See C. King, ed., The Life and Correspondence of Rufus King (6 vol., 1894-1900, repr. 1971); biography by E. H. Brush (1926); study by R. Ernst (1968).
Rufus King (March 241755 - April 291827) was an American lawyer, politician, and diplomat. He was a delegate from Massachusetts to the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention. He represented New York in the United States Senate, served as Minister to Britain, and was the Federalist candidate for both Vice President (1804, 1808) and President of the United States (1816).
At Hamilton's urging he moved to New York City and was elected to the New York state legislature in 1788. When the U.S. Constitution took effect, the legislature disagreed on who should serve in the state's second United States Senate seat. Governor George Clinton proposed Rufus King as a compromise candidate, and he was elected, representing New York in the Senate from 1789 to 1796 and again from 1813 to 1825.
He was the unsuccessful Federalist Party candidate for Vice President in 1804 and 1808. In April 1816 he lost the election for Governor of New York to the incumbent Daniel D. Tompkins of the Democratic-Republican Party - Tompkins 45,412 votes, King 38,647. Later that year, King was nominated by the Federalists for President in 1816, again losing. King was the last presidential candidate to be nominated by the Federalists during their period as one of the participants in the two-party system of the United States.
In 1817, he supported Senate action seeking abolition of the slave trade, and in 1819 spoke strongly for the antislavery amendment in the Missouri statehood bill. In 1819, his arguments were political, economic, and humanitarian; the extension of slavery would adversely affect the security of the principles of freedom and liberty. After the Missouri Compromise he continued to support gradual emancipation in various ways. [Arbena 1965]
One of King’s most consequential interventions in Congress was in regards to the 1820 Tallmadge Amendment debate, which sought to limit slavery in Missouri as it became a state. King appealed to the now fading Revolutionary sense of equality to attack slavery. He declared that "laws or compacts imposing any such condition upon any human being are absolutely void, because contrary to the law of nature, which is the law of God, by which he makes his ways known to man, and is paramount to all human control." Though the amendment failed and Missouri became a slave state. King reflected the gradual ideological evolution of the Atlantic abolitionist movement. According to David Brion Davis, this may have been the first time anywhere in the world that a political leader openly attacked slavery’s perceived legality in such a radical manner. In fact, the impact of King’s declaration was such that Douglass R. Egerton even suggests a possible link of inspiration between King’s declaration in Congress and the controversial Denmark Vesey slave uprising of 1822.
Many of King's family were also involved in politics and he had a number of prominent descendants. His brother William King was the first governor of Maine and a prominent merchant, and his other brother, Cyrus King, was a U. S. Congressman.
In 1786, King married Mary Alsop, the daughter of Congressman John Alsop, and their sons John Alsop King and James Gore King also went on to serve in the Congress. Another son, Charles King, was a president of Columbia College, the father of Rufus King, and the grandfather of his namesake, Charles King. Rufus King's son Edward moved to Ohio and founded Cincinnati Law School, while his youngest son Frederick became a well-respected physician.
King died on April 29, 1827 at his farm in Jamaica, Queens. He is buried in the Grace Church Cemetery in Jamaica, Queens, New York. The home that King purchased in 1805 and expanded thereafter and some of his farm make up King Park in Queens. The home, called King Manor, is now a museum and is open to the public.
The Rufus King School, also known as P.S. 26, in Fresh Meadows, New York, was named after King, as was the Rufus King Hall on the CUNY Queens College campus. Rufus King High School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin is named after his grandson, Rufus King, who moved to Milwaukee to become the editor of the Milwaukee Sentinel. The school's teams are known as the Generals, because Rufus King the younger was a brigadier general in the Civil War. He was instrumental in forming Wisconsin's renowned Iron Brigade. He and the Iron Brigade participated in the Second Battle of Bull Run, Fredericksburg, and Gainesville. He was also Milwaukee's first superintendent of public schools, and a regent of The University of Wisconsin.