William R. King

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William R. King
William Rufus DeVane King 1839 portrait.jpg
King in 1839
13th Vice President of the United States
In office
March 4, 1853[1] – April 18, 1853
PresidentFranklin Pierce
Preceded byMillard Fillmore
Succeeded byJohn C. Breckinridge
United States Senator
from Alabama
In office
July 1, 1848 – December 20, 1852
Preceded byArthur P. Bagby
Succeeded byBenjamin Fitzpatrick
In office
December 14, 1819 – April 15, 1844
Preceded byNone (Statehood)
Succeeded byDixon Hall Lewis
President pro tempore of the United States Senate
In office
May 6, 1850 – December 20, 1852
Preceded byDavid Rice Atchison
Succeeded byDavid Rice Atchison
In office
July 1, 1836 – March 4, 1841
Preceded byJohn Tyler
Succeeded bySamuel L. Southard
United States Minister to France
In office
April 9, 1844 – September 15, 1846
Preceded byLewis Cass
Succeeded byRichard Rush
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from North Carolina's 5th district
In office
March 4, 1811 – November 4, 1816
Preceded byThomas Kenan
Succeeded byCharles Hooks
Member of the
North Carolina House of Commons
In office
Personal details
William Rufus DeVane King

(1786-04-07)April 7, 1786
Sampson County, North Carolina, U.S.
DiedApril 18, 1853(1853-04-18) (aged 67)
Selma, Alabama, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Other political
Democratic-Republican (before 1828)
Alma materUniversity of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
SignatureCursive signature in ink

William Rufus DeVane King (April 7, 1786 – April 18, 1853) was an American politician and diplomat. He was the 13th vice president of the United States for six weeks in 1853 before his death. Earlier he had been elected as a U.S. representative from North Carolina and a senator from Alabama. He also served as minister to France during the reign of King Louis Philippe I.

A Democrat, he was a Unionist and his contemporaries considered him to be a moderate on the issues of sectionalism, slavery, and westward expansion, which contributed to the American Civil War. He helped draft the Compromise of 1850.[2] He is the only United States executive official to take the oath of office on foreign soil; he was inaugurated in Cuba, due to his poor health. King died of tuberculosis after 45 days in office. With the exceptions of John Tyler and Andrew Johnson—both of whom succeeded to the presidency—he is the shortest-serving vice president of the United States.

King was the only vice president of the United States from the state of Alabama, and held the highest political office of any Alabamian in American history. He was the third vice president to die in office.

Early life[edit]

King was born in Sampson County, North Carolina, to William King and Margaret deVane. His family was large, wealthy, and well-connected. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1803, where he was also a member of the Philanthropic Society. Admitted to the bar in 1806 after reading the law with Judge William Duffy of Fayetteville, North Carolina, he began practice in Clinton. King was an ardent Freemason, and was a member of Fayetteville's Phoenix Lodge No. 8.

Political career[edit]

Portrait of King, circa 1840s

King entered politics and was elected as a member of the North Carolina House of Commons, where he served from 1807 to 1809, and he became city solicitor of Wilmington, North Carolina, in 1810. He was elected to the Twelfth, Thirteenth and Fourteenth Congresses, serving from March 4, 1811, until November 4, 1816, when he resigned to become Secretary of the Legation for William Pinkney during Pinkney's appointment as Minister to Russia and to a special diplomatic mission in Naples. King was only 24 years old when he became a congressman for the first time. (He did not reach the constitutional age of 25 for service in the House of Representatives until after the term began, but the Twelfth Congress did not convene until November 4, 1811, and King was not sworn in until then.)

When he returned to the United States in 1818, King joined the westward migration of the cotton culture to the Deep South, purchasing property at what would later be known as "King's Bend" between present-day Selma and Cahaba on the Alabama River in Dallas County of the new Alabama Territory, which had been recently separated from Mississippi. He developed a large cotton plantation based on slave labor, calling the property "Chestnut Hill". King and his relatives formed one of the largest slaveholding families in the state, collectively owning as many as 500 persons.

William Rufus King was a delegate to the convention which organized the Alabama state government. Upon the admission of Alabama as the twenty-second state in 1819 he was elected by the State Legislature as a Democratic-Republican to the United States Senate.

