William R. King
13th Vice President of the United States
President pro tempore of the United States Senate
May 6, 1850 – December 20, 1852
Preceded by David Rice Atchison
Succeeded by David Rice Atchison
July 1, 1836 – March 4, 1841
Preceded by John Tyler
Succeeded by Samuel L. Southard
United States Senator
December 14, 1819 - April 15, 1844
Preceded by None
Succeeded by Dixon Hall Lewis
July 1, 1848 - December 20, 1852
Preceded by Arthur P. Bagby
Succeeded by Benjamin Fitzpatrick
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from North Carolina's 5th district
March 4, 1811 - November 4, 1816
Preceded by Thomas Kenan
Succeeded by Charles Hooks
Born April 7, 1786(1786-04-07)
Sampson County, North Carolina
Died April 18, 1853 (aged 67)
Selma, Dallas County, Alabama
Political party Democratic
Alma mater University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
William Rufus DeVane King (April 7, 1786 – April 18, 1853) was the 13th Vice President
of the United States, and earlier a U.S. Representative from North Carolina, Minister to
France, and a Senator from Alabama. 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 remains the shortest-serving Vice President.
King was born in Sampson County, North Carolina, to William King and Margaret deVane,
and graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1803. There, King
Residence Quad is named in his honor, and is the site of Mangum House Residence as
well as Manly, Ruffin and Grimes Houses. King also maintained membership in The
Dialectic and Philanthropic Societies, a debating society at the university which still
maintains a portrait of him.
He was admitted to the bar in 1806 and began practice in Clinton, North Carolina. King was
a member of the North Carolina House of Commons from 1807 to 1809 and 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. King
was Secretary of the Legation at Naples, Italy, and later at St. Petersburg, Russia. He
returned to the United States in 1818 and located in Cahawba, Alabama, where he became a
slaveholder on a large Black Belt cotton plantation. King and his relatives were some of the
largest slaveholding families in Alabama, reportedly owning collectively as many as five
King was a delegate to the convention which organized the Alabama state government. Upon
the admission of Alabama as a State in 1819 he was elected as a Democratic-Republican to
the United States Senate, and was reelected as a Jacksonian in 1822, 1828, 1834, and 1841,
serving from December 14, 1819, until April 15, 1844, when he resigned. He served as
President pro tempore of the United States Senate during the 24th through 27th Congresses.
King was Chairman of the Committee on Public Lands and the Committee on Commerce.
He was Minister to France from 1844 to 1846. He was appointed and subsequently elected as
a Democrat to the Senate to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of Arthur P. Bagby and
began serving on July 1, 1848. During the conflicts leading up to the Compromise of 1850, King
supported the Senate's gag rule against debate on antislavery petitions, and opposed the
abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia. King supported a conservative proslavery
position, arguing that the Constitution protected the institution of slavery in both the Southern
states and the federal territories, placing King in opposition to both the abolitionists' efforts to
abolish slavery in the territories and the Fire-Eaters' calls for Southern secession.
On July 11, 1850, just two days after the death of President Zachary Taylor, King was again
appointed President pro tempore of the Senate, which made him first in the line of succession
to the U.S. Presidency, because of the Vice Presidential vacancy. King served until resigning
on December 20, 1852, due to poor health. He served as President pro tempore of the Senate
during the Thirty-first and Thirty-second Congresses and was Chairman of the Committee on
Foreign Relations and Committee on Pensions.
Vice Presidency and death
King was elected Vice President of the United States on the Democratic ticket with Franklin
Pierce in 1852 and took the oath of office March 24, 1853, in Cuba, where he had gone because
of his health. This unusual inauguration took place because it was believed that King, who was
terminally ill with tuberculosis, would not live much longer. The privilege of taking the oath on
foreign soil was extended by a special act of Congress for his long and distinguished service to
the government of the United States. Even though he took the oath 20 days after inauguration
day he was still Vice President during those three weeks.
Shortly afterward, King returned to his plantation, King's Bend, across the river from Cahaba,
Alabama, and died within two days. He was interred in a vault on the plantation. City officials of
Selma and some of King's family wanted to move his body within Selma, where they believed the
town's co-founder should be interred. Other family members wanted his body to remain at the
family plot. In 1882, the Selma City Council appointed a committee to select a new plot for King's
body. There are different versions of how his body was taken from King's Bend, however after 29
years he was re-interred in Live Oak Cemetery, Selma. He is entombed under a granite mausoleum.
Following King's death the office of Vice-President remained vacant until 1857 when John C.
Breckinridge was inaugurated. In accordance with the Presidential Succession Act of 1792, the
President pro tempore of the Senate was next in order of succession to President Pierce from 1853
Personal relationship with James Buchanan
King was close friends with James Buchanan, and the two shared a home in Washington, D.C. for
fifteen years prior to Buchanan's presidency. Buchanan and King's close relationship prompted
Andrew Jackson to refer to King as "Miss Nancy" and "Aunt Fancy", while Aaron V. Brown spoke
of the two as "Buchanan and his wife". Further, some of the contemporary press also speculated
about Buchanan and King's relationship. Buchanan and King's nieces destroyed their uncles'
correspondence, leaving some questions as to what relationship the two men had, but surviving
letters illustrate the affection of a special friendship, and Buchanan wrote of his communion with
his housemate. Buchanan wrote in 1844, after King left for France, "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 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."
Such expression, however, was not unusual amongst men at the time. While the circumstances
surrounding Buchanan and King have led authors such as Paul Boller to speculate that Buchanan
was "America's first homosexual president", there is no direct evidence that he and King had a
King's tomb is located at the Old Live Oak Cemetery in Selma, Alabama, and is accompanied
by a historical marker. He was originally buried on his family estate, however in 1882 the
mayor of Selma and two others dug up his casket and moved it to Selma over King family
objections. His casket was reburied not just inside a mausoleum, but several feet underneath it.
In honor of his election as Vice President, in December 1852 Oregon Territory named King
County for him, as well as Pierce County after President-elect Pierce. These counties became part
of Washington Territory when it was created the following year. Washington did not become a state
until 1889, and Pierce and King counties still exist.
Much later, King County amended its designation and its logo to honor Martin Luther King, Jr.; the
county's action was taken by ordinance and this decision was later reinforced by statutory action
by the State of Washington (SB 5332, April 19, 2005).
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