Sunday, April 08, 2007

April 7, 1786:

William Rufus DeVane King’s Birthday

Today is the birthday of the 13th Vice President of the United States, William R. King, the only Alabaman to hold that position or, for that matter, the only Alabaman to be either vice president or president. Actually born in North Carolina, and a successful young politician in that state – serving in the US House from 1811 to 1816 - King moved to the Alabama Territory in that late 1810s and represented it as a state in the US Senate from 1819 to 1844 and again from 1848 to 1852.

King became vice president when Franklin Pierce became president, on March 4, 1853. King was not, however, in Washington, DC, for the occasion, having gone to Cuba a few months earlier in the vain hope that the warmer climate would help his tuberculosis. King received a special dispensation from Congress to be inaugurated vice president while in Cuba, and thus took the oath of office on March 24, 1853, which was administered by the US Consul at Havana, William L. Sharkey. Deathly ill, Vice President King wanted to die in Alabama, so in April he returned, living just long enough to make it home. He died on April 18, 1853.

King wasn’t the shortest-serving vice president, though the two who served less time – John Tyler and Andrew Johnson – became president instead of dying in office. He’s also a footnote for the speculation surrounding him and James Buchanan, who became president about four years after King died. That they were close, there is no doubt. Just how close will never really be known, however, though it’s all too easy to project latter-day sexual notions on the past that the past isn’t going to bother to confirm or deny.

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