DAVID RICE ATCHISON
by Helen Russell, Mar 4,1999
There has been more than one David Rice Atchison.
There are three small stones in the Green Lawn Cemetery with that name all located
in the Atchison-Allen family lot. One for a child named David Rice Atchison
that died at the age of three. Another, with the same name, with the date of birth
as 1840 & death in 1904. It may be for the David Rice Atchison who lived
in Plattsburg and was elected as an Associate County Judge in 1894 and 1896 and elected
Presiding Judge in 1898, which was two years after Sen. Atchison died. Then, of
course, the one for Senator Atchison. He was born in Frogtown, KY on August
11, 1807 and died at his farm home in Clinton County on January 26, 1886.
There is one large stone in the middle of the lot with a great number of small
stones surrounding it - all the same size - about 15" high and a little over
12" wide. Very unpretentious for such a great statesman.
It has been my goal for many years to inform people about David Rice Atchison and the fact
that he should be remembered for what a great statesman he was. Most people know
that his claim for fame was that he was President of the United States for one day.
But did you know that he entered college at the age of 14 and graduated with high honors
at the age of 18? The college he attended and from which he was graduated was
Transylvania which later was incorporated in the University of Kentucky.
Sen. Atchison was admitted to practice law in Kentucky in 1829 at the age of 22. The
next year he moved to Clay County, MO and received his license to practice in the
Missouri Supreme Court. Shortly thereafter he was appointed Major General of
the Northern Division of the Missouri State Militia. It was during this period of
time that the problems arose with the Mormons in Missouri. The governor ordered
"that the Mormons must be treated as enemies and must be exterminated or driven from
the State if necessary for the public peace" Sen. Atchison refused to execute
the order and gave up his command and left the militia. He is held in very high
regard by the Mormons.
In 1833 he was appointed with two other men by the Governor of Missouri to select a seat
of Justice for Clinton County, and of course you know they selected Plattsburg.
Clay County elected him as State Legislator in 1834 and again in 1838. It was during
this period of time that he, along with several other men, was instrumental in obtaining
the Platte Purchase which includes Platte, Buchanan, Andrew, Holt, Nodaway & Atchison
counties. It should be pointed out that Atchison county was named in his honor.
He had been in the State of Missouri for eleven years, when the Governor appointed him to
be Judge of the Circuit Court of Platte County and he moved to Platte City at that time.
Then in 1842, he was appointed to fill the unexpired term in the U.S. Senate and
afterwards was elected to two consecutive terms in the Senate ending in 1855.
He was nominated for Governor of Missouri in 1843 but he declined.
I'm sure you all know the circumstances under which he become President but did you know
that in 1853, when Franklin Pierce was inaugurated, William R. King, the
newly-elected vice president was in Havana, Cuba and Sen. Atchison took the oath for him,
and at King's death just three months later, Sen Atchison became vice president and was
paid accordingly. He served in that position through December of 1854, almost two
An article about Sen Atchison published in The Globe, an Atchison, KS newspaper on
August 11, 1930 reads as follows: "In 1854 he was instrumental in forming the town
company that founded Atchison, and the city and county were named after him.
Atchison County, MO., and Atchison township, Clinton County, MO., are also named after
him. The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railroad bears his name as one of its
founders." The article in telling of his being president of the U.S. for
one day goes on to say, "... he was awakened in the wee hours that Sunday and told he
was the only man left in the District of Columbia who could be sworn in as President.
He took the oath of office standing in his nightcap and nightshirt."
In 1855 he was regarded as a leader and chief advisor of the pro-slavery party in Kansas
during the troubles which preceded the admission of that state. Some twenty-five
years later during an interview he was asked about being denounced as a "border
ruffian". He replied -"Well, the fact is, I saved many lives, as my object
was to keep down the feud. I was a peacemaker in the settlement of difficulties by
Governor Shannon and counselled the 'ruffians' to forebearance. But old John Brown,
whom I never saw to my knowledge, continued to stir up the embers of discord and strife. I
see even in friendly biographies of myself that none of them get at the truth."
In 1856 he was put in command of over eleven hundred men at a point called Santa Fe and in
1857 he moved to Clinton County - purchased 1,700 acres of land and built a spacious and
elegant mansion which was destroyed by fire in 1870. He was quite upset because of the
loss of his extensive library and valuable records of his opinions and observations.
He replaced the mansion with a frame cottage and lived there in his farm home until
his death in 1886.
During the Civil War he left for the South and was in the battle of Lexington.
Governor Jackson sent him a commission as brigadier general which he declined, as his
residence in Clinton County was outside the limits of the division. However, he
remained in the army till after the battle of Elkhorn.
In the 1881 History of Clinton County there is a detailed news article that was
printed in the St. Joseph Gazette concerning an Old Settler's Meeting attended by
the old settlers of the Platte Purchase. It was held in Buchanan County in September
1874. "General David Rice Atchison was called upon to make the opening address,
at which time he made one of his characteristic addresses interspersed with anecdotes and
adventures that always gladden the hearts of the old and give pleasure and instruction to
He spoke of those pioneer days the old people were all so familiar with, and of the
hardships connected with them, which now appear like a chasm and a lure to the young.
Of all the speeches that day none were more affecting than the brief and pointed
remarks of the venerable ex-President of the U.S. Senate. As a private citizen, no man was
ever more highly esteemed, by all who knew him, than David Rice Atchison. It is
reported that he remarked that he had once presided over the US Senate, but presiding over
this reunion of the old settlers of the Platte Purchase was a prouder position then he
ever before occupied.
