Top Four People Mistakenly Believed to Have Been a United States President
There are several historical figures that are often mistaken for being one of the 44 presidents in U.S. history. In the first two cases, this is likely because they appear on dollar bills, which are commonly associated with U.S. presidents. In the others, myths and legends surrounding them have given root to unfounded beliefs.
Hamilton was one of the Founding Fathers and the first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury. He was a Federalist, believing in a strong central government. He is best known for having an intense political rivalry with Thomas Jefferson, who held political beliefs that are comparable to those of modern libertarians. Hamilton appears on the ten dollar bill and is one of the most well-known founding fathers, but he was never president. There seems to be a great deal of debate on the internet about whether Hamilton was even eligible be president because he was born in the West Indies and The Constitution (which he signed and helped shape) says that to be eligible for president you have to be a natural born citizen. In fact, he wrote this section himself! However, it also says a person can be eligible if they are a U.S. citizen at the time of the adoption of the Constitution. Hamilton was living in New York at the time (except for when he was in Philadelphia for the Constitutional Convention), so I suppose Hamilton could have qualified under this category. But I digress. Whether he was eligible or not, Hamilton was never president, never vice president, and never ran (or stood) for president in a political campaign.
Another famous, iconic Founding Father who appears on currency, in this case the $100 bill. Franklin played many roles in his life. He was an author, inventor, diplomat, and political theorist, among other things. One thing he was not was a U.S. President. Franklin served as ambassador to France and was later elected “President of Pennsylvania”, what we would call a governor today. He never ran for president. Franklin was very elderly and sick by the time of the first presidential election in 1789. He died early in Washington’s first term.
David Rice Atchison
Atchison was a Democratic U.S. Senator from Missouri. Some people claim that he was president for one day – March, 4, 1849. His tombstone even says that he was. The story goes like this. Outgoing president James K Polk’s term ended on March 3. His successor, Zachary Taylor was not inaugurated until March 5. Taylor’s vice president (and future president) Millard Fillmore also was not sworn in until the fifth.
Atchison was president pro tem of the Senate at the time. Under the line of succession in those days, this meant that Atchison was next in line for the presidency since the two slots above him were vacated for one day. It’s a nice story, but Atchison never took the Oath of Office or was sworn in. He reportedly spent most of the day sleeping. If there was some sort of emergency, it seems likely that Taylor would have agreed to be officially sworn in a day earlier. Not to mention that Atchison’s term as president pro tem had ended on March 3 as well. As bizarre as it sounds, it could be argued that the U.S. did not have a president for one lazy Sunday in 1849. No one seemed to give it much thought at the time. It could also be argued that Taylor was already president even though he hadn’t yet taken the oath, depending on one’s interpretation of the Constitution. Or maybe Polk was still president for one more day. I better stop now before my head explodes.
There is a widespread legend about Hanson being the “real” first president of the United States. Hanson was the first president of the Continental Congress under the authority of the Articles of Confederation, the failed predecessor to the Constitution. His position was more akin to the modern Speaker of the House than the presidency. It was not an executive position – there was no executive branch under the Articles of Confederation. Hanson reportedly found the job dull. It was widely considered a ceremonial position and cannot compare the presidency in any significant way.
- Alexander Hamilton Biography - Facts, Birthday, Life Story - Biography.com
One of the United States' Founding Fathers, Alexander Hamilton's passionate political career ended in a famous duel with Aaron Burr. Learn more at Biography.com.
- Quick Biography of Benjamin Franklin
Quick Biography of Benjamin Franklin: Benjamin Franklin, a printer by trade, a scientist by fame, and a man of action by all accounts, continues to shape American thinking and action.
- snopes.com: President for a Day
Was David Rice Atchison President for a day?
- snopes.com: First in Piece
Was John Hanson the first president of the United States of America?