In 1853, on this day the President-elect of the United States Franklin Pierce (pictured) and his family were crushed to death when the train car that they had boarded in Boston was derailed and then rolled down an embankment near Andover, Massachusetts.
Tragic Death of Franklin PierceIn his place, William Rufus King was sworn in as President on March 4th. Problem was, King was dying of tuberculosis and succumbed to the disease just six weeks later, so that the presidency fell to the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, David Rice Atchison.
Just four years before, he had served as President for a single day. Because on Saturday, March 3, 1849, outgoing President James Polk's term had expired, but incoming President Zachary Taylor refused to be sworn in on the Sabbath and put the ceremony off until Monday, March 5 -- which meant nobody was President on Sunday, at least officially.
He did not undertake any presidential duties, but claimed to have taken a nap whilst serving as 12th president of the United States. But unlike that temporary ceremonial fill-in function, the succession after the deaths of Pierce and King was fundamentally differently. Because Atchison was a pro-slavery expansionist who was brought to power at a pivotal moment in the nation's history.