The Thing About Today – March 4

March 4, 2020
Day 64 of 366

 

March 4th is the sixty-fourth day of the year. It is St. Casimir’s Fair, also known as Kaziuko mugė, a large annual folk arts and crafts fair in Vilnius, Lithuania.

In the United States, today is “celebrated” as National Grammar Day, National Hug a G.I. Day, Marching Music Day, National Pound Cake Day, and National Sons Day.

 

Historical items of note:

  • In 1628, the Massachusetts Bay Colony was granted a Royal charter.
  • In 1678, Italian violinist and composer Antonio Vivaldi was born.
  • In 1681, William Penn was granted a land charter for the area that later became Pennsylvania.
  • In 1789, the first Congress of the United States convened in New York City and put the United States Constitution into effect. The United States Bill of Rights was written and proposed to Congress.
  • In 1790, France was divided into 83 départements, cutting across the former provinces in an attempt to dislodge regional loyalties based on ownership of land by the nobility.
  • In 1791, the Constitutional Act of 1791 was introduced by the British House of Commons in London. This envisaged the separation of Canada into Lower Canada (Quebec) and Upper Canada (Ontario).
  • Also in 1791, the State of Vermont was admitted to the United States as the fourteenth in the Union.
  • In 1794, The Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution was passed by Congress. This amendment restricts the ability of individuals to bring suit against the states in federal court.
  • In 1797, John Adams was inaugurated as the second President of the United States, thus becoming the first President to begin his term on March 4th.
  • In 1837, the city of Chicago was incorporated.
  • In 1861, the first national flag of the Confederate States of America – the so-called “Stars and Bars” – was adopted.
  • In 1865, the third and final national flag of the Confederate States of America – the so-called “Blood-Stained Banner” – was adopted. This replaced the “Stainless Banner”, also known as “The White Man’s Flag”. The Confederacy would surrender and begin dissolution two months later.
  • In 1882, Britain’s first electric trams began running in east London.
  • In 1922, Nosferatu premiered at the Berlin Zoological Garden in Germany. An adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, this was the first vampire film.
  • In 1933, Frances Perkins became the United States Secretary of Labor. She was the first female member of the United States Cabinet.
  • In 1954, actress Catherine O’Hara was born.
  • In 1957, The S&P 500 stock market index was introduced and replaced the S&P 90.
  • In 1958, actress Patricia Heaton was born.
  • In 1974, People magazine was published for the first time, debuting under the title People Weekly.
  • In 1985, the Food and Drug Administration approved a blood test for AIDS infection. It has been used since for screening all blood donations in the United States.
  • In 1998, The Supreme Court of the United States decided on Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services, Inc., ruling that federal laws banning on-the-job sexual harassment also apply when both parties are the same sex.

 

In 1849, President-Elect Zachary Taylor and Vice President-Elect Millard Fillmore did not take their respective Oaths of Office, leading to the theory that outgoing President Pro Tempore of the United States Senate David Rice Atchison assumed the role of Acting President of the United States for one day.

The idea has been dismissed by nearly all historians, scholars, and biographers, but it is a fascinating piece of United States trivia.

The crux of the matter was that Inauguration Day in 1849 fell on a Sunday, so President-elect Zachary Taylor did not take the presidential oath of office until the next day. Legally, the term of the outgoing president, James K. Polk, ended at noon on March 4th. So, technically, there was no President of the United States for a single day.

Adding complications to the matter, outgoing Vice President George M. Dallas relinquished his position as President of the Senate on March 2nd, at which time Atchison was elected President pro tempore. In 1849, according to the Presidential Succession Act of 1792, the Senate President pro tempore immediately followed the Vice President in the Presidential line of succession. Since Dallas’s term as Vice President also ended at noon on the 4th, and as neither Taylor nor Vice President-elect Millard Fillmore had taken their respective Oaths of Office, Atchison could have been the Acting President of the United States.

Historians, constitutional scholars, and biographers point out that Atchison’s Senate term had ended on March 3. When the Senate of the new Congress convened on March 5 to allow new senators and the new vice president to take the oath of office, the secretary of the Senate called members to order, as the Senate had no President pro tempore. Furthermore, the Constitution doesn’t require the President-elect to take the oath of office to hold the office, just to execute the powers.

Additionally, Atchison never swore the Presidential Oath, so he could not have acted in the office.

It all depends on how one legally views the office: Does the President-elect immediately assume office (but not execute any powers) as soon as the outgoing President’s term expires?

David Rice Atchison addressed this with a reporter for the Plattsburg Lever:

It was in this way: Polk went out of office on March 3, 1849, on Saturday at 12 noon. The next day, the 4th, occurring on Sunday, Gen. Taylor was not inaugurated. He was not inaugurated till Monday, the 5th, at 12 noon. It was then canvassed among Senators whether there was an interregnum (a time during which a country lacks a government). It was plain that there was either an interregnum or I was the President of the United States being chairman of the Senate, having succeeded Judge Mangum of North Carolina. The judge waked me up at 3 o’clock in the morning and said jocularly that as I was President of the United States he wanted me to appoint him as secretary of state. I made no pretense to the office, but if I was entitled in it I had one boast to make, that not a woman or a child shed a tear on account of my removing any one from office during my incumbency of the place. A great many such questions are liable to arise under our form of government.

 

The Thing About Today is an effort to look at each day of 2020 with respect to its historical context.

For more creativity with a critical eye, visit Creative Criticality.

 

 

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