Sexuality of William R. King

William R. King

William Rufus deVane King (April 7, 1786 – April 18, 1853) was a U.S. Representative from North Carolina, a Senator from Alabama, and the thirteenth Vice President of the United States. King died of tuberculosis after 45 days in office. With the exception of John Tyler and Andrew Johnson—both of whom succeeded to the Presidency—he remains the shortest-serving Vice President.

Early life

King was born in Sampson County, North Carolina to William King and Margaret deVane, and graduated from the University of North Carolina in 1803. He was admitted to the bar in 1806 and began practice in Clinton, North Carolina. King was a member of the North Carolina House of Commons from 1807 to 1809 and city solicitor of Wilmington, North Carolina in 1810. He was elected to the Twelfth, Thirteenth, and Fourteenth Congresses, serving from March 4, 1811 until November 4, 1816, when he resigned. King was Secretary of the Legation at Naples, Italy and later at St. Petersburg, Russia. He returned to the United States in 1818 and located in Cahawba, Alabama, where he became a slaveholder on a large plantation.


King was a delegate to the convention which organized the State government. Upon the admission of Alabama as a State in 1819 he was elected as a Democratic-Republican to the United States Senate, and was reelected as a Jacksonian in 1822, 1828, 1834, and 1841, serving from December 14, 1819, until April 15, 1844, when he resigned. He served as President pro tempore of the United States Senate during the 24th through 27th Congresses. King was Chairman of the Committee on Public Lands and the Committee on Commerce.

He was Minister to France from 1844 to 1846. He was appointed and subsequently elected as a Democrat to the Senate to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of Arthur P. Bagby and began serving on July 1, 1848. During the conflicts leading up to the Compromise of 1850, King supported the Senate's gag rule against debate on antislavery petitions, and opposed the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia. King supported a conservative proslavery position, arguing that the Constitution protected the institution of slavery in both the Southern states and the federal territories, placing King in opposition to both the abolitionists' efforts to abolish slavery in the territories and the Fire-Eaters' calls for Southern secession.

On July 11, 1850, just two days after the death of President Zachary Taylor, King was again appointed President pro tempore of the Senate, which made him first in the line of succession to the U.S. Presidency, because of the Vice Presidential vacancy. King served until resigning on December 20, 1852 due to poor health. He served as President pro tempore of the Senate during the Thirty-first and Thirty-second Congresses and was Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations and Committee on Pensions.

Vice Presidency

King was elected Vice President of the United States on the Democratic ticket with Franklin Pierce in 1852 and took the oath of office March 24, 1853 in Cuba, where he had gone because of his health. This unusual inauguration took place because it was believed that King, who was terminally ill with tuberculosis, would not live much longer. The privilege of taking the oath on foreign soil was extended by a special act of Congress for his long and distinguished service to the government of the United States. Even though he took the oath twenty days after inauguration day he was still Vice President during those three weeks, but did not hold the power of the office.

Shortly afterward, King returned to his plantation, King's Bend, across the river from Cahaba, Alabama, and died within two days. He was interred in a vault on the plantation. City officials of Selma and some of King's family wanted to move his body within Selma, where they believed the town's co-founder should be interred. Other family members wanted his body to remain at the family plot. In 1882, the Selma City Council appointed a committee to select a new plot for King's body. There are different versions of how his body was taken from King's Bend, however after twenty-nine years he was reinterred in Live Oak Cemetery, Selma.

Following King's death the office of Vice-President remained vacant until 1857 when John C. Breckenridge was inaugurated. In accordance with the Presidential Succession Act of 1792, the President pro tempore of the Senate was next in order of succession to President Pierce from 1853 to 1857.

Personal relationships

For fifteen years in Washington, D.C., prior to his presidency, James Buchanan lived with his close friend King. Buchanan and King's close relationship prompted Andrew Jackson to refer to King as "Miss Nancy" and "Aunt Fancy," while Aaron V. Brown spoke of the two as "Buchanan and his wife." Further, some of the contemporary press also speculated about Buchanan and King's relationship. Buchanan and King's nieces destroyed their uncles' correspondence, leaving some questions as to what relationship the two men had, but surviving letters illustrate "the affection of a special friendship," and Buchanan wrote of his "communion" with his housemate. Buchanan wrote in 1844, after King left for France, "I am now 'solitary and alone,' having no companion in the house with me. I have gone a wooing to several gentlemen, but have not succeeded with any one of them. I feel that it is not good for man to be alone; and should not be astonished to find myself married to some old maid who can nurse me when I am sick, provide good dinners for me when I am well, and not expect from me any very ardent or romantic affection." Such expression, however, was not unusual amongst men at the time. Though the circumstances surrounding Buchanan and King have led authors such as Paul Boller to speculate that Buchanan was "America's first homosexual president," there is little evidence that he and King had a sexual relationship.


King's tomb is located at the Live Oak Cemetery in Selma, Alabama and is accompanied by a historical marker.

In honor of his inauguration as Vice President, the newly formed Washington Territory named King County for him, as well as Pierce County after President Pierce, in hopes of gaining speedy admission to the Union by currying favor with the new administration. Though Washington did not become a state until 1889, Pierce and King counties still exist. King County has since changed its official designation and its logo to honor Martin Luther King, Jr.


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