Missouri to             
the Missouri River in 1837.                                                                 
When the earlier disputes broke out into the so-called Mormon War of 1838,                   
Atchison was appointed a general in the state militia and took part in                       
suppression of the violence by both sides.                                                   
In 1838 he was re-elected to the Assembly. Three years later, he appointed a                 
circuit court judge for the six-county area of the Platte Purchase. In 1843 he               
was named a county commissioner in Platte County, where he now lived.                       
In October 1843, Atchison was appointed to the U.S. Senate to fill the vacancy               
left by the death of Lewis F. Linn. He thus became the first senator from                   
western Missouri. At age 36, he was the youngest senator from Missouri up to                 
that time. Later in 1843, Atchison was elected to serve the remainder of Linn's             
term, and was re-elected in 1849.                                                           
Atchison was very popular with his fellow Senate Democrats. When the Democrats               
took control of the Senate in December 1845, they chose Atchison as President               
Pro Tempore, placing him third in succession for the Presidency, and also giving             
him the duty of presiding over the Senate when the Vice President was absent. He             
was then only 38 years old and had served in the Senate just two years. In 1849             
Atchison stepped down as President Pro Tempore in favor of William R. King. King             
in turn yielded the office back to Atchison in December 1852, since King had                 
been elected Vice President of the United States. Atchison continued as                     
President Pro Tempore till December 1854.                                                   
As a Senator, Atchison was a fervent advocate of slavery and territorial                     
expansion. He supported the annexation of Texas and the U.S.-Mexican War.                   
Atchison and Missouri's other Senator, the venerable Thomas Hart Benton became               
rivals and finally enemies, though both were Democrats. Benton declared himself             
to be against slavery in 1849, and in 1851 Atchison allied with the Whigs to                 
defeat Benton for re-election.                                                               
Benton, intending to challenge Atchison in 1854, began to agitate for                       
territorial organization of the area west of Missouri (now the states of Kansas             
and Nebraska) so it could be opened to settlement. To counter this, Atchison                 
proposed that the area be organized and that the section of the Missouri                     
Compromise banning slavery there be repealed in favor of popular sovereignty,               
under which the settlers in each territory would decide themselves whether                   
slavery would be allowed.                                                                   
At Atchison's request, Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois introduced the Kansas-Nebraska   
Act, which embodied this idea, in November 1853. The Act became law on in May               
1854, establishing the Territories of Kansas and Nebraska.