William R. King

Political Figure / U.S. Vice President
Date Of Birth:
7 April 1786
Date Of Death:
18 April 1853
Place Of Birth:
Sampson County, North Carolina
Best Known As:
Franklin Pierce's vice president, who died a month into it

Name at birth: William Rufus de Vane King

William Rufus de Vane King was elected as Franklin Pierce's vice president in 1852, but his real claim to fame, these days, is that he took the oath of office on foreign soil and then died, 25 days after being sworn in. King had a privileged background in North Carolina, where he graduated from university in 1803. He studied law and practiced briefly, but in 1807 he entered North Carolina politics. He was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1810, and served there until taking on diplomatic missions in Italy and Russia (1816-18). When he returned to the U.S., King bought a plantation in Alabama, where he was to spend most of his career as a United States senator. King was tapped as Franklin Pierce's running mate in 1852, an effort by the Democrats to balance out the ticket (Pierce was from New Hampshire, King was from Alabama), and to appease supporters of presidential hopeful James Buchanan. Pierce beat the hapless Whig candidate Winfield Scott easily (the electoral vote was 254-42), and King took a trip to Cuba for his health. Dying from tuberculosis, King took the oath of office for the vice presidency on 24 March 1853. He then took a ship home to Alabama, arrived at his plantation on 17 April and died a day later.

Extra Credit:

William Rufus de Vane King was the subject of much gossip in Washington, D.C. while he was there — his fastidious manner and fashion sense, plus his close relationship with fellow bachelor James Buchanan, spawned rumors that he was a homosexual…. King County, Washington (where Seattle is) was named after William Rufus de Vane King — at the time, a political ploy to get national attention from the movers and shakers of the Oregon Territory. But in 2006 local officials re-designated King County as the namesake of Martin Luther King, Jr.

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