north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program
 

 
 
 

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     The life of William Rufus Devane King (1786-1853)—senator, diplomat, Vice President—is obscure, oddly so for a man who rose to such high political office. Born in Sampson County to William and Mary Devane King on April 7, 1786, young King enjoyed a privileged childhood as the son of a Revolutionary War hero. King distinguished himself early as an excellent student, graduating from the University of North Carolina in 1804, at age eighteen. He then moved to Fayetteville, where he apprenticed under lawyer William Duffy, establishing his own practice in nearby Clinton a year later. He would devote himself to law for only three years, entering politics in 1808 as a member of the North Carolina House of Commons at age twenty-two.

    King was elected to United States Congress in 1810, where his nationalist convictions led him to alliances with politicians such as Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun. King soon joined the up-and-coming War Hawk Republicans, so-called for their ardent support of an America both willing and able to defend her interests in the War of 1812.
     
    In 1818, King left North Carolina for Alabama, where an abundance of inexpensive, yet fertile, land offered significant profits. Settling in Dallas County, King helped draft Alabama’s State Constitution in 1819, and was elected to represent Alabama in the United States Senate later that year. King immersed himself in the political game for the next twenty years. King was nominated as Vice-President of the United States in 1852, and subsequently elected on March 24, 1853. His health, already poor in 1852, forced King to become the first and only Vice-President to be sworn into office while in a foreign territory, as he had traveled to Cuba to ease his tuberculosis. Soon after his return to America on April 18, King succumbed to his illness before reaching the District of Columbia. While King was originally buried at his home in Dallas County, Alabama, his remains were later moved to the City Cemetery in Selma.


References:
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, III, 366-368—sketch by Josh M. Martin
Josh M. Martin, “William Rufus King and the Compromise of 1850,” North Carolina Historical Review (October 1962): 500-518
Senate Historical Office, Vice Presidents of the United States, 1789-1993, website: http://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/common/generic/VP_William_R_King.htm Walter Jackson, Alabama’s First United States Vice-President, William Rufus King (1952)


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William Rufus Devane King

© 2008 North Carolina Office of Archives & History — Department of Cultural Resources