King was a follower of Andrew Jackson, and was re-elected to the Senate as a Jacksonian in 1822, 1828, 1834, and 1841, serving from December 14, 1819, until his resignation on April 15, 1844. During this time, in March–April 1824, William R. King was honored with a single vote at the Democratic-Republican Party caucus to be the party's candidate for the office of vice president of the United States for the upcoming 1824 presidential election. Later he served as President pro tempore of the United States Senate during the 24th through 27th Congresses. King was Chairman of the Senate's Committee on Public Lands and the Committee on Commerce.

He was appointed as Minister to France, and served from 1844 to 1846. After his return, King resumed serving in the Senate, appointed and subsequently elected to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of Arthur P. Bagby. He held his seat from July 1, 1848 until his resignation on December 20, 1852, because of ill health and his having been elected vice president of the United States.

During the conflicts leading up to the Compromise of 1850, King supported the Senate's gag rule against debate on antislavery petitions and opposed proposals to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia, which was administered by Congress.[3] King supported a conservative, pro-slavery position, arguing that the Constitution protected the institution of slavery in both the Southern states and the federal territories. He opposed both the abolitionists' efforts to abolish slavery in the territories as well as the Fire-Eaters' calls for Southern secession.[3]

On July 11, 1850, two days after the death of President Zachary Taylor, King was appointed Senate President pro tempore. Because Millard Fillmore ascended to the presidency, the vice presidency was vacant, making King first in the line of succession under the law then in effect. He also served as Chairman of the Senate's Committee on Foreign Relations and the Committee on Pensions.

Relationship with James Buchanan[edit]

James Buchanan, (1791–1868), 15th President of the United States (served 1857–1861). He shared a Washington boardinghouse with his friend and colleague, William R. King.

The argument for King's homosexuality has been put forward by biographer Jean Baker.[4] It has been supported by Shelley Ross, James W. Loewen, and Robert P. Watson. It focuses essentially on his close and intimate relationship with President James Buchanan. The two men lived together for 13 years from 1840 until King's death in 1853. Buchanan referred to the relationship as a "communion",[5] and the two often attended official functions together. Contemporaries also noted and commented upon the unusual closeness. Andrew Jackson mockingly called them "Miss Nancy" and "Aunt Fancy" (the former being a 19th-century euphemism for an effeminate man[6]), while Aaron V. Brown referred to King as Buchanan's "better half".[7] However, the historian Lewis Saum has pointed out, "Customs and expressions were different in the mid-1800s than they are today... "Miss Nancy" was "a fairly common designation for people who wore clean clothes and had good manners." He also noted that Aaron Brown was a political enemy of King.[8]

Loewen has described Buchanan and King as "siamese twins." Sol Barzman, a biographer of vice presidents, wrote that "King's "fastidious habits and conspicuous intimacy with the bachelor Buchanan gave rise to some cruel jibes." Buchanan adopted King's mannerisms and romanticised view of southern culture. Both had strong political ambitions, and in 1844, they planned to run as president and vice president. Both men were soft, effeminate, and eccentric.[5] They spent some time apart while King was on overseas missions in France, and their letters remain cryptic and avoid revealing any personal feelings at all. In May 1844, Buchanan wrote to Cornelia Roosevelt, "I am now 'solitary and alone,' having no companion in the house with me. I have gone a wooing to several gentlemen, but have not succeeded with any one of them. I feel that it is not good for man to be alone, and [I] should not be astonished to find myself married to some old maid who can nurse me when I am sick, provide good dinners for me when I am well, and not expect from me any very ardent or romantic affection."[5] After King died in 1853 Buchanan described him as "among the best, the purest and most consistent public men I have known."[5] Baker concluded that while some of their correspondence was destroyed by family members, the length and the intimacy of surviving letters illustrate "the affection of a special friendship" between King and Buchanan, with no way to know for certain whether it was a romantic relationship.[9]

Vice Presidency and death[edit]

Frontispiece of book of memorial addresses published after King's death

The 1852 Democratic National Convention was held at the 1851 Maryland Institute for the Promotion of the Mechanic Arts Hall in Baltimore. Franklin Pierce was nominated for president, and King was nominated for vice president.

Pierce and King defeated the Whig candidates, Winfield Scott and William Alexander Graham. (While attending college, King and Graham had been members of rival campus organizations in Chapel Hill; King belonging to the Philanthropic Society and Graham to the Dialectic Society.) Because King was ill with tuberculosis and had traveled to Cuba in an effort to regain his health, he was not able to be in Washington to take his oath of office on March 4, 1853. By a special Act of Congress passed on March 2,[10] he was allowed to take the oath outside the United States, and was sworn in on March 24, 1853, near Matanzas, Cuba, by the US consul to Cuba, William L. Sharkey.[3][11][12] King is the first and, to date, only vice president of the United States to take the oath of office on foreign soil.