In September of 1882 a Plattsburg newspaper called The Lever ran the whole front
page plus two additional columns covering an interview of Sen. Atchison by the editor,
John M. McMichael and an un-named Republican representative. To the question
"General, please explain how you became President of the United States for one
day?" He replied, "It was in this way: Polk went out of office
on the 3d of March 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 Magnum 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
The article spoke of his close friendship with Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, John C.
Calhoun, General Sam Houston and Jefferson Davis, President of the Southern Confederacy.
David Rice Atchison of Plattsburg was
President for a Day. You can read about on this page David Rice Atchison
|Clinton County was primarily settled by Southerners, although it
was well and bravely represented on both sides during the Civil War. Casualties include
Confederate Rufus Kelley, who died in the Battle of Wilson's Creek in 1861, and Union
Captain Turney who died in a skirmish just east of Plattsburg in 1864. Both brave soldiers
are buried in the old Plattsburg Cemetery.
The Civil War
divided Clinton County, who had forces and casualties representing both sides. The county
was however, pro-southern in sentiment. Hassled by border guerrila warfare, Plattsburg
(and Clinton County) was often terrorized by Quantrell's forces. Sen. David Rice Atchison
was also known to stir up Southern sentiment against Jim Lane and the Kansas Redlegs. As
with any warfare, there is no good side of battle. Many brave young men from the county
representing both sides became casualties. A sad plight for neighbors and families.
Captain Dewitt Clinton McMichael, of Plattsburg,
Missouri, soon after he was commissioned as Captain in the 13th Veteran Volunteer Calvalry
Regiment in 1864. He began the Civil War in the 6th Missouri Militia, Company F as an
enlisted man. Company F was made up of the "flower of Clinton County's finest"
history records. The roster included Captain Charles C. Basset, afterwards a prominent
lawyer in South Missouri, and Daniel M. Birch, fresh out of the Virginia University.
[looking for photo]
D.C. McMichael rose through the ranks quite fast and led the lead
company through the charge at dowtown Independence, MO which routed Cabell's brigade out
of that town. He also saw intense action at Westport and Newtonia, commanded the post at
Liberty, and later became assigned to important posts in St. Louis.
Captain McMichael is of great interest to me as I currently live in
the house of his father, Thomas McMichael, which was originally built in 1848 and finished
around 1860 by the latter. He was an important methodist deacon who built the first church
in Plattsburg out of logs (M.E. Church).
Incidently, his older brother John was Mayor of Plattsburg, served
in the state senate, and started the original three newspapers in Plattsburg ... The
Lever, The Democrat, and The Leader which is still published
in 2003 by Steve Tinnen.
Much of this information, as well as the picture, has been supplied
to me by Joel Hedrick, Civil War Historian and Author, who is writing a book about the 6th
Missouri. The majority of the rest of the family research I have done. I am currently
seeking any information on the McMichael family, Primarily John's descendents since he was
the only child to outlive his dad and prosper. When his wife, Julia Lincoln McMichael, of
the Clay County Lincolns, died in the 1930s she left a son John Morgan and a daughter
Julia in NW Arkansas. Please email me if you have any Info, Thanks!
A sad note on D.C. McMichael is that he stayed in the military after
the Civil War and was killed in 1877 leading a charge against the Modoc Indians in Oregon.
He is buried in a NW U.S. National Cemetery. A long way from home for a Plattsburg hero to
General Rosecrans - Key Union Commander in NW
Missouri Operations During the War Between the States
Clinton County Military Service Flag
PURE GOLD STARS THEREON, SIX HUNDRED AND NINETEEN SERVICE STARS
(Excerpts of article contributed by Miss Mary Ellen Dedman)
Shortly after the end of World War I the Clinton County Service Flag shown here was
prepared under direction of Mrs. Anna L. Sims, county school superintendent, and Mr. H. B.
McIntyre was appointed to secure funds for payment of cost and to look after the work of
having the flag made. The flag was made by the Baker-Lockwood Co. of Kansas City,
with the exception of the 23 gold stars, which were prepared by the Jaccard Jewelry Co.,
each of these gold stars being engraved with the name of a young man from this county who
died while in the country's service. These stars were made of genuine gold, no
imitation, and were securely fastened to the silk flag. The makers of the flag said
it was the prettiest and most costly one that they had made for any county. In
addition to the stars of pure gold, the field of white within the red border was filled
with blue service stars, and in the center these words: "Clinton County
619". There were 619 men from Clinton County in the country's army and naval
Accompanying the flag was a list of the soldiers, sailors and the
two Red Cross nurses who went from this county in response to their country's call.
These names were printed in a silk booklet, protected by leather cover, and the booklet
was to be hung with the flag in its honored position in the State Capitol at Jefferson
The 23 gold stars bear the following names: Ray McComb,
Floy Pearson, Louis Flanders, Elmer Ellis, John White, Morton Dixon, Clayton Webster, John
McCabe, Elston Amos, Roy Beechner, Leonard Cunningham, Morris Fallis, Emmett E. Binstead,
Roy Plumb, William Earl Hawks, Andrew McCarren, Frank Imbler, John Callahan, Clinton
Marsh, Rufus Kincaid, H. R. Clay, Forest Bear and Paul Gipson.
Top: Floy Pearson, Forest Bear, Andrew McCarran, Roy E. Beechner
2nd: Elmer Ellis, Elston Ames, Willie Earl Hawks, Lt. H. R. Clay
3rd: Clinton McF. Marsh, Sgt. Roy E. McComb, George M. Fallis, Roy Plumb
Bottom: Frnk Imbler, Paul E. Gipson, William F. Gemson, Emmett E. Binstead