The Life Of William Rufus King Hampton University Hampton, VA 23668 The Life and Times of William Rufus de Vane King Presented To Mr. Gene Moore In Partial Fulfillment for the Requirements Of POL 399-01 By Sharri D. Mapp 8142 on April 18, 2001 William Rufus de Vane King was a distinguished politician who concluded his remarkable political career by being elected the Vice-President under Franklin Pierces pro-slavery ticket. However, he is the only person to be elected to that office that never actually served as vice-president. Without doing this, King is known through history as a popular and pre-eminent politician from Alabama. Besides being the only vice-president elected to not serve his term, he is the only United States official to take the oath of office on foreign land.
Instead of taking the oath of office in the nations capital, William King took the oath in Havana, Cuba. Unfortunately, less than one week after Inauguration Day, King died at the age of sixty-seven of tuberculosis. In those years prior to his death, King made several pertinent contributions to the United States political system. King began his life on April 7, 1786. He was born on a lovely spring day in Sampson County, North Carolina.
His inheritance from different backgrounds was evident. The values and morals that his parents instilled within him caused young Kings actions. His father was of Irish descent that was a planter who sometimes served in the state legislature. His father also served dutifully during the Revolutionary War and was a member of the convention that was called to adopt the federal constitution. His mother had a touch of Huguenot ancestry.
William King was a tall and slender man. His physique was gracefully erect, and he was always generous and courteous. This characteristic came from the upbringing from his parents. He was very humble. He was not arrogant or boasted about his accomplishments.
King never married. However, there were rumors spread that there was a relationship between him and President James Buchanan. It was known that King and Van Buren shared a twenty-year intimate friendship. They shared quarters in Washington, D.C. for many years, and Buchanan called their relationship a communion. A law partner of James K.
Polk labeled the two Mr. and Mrs. Buchanan. King was born when the United States was young and developing. Three years after his birth, the United States Constitution was ratified, creating a stronger central government.
Therefore, the political system was of great importance as many adapted to the new form of government. The nation was divided on the concept of federalism and most had to ponder when it came to taking sides. There were many instance of duels when heated debates over federalism arose. Like most distinguished politicians, King studied profusely to gain ample knowledge. He was educated in Chapel Hill.
He graduated from the University of North Carolina. Later he moved to Fayetteville, North Carolina to read the law in the office of the Honorable William Duffy. At the tender age of nineteen, King was admitted to the bar. He opened an office in Clinton. Three years later, he entered the public spotlight. He served as a state legislature as a member of the House of Commons from Sampson County.
He was re-elected to a second term, but did not serve because he was elected to the office of the city solicitor for Wilmington. Reluctantly, he resigned from his legislature duties. At the age of twenty-four, King entered the national political scene. He was chosen to represent North Carolina in Congress in 1811. As a Representative, he worked along with other political giants of time.
Many started their careers around the same time that King did. These distinguished gentlemen consist of Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun, and William Lowndes. As a rookie in Congress, King gave ample support to the Madison administration and the use of tariffs to promote American manufacturing. During that time, the United States had prohibited trade with Britain and France. These controversies led up to the impressment of American seamen by the British.
Shortly afterwards, the United States engaged in the War of 1812. He remained popular during those times. The War of 1812 was not declared a failure. Most of this was because of contributions from Andrew Jackson. In light of his support during these times, he was elected to the Twelfth, Thirteenth, and Fourteenth Congress and served diligently from March 4, 1811 until November 4, 1816 after a heartwarming resignation. He then took the role of serving as the Secretary of the legation to William Pickney of Maryland at Naples and later at St.
Petersburg. While being of service to his country, King spent most of this time as a tourist in Europe. After giving those few years to his country abroad, King returned to the United States in 1818. He then relocated from North Carolina to Cahaba, Alabama. After his move, King purchased a huge plantation, and acquired many slaves.
He settled near the Alabama River in what would later become Dallas County. There in the Black Belt, as it was called, he built his home Chestnut Hill. He chose his cash crop to be cotton. Even though King began farming, the life of a planter didnt consume his time. He still had ample time to allocate to the political limelight.
