Birthday: April 7, 1786
Died At Age: 67
Sun Sign: Aries
Also Known As: William King, William Rufus DeVane King
Born in: Sampson County
Famous as: Shortest Serving Vice President of the U.S.A
Died on: April 18, 1853
place of death: Selma
education: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
William Rufus King was an American politician and diplomat who is often remembered as the shortest-serving Vice President of United States. A senator and diplomat, King remained in office only for six weeks, between March 1853 and April 1853. Born to a wealthy family of North Carolina, King, after completing elementary education from private schools, graduated from the University of North Carolina and went on to study law. Later, he was admitted to the bar and gravitated into politics, becoming a Congressman at the age of 25. Afterwards, he moved to Alabama and became the first Senator of Alabama, later reelected at the post several times in his career. As Senator, King was an advocate of the “southern” way of life, who opposed prohibiting slavery in the District of Columbia, and supported the expansion of slavery into the territories. After serving on various posts in politics over the years, he was elected Vice President of the United States in the administration of Franklin Pierce in 1853. He took his oath for the office in Cuba, where he had gone to improve his health, courtesy a privilege extended by special act of Congress. Until today, he is the only member of the U.S. executive branch to have been sworn into office on foreign soil. Shortly after, he returned to Alabama and died the next day, following a prolonged illness. He remained in office for only six weeks and is therefore dubbed as the shortest-serving Vice President of US.
Childhood & Early Life
William Rufus DeVane King was born on April 7, 1786, in Sampson County, North Carolina, United States, to William King, and his wife, Margaret deVane. He belonged to a wealthy and well-connected family which owned plantation.
He received his early education from private schools and later attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he became a member of the Philanthropic Society, an important literary student association.
In 1803, he graduated and subsequently became a student of prominent attorney William Duffy, who taught him law and helped him develop political skills. In 1806, King was admitted to the bar and began practice in Clinton, in Samson County.
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Shortly after becoming a lawyer, William Rufus King gravitated into politics and in 1807, he was elected to the North Carolina State House of Representatives, where he served until 1809. Thereafter, he became the city solicitor of Wilmington, North Carolina.
Subsequently, he was elected to the Twelfth, Thirteenth and Fourteenth Congresses, a capacity in which he served from March 1811 to November 1816.
After resigning as a Congressman, he was appointed the Secretary of the Legation for William Pinkney and accompanied him to Russia and special diplomatic mission in Naples.
Upon returning to the United States in 1818, William Rufus King moved to Alabama, purchasing property at what would later be known as ‘King's Bend’. He established a large cotton plantation based on slave labor, calling the property ‘Chestnut Hill’. Subsequently, King along with his relatives formed one of the largest slaveholding families in the state.
In 1819, upon the admission of Alabama as the 22nd State, he was elected by the State Legislature as a Democratic-Republican to the United States Senate. Later, King was re-elected at the post again in 1822, 1828, 1834, and 1841, serving from December 1819 to April 1844, until he resigned.
From 1844 to 1846, he served as a US Ambassador to France during the reign of King Louis Phillippe. Upon his return, William Rufus King resumed his services as the Senate of Alabama in 1848. He held his seat for the next four years until resigning in December 1852 because of ill health, after having been elected Vice President.
In July 1850, two days after the death of President Zachary Taylor, King was appointed Senate President Pro Tempore. He also served as Chairman of the Senate's Committee on Foreign Relations and the Committee on Pensions.
In the 1852 elections, the Alabama Democrats urged for his nomination as Vice President. Subsequently, he received support and the party nominated General Franklin Pierce as their presidential candidate, with King as his running mate.
Pierce and King defeated the Whig Party candidates successfully but King was ill with tuberculosis and had traveled to Cuba in an effort to regain his health. Therefore, Congress enacted a one-and-only bill which permitted King to take the oath outside the United States, and was sworn in on March 24, 1853 in Havana, Cuba.
Shortly after taking office, he sailed back to Alabama and subsequently died of his prolonged illness. He remained in office for six weeks and his position was never replaced.
Personal Life & Legacy
While William Rufus King remained a bachelor all his life, it was rumored that he was a homosexual. These rumors further increased after King developed a close and intimate bond with fellow senator, James Buchanan, of Pennsylvania. From 1834 onwards, both the men shared a Washington boarding house for ten years. The duo often attended social functions together and neither of them got married.
Shortly afterward taking oath for vice presidency on foreign soil, King left Cuba and returned to Chestnut Hill. He died on April 18, 1853, at his estate in Alabama, following a long illness, without carrying out any duties of the office. He was interred in a vault on the plantation and later reinterred in Live Oak Cemetery, Selma, Alabama, US.
In 1852, the Oregon Territorial Legislature named King County—which later became part of the U.S. state of Washington—in his honor