Shortly afterward, King made the journey to return to Chestnut Hill. He died within two days of his arrival on April 18, 1853, aged 67, of tuberculosis. He was interred in a vault on the plantation and later reburied in Selma's Old Live Oak Cemetery.[13][14] King never carried out any duties of the office.[15]

Following King's death, the office of vice president was vacant until John C. Breckinridge was inaugurated with President James Buchanan in March 1857.

Legacy and honors[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ King was inaugurated—near Matanzas, in the Spanish colony of Cuba—twenty days after his term began (March 4) due to poor health. He was the first and only vice president of the United States to be sworn in on foreign soil.
  2. ^ a b Daniel Fate Brooks (2003). "The Faces of William R. King" (PDF). Alabama Heritage. University of Alabama, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Alabama Department of Archives and History. 69 (Summer): 14–23. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-03-21. Retrieved 2013-05-03.
  3. ^ a b c "U.S. Senate: William Rufus King, 13th Vice President (1853)". www.senate.gov.
  4. ^ Jean H. Baker, James Buchanan: The American Presidents Series: The 15th President, 1857–1861, 2004, page 26
  5. ^ a b c d Robert Watson, Affairs of State: The untold story of presidential love sex and scandal, 1789-1900, Plymouth, 2012
  6. ^ The Wordsworth Book of Euphemisms by Judith S. Neaman and Carole G. Silver (Wordsworth Editions Ltd., Hertfordshire)
  7. ^ Baker (2004), p. 75.
  8. ^ Lewis Suam, Pacific Northwest Quarterly, University of Washington, 2001
  9. ^ Jean H. Baker, James Buchanan: The American Presidents Series: The 15th President, 1857–1861, 2004, pages 25–26
  10. ^ 32nd Congress, Sess. 2, Chapter 93, 10 Stat. 180
  11. ^ Benson Lossing, ed. (1907). Harper's Encyclopedia of United States History. Harper & Brothers. p. 195. Retrieved July 15, 2013.
  12. ^ "Vice Presidential Inaugurations". Architect of the Capitol. Retrieved July 15, 2013.
  13. ^ Bennett, Jim (April 2014). "Alabamians With National Aspirations". JCHA Newsletter. Birmingham, Alabama: Jefferson County Historical Association. Retrieved June 1, 2018.
  14. ^ Wilson, Scott. Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons, 3d ed.: 2 (Kindle Locations 25688-25689). McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. Kindle Edition.
  15. ^ Patrick, John J.; Pious, Richard M.; Ritchie, Donald A., eds. (2001). The Oxford Guide to the United States Government. Oxford University Press. p. 363. ISBN 978-0-19-514273-0. Retrieved June 24, 2013. king, william.
  16. ^ "Motion No. 6461". King County, WA. Retrieved 29 May 2018.
  17. ^ "State law changed to rename King County". King County, Washington. Retrieved 11 December 2013.
  18. ^ "2005 Senate Bill 5332: Honoring the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr". WashingtonVotes.org. Retrieved 2018-09-25.
  19. ^ "Bill Information, SB 5332 - 2005-06 - Honoring the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr". Washington State Legislature. Archived from the original on 2018-09-26. Retrieved 2018-09-25.
  20. ^ ENGROSSED SENATE BILL 5332, 59th Legislature of the State of Washington, 2005 Regular Session.
  21. ^ Jaffee, Al (1979). The Ghoulish Book of Weird Records. Signet. pp. 136–140. ISBN 0-451-08614-7.

External links[edit]

U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from North Carolina's 5th congressional district

Succeeded by
U.S. Senate
New seat U.S. Senator (Class 2) from Alabama
Served alongside: John Williams Walker, William Kelly, Henry H. Chambers, Israel Pickens, John McKinley, Gabriel Moore, Clement Clay, Arthur P. Bagby
Succeeded by
Preceded by
U.S. Senator (Class 3) from Alabama
Served alongside: Dixon Lewis, Benjamin Fitzpatrick, Jeremiah Clemens
Succeeded by
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
United States Minister to France
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by
President pro tempore of the United States Senate
Succeeded by
Preceded by
President pro tempore of the United States Senate
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Vice President of the United States
Succeeded by
Party political offices
Preceded by
Democratic nominee for Vice President of the United States
Succeeded by