William R. King

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William R. King
William Rufus DeVane King 1839 portrait.jpg
Portrait of King, painted by George Cooke in 1839.
13th Vice President of the United States
In office
March 4, 1853[1] – April 18, 1853
President Franklin Pierce
Preceded by Millard Fillmore
Succeeded by John C. Breckinridge
33rd President pro tempore of the United States Senate
In office
May 6, 1850 – December 20, 1852
Preceded by David Rice Atchison
Succeeded by David Rice Atchison
In office
July 1, 1836 – March 4, 1841
Preceded by John Tyler
Succeeded by Samuel L. Southard
United States Minister to France
In office
April 9, 1844 – September 15, 1846
Preceded by Lewis Cass
Succeeded by Richard Rush
United States Senator
from Alabama
In office
July 1, 1848 – December 20, 1852
Preceded by Arthur P. Bagby
Succeeded by Benjamin Fitzpatrick
In office
December 14, 1819 – April 15, 1844
Preceded by None (Statehood)
Succeeded by Dixon Hall Lewis
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from North Carolina's 5th district
In office
March 4, 1811 – November 4, 1816
Preceded by Thomas Kenan
Succeeded by Charles Hooks
Personal details
Born William Rufus DeVane King
(1786-04-07)April 7, 1786
Sampson County, North Carolina, U.S.
Died Script error: The function "death_date_and_age" does not exist.
Selma, Dallas County, Alabama, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Other political
Democratic-Republican (Before 1828)
Alma mater University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Signature Cursive 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 Phillippe.

A Democrat, he was a Unionist and his contemporaries considered him to be a moderate on the issues of sectionalism, slavery, and westward expansion that 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; inaugurated in Havana, Cuba due to 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.

King was the only Vice President 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

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

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 special diplomatic mission in Naples.

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.

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 reelected as a Jacksonian in 1822, 1828, 1834, and 1841, serving from December 14, 1819, until April 15, 1844, when he resigned. 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 U.S. Vice President for the upcoming 1824 U.S. 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 resigning because of ill health on December 20, 1852, after having been elected Vice President.

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

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.

While King may have been asexual or celibate, several writers have put forth arguments that he was gay: Shelley Ross, biographer Jean Baker,[4] James W. Loewen, and Robert P. Watson.

The source of this argument is King's close and intimate relationship with James Buchanan. The two men lived together in a Washington boardinghouse for 10 years from 1834 until King's departure for France in 1844. King referred to the relationship as a "communion",[5] and the two often attended social functions together. Contemporaries also noted the closeness. Andrew Jackson called them "Miss Nancy"[6] and "Aunt Fancy" (the former being a 19th-century euphemism for an effeminate man[7]), while Aaron V. Brown referred to King as Buchanan's "better half".[8][9] One author has described Buchanan and King as "siamese twins".[10]

Buchanan adopted King's mannerisms and romanticized view of southern culture. Both had strong political ambitions and in 1844 they planned to run together for president and vice president. They spent time apart while King was in France, and their letters remain cryptic, avoiding 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] While some of their correspondence were destroyed by family members, the length and intimacy of surviving letters illustrate "the affection of a special friendship".[11]

Vice Presidency and death

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 university, 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, he was allowed to take the oath outside the United States, and was sworn in on March 24, 1853 in Havana.[3][12][13]

Shortly afterward, King returned to Chestnut Hill, where he died within two days. He was interred in a vault on the plantation and later reburied in Selma's Live Oak Cemetery. King never carried out any duties of the office.[14] The U.S. Senate displays a bust of King in its collection, even though he never presided over a legislative session as Vice President.[15]

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

Legacy and honors

See also


  1. King was inaugurated twenty days after the normal vice-presidencial inauguration ceremony on March 4th due to poor health in Havana, in the Spanish colony of Cuba. He was the first and only vice-president to be sworn in on foreign soil.
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  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 United States Senate: William Rufus King, 13th Vice President (1853)
  4. Jean H. Baker, James Buchanan: The American Presidents Series: The 15th President, 1857–1861, 2004, page 26
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Robert Watson, Affairs of State: The untold story of presidential love sex and scandal, 1789-1900, Plymouth, 2012
  6. Bill Kelter, Veeps, 2008, page 71
  7. The Wordsworth Book of Euphemisms by Judith S. Neaman and Carole G. Silver (Wordsworth Editions Ltd., Hertfordshire)
  8. Baker (2004), p. 75.
  9. Wesley O. Hagood, Presidential Sex: From the Founding Fathers to Bill Clinton, 1998, page 41
  10. James W. Loewen, Lies Across America: What American Historic Sites Get Wrong, 2007, page 342
  11. Jean H. Baker, James Buchanan: The American Presidents Series: The 15th President, 1857-1861, 2004, pages 25-26
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External links

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

March 4, 1811 – November 4, 1816
Succeeded by
Charles Hooks
United States Senate
Preceded by
New office
U.S. Senator (Class 2) from Alabama
December 14, 1819 – April 15, 1844
Served alongside: John Williams Walker, William Kelly, Henry H. Chambers, Israel Pickens, John McKinley, Gabriel Moore, Clement C. Clay and Arthur P. Bagby
Succeeded by
Dixon Hall Lewis
Preceded by U.S. Senator (Class 3) from Alabama
July 1, 1848 – December 20, 1852
Served alongside: Dixon H. Lewis, Benjamin Fitzpatrick and Jeremiah Clemens
Succeeded by
Benjamin Fitzpatrick
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by United States Minister to France
April 9, 1844 – September 15, 1846
Succeeded by
Richard Rush
Political offices
Preceded by President pro tempore of the United States Senate
July 1, 1836 – March 4, 1841
Succeeded by
Samuel L. Southard
Preceded by President pro tempore of the United States Senate
May 6, 1850 – December 20, 1852
Succeeded by
David Rice Atchison
Preceded by Vice President of the United States
March 4, 1853 – April 18, 1853
Succeeded by
John C. Breckinridge
Party political offices
Preceded by Democratic vice presidential nominee
Succeeded by
John C. Breckinridge