Thursday, April 19, 2007

April 18, 1853:

Vice President William R. King Dies

When William Rufus DeVane King died in the spring of 1853 after only about six weeks as vice president, he left behind his name at a distant place he'd never been to, King County, then in the Oregon Territory, but now the county in which Seattle is located.

According to Gregory Roberts, writing in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer last year, soon after the election of 1852, which Franklin Pierce and William R. King won handily, "the Oregon Territorial Legislature created four counties in the Puget Sound region: King, Pierce, Jefferson and Island.

"Naming two of the counties after the president- and vice president-elect likely was designed to curry favor with the far-away national administration, UW history professor John Findlay said last week.

"Two days before leaving office, on March 2, 1853, President Fillmore signed the act splitting off the Territory of Washington, including the four counties, from the Oregon Territory. By that time, King was in Cuba, hoping the tropical climate would aid his struggle against the pneumonia that would soon kill him..."

Officially speaking, however, King County, Washington, is no longer named for the 13th Vice President of the United States. In 1986, someone at the King County Council noticed that William R. King had done disagreeable things by modern standards, especially owning slaves. So the council passed a resolution redesignating the county in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. In 2005, the Washington legislature passed a bill, and the governor signed it, to affirm the new choice of honoree for the county.

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