After only a few short months, Kings was chosen to represent Dallas County in a statewide convention that was called to frame a much-needed constitution. He became a delegate to the state convention and worked diligently to organize, develop and establish a state government. More or less, he helped write the state constitution. In doing so, he adequately looked out for the slave-owning citizens. As a potential member of a group of southern state, agriculture was a basis of the economy.
After drafting the constitution, King decided to return to North Carolina to visit family and friends. During that time of absence, he was unanimously chosen to represent Alabama upon the admission of Alabama as a State into the Union in 1819. He was reelected as a Republican and as a Jacksonian in 1822, 1828, 1834, and 1841. Even though he served until 1844 when he resigned, he was offered many positions. During that time, King, at the time a Democrat, was a strong supporter of Andrew Jackson and was a loyal Unionist throughout his career. During the Democratic convention of 1832, he proposed a rule that provided for a two-thirds vote to nominate a candidate. This rule was used by the party until its repeal in 1936.
He was urged to run for the vice presidency as early as 1838. In 1837, he was offered the position of minister resident to Austria, but he declined it because he said he had supported Van Burens election and he had never supported any other previous presidential election. By accepting a prominent position under the Van Buren administration would allow room for people to misconstrue his motives. There were many rumors about an intimate affair between King and President Van Buren. However, his personal life is not a reflection of his political capabilities.
He fulfilled all of his responsibilities unostentatiously. During his tenure as Senator, he held many offices and posts. He served as the President Pro Tempore during the Twenty-fourth through Twenty-Seventh Congress. He also served as the chairman of the Committee on Public Lands during the Twenty-Second Congress. Other assignments include serving on the Committee on Commerce.
Prior to the termination of his fifth term, relations between the United States and other foreign entities became very hectic. This had to do in part with the questions regarding the annexation of Texas. This situation required tact and discretion for rectification and King prevailed on to accept the position of minister to France from 1844-1846. He remained away from the United States until his resignation. When King returned home, he has hopes of regaining his seat that he had vacated before his departure to France.
Unfortunately, D. H. Lewis now held his seat. Like King, Lewis also had a remarkable political career. He had been chosen twelve times to serve the highest public positions during a political career that consisted of twenty years. These two men were the most distinguished men from their state and were of the same political party. This contest was exciting but Lewis prevailed.
Two years later, he was selected by Governor Chapman of Alabama as a Democrat to take the United States Senate seat that was left vacant due to the resignation of Arthur P. Bagby. When the term expired, he was chosen to serve another four years until he was forced to resign because of poor health. He again served as the Senate Pro Tempore during these Thirty-first and Thirty-second Congress sessions. He was the chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations and member of the Committee on Pensions during the latter session. Sectional controversy, the problems of slavery, and westward expansion dominated Kings last years as a statesman.
Throughout many bitter debates, he remained neutral. He always looked for a compromise. When California sought admission to the Union, King served on a select committee who drafted the Compromise of 1850. A few years later, the executive branch called upon King to serve another high office. King was asked to serve as the acting vice president during the Fillmore administration.
He obliged. But again, his health caused him to resign on December 20, 1852. However, during the summer of that year, his party nominated him for the vice presidency on the ticket with the General Pierce of New Hampshire. King was very proud to be put on the ticket with Pierce and would have refused to run if it was some other man. (Nichols 208) After being elected, King sought refuge in the warm climate Cuba. He was still there in March when the federal consul administered him the oath of office thereby virtue of a special act of Congress. This was done at Ariadna, a plantation he was visiting.
A Colonel John Chartrand in Mantanazas, Cuba, owned it. Unfortunately, after returning to the United States to his home in Alabama for a few days, King succumbed to tuberculosis. He did not step a foot in the capital to perform any duties regarding the office of the vice presidency. Upon his death, David R. Atchison of Missouri became the president pro tempore of the senate. (Nichols 243) King was buried in the family cemetery at Chestnut Hill, but his body was later moved to Live Oak cemetery in Selma.