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Rufus King

Rufus King
by Gilbert Stuart, 1819/1820

In office
July 25, 1789 - May 23, 1796
March 4, 1813 - March 3, 1825
Preceded by (none)
John Smith
Succeeded by John Laurance
Nathan Sanford

Born March 24, 1755
Scarborough, Massachusetts (now Maine), USA
Died April 29, 1827 (aged 72)
Jamaica, Queens, New York, USA
Political party Federalist
Spouse(s) Mary Alsop King
Children James G. King
John Alsop King
Charles King (academic)
Edward King
Frederic Gore King
Profession Politician, Lawyer

Rufus King (March 24, 1755 – April 29, 1827) was an American lawyer, politician, and diplomat. He was a delegate for Massachusetts to the Continental Congress. He also attended the Constitutional Convention and was one of the signers of the United States Constitution on September 17, 1787, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 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).



Early life

He was born on March 24, 1755 at Scarborough which was then a part of Massachusetts but is now in the state of Maine. He was a son of Sabilla Blagden and Richard King, a prosperous farmer-merchant, who had settled at Dunstan Landing in Scarborough, near Portland, Maine, and had made a modest fortune by 1755, the year Rufus was born.

His financial success aroused the jealousy of his neighbors, and when the Stamp Act 1765 was imposed, and rioting became almost respectable, a mob ransacked his house and destroyed most of the furniture. Nobody was punished, and the next year the mob burned down his barn. It was not surprising that Richard King became a loyalist, but he died just prior to the start of the war in 1775. All of his sons, however, became patriots in the American War of Independence.[1]


King attended Dummer Academy (now The Governor's Academy) and Harvard College, graduating in 1777. He began to read law under Theophilus Parsons, but his studies were interrupted in 1778 when King volunteered for militia duty in the American Revolutionary War. Appointed a major, he served as an aide to General Sullivan[2] in the Battle of Rhode Island.[3] After the campaign, King returned to his apprenticeship under Parsons until he was admitted to the bar in 1780. He began a legal practice in Newburyport, Massachusetts. King was first elected to the Massachusetts state assembly in 1783, and returned there each year until 1785. Massachusetts sent him to the Confederation Congress from 1784 to 1787. He was the youngest at the conference.


In 1787, King was sent to the Federal constitutional convention at Philadelphia where he worked closely with Alexander Hamilton on the Committee of Style and Arrangement to prepare the final draft. He returned home and went to work to get the Constitution ratified and to position himself to be named to the U.S. Senate. He was only partially successful. Massachusetts ratified the Constitution, but his efforts to be elected to the Senate failed.

At Hamilton's urging, he moved to New York City, and was elected to the New York State Assembly in 1789. When the United States Constitution took effect, the State Legislature disagreed on who should be chosen besides Philip Schuyler for U.S. Senator from New York. Alexander Hamilton endorsed Rufus King as a candidate, thwarting the plans of the prominent Livingston family, who had hoped to place one of their own, James Duane, on the seat. Governor George Clinton, looking to cause a rift between the Livingstons and the Schuyler family (Hamilton was Philip Schuyler's son-in-law), discreetly supported King, and as a result he was elected in 1789. He was re-elected in 1795 but resigned on May 23, 1796, having been appointed U.S. Minister to Great Britain.

Diplomat and national candidate

King played a major diplomatic role as Minister to the Court of St. James from 1796 to 1803, and again from 1825 to 1826. Although he was a leading Federalist, Thomas Jefferson kept him in office until King asked to be relieved. He successfully settled disputes that the Jay Treaty had opened for negotiation. His term was marked by friendship between the U.S. and Britain; it became hostile after 1805. While in Britain, he was in close personal contact with South American revolutionary Francisco de Miranda and facilitated Miranda's trip to the United States in search of support for his failed 1806 expedition to Venezuela.

He was the unsuccessful Federalist Party candidate for Vice President in 1804 and 1808. In 1813, he was elected again to the U.S. Senate, and served until March 3, 1819. In April 1816, he lost the election for Governor of New York to the incumbent Daniel D. Tompkins of the Democratic-Republican Party. Later that year, King was nominated by the Federalists in the United States presidential election, 1816, but lost again. 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 1819, he ran for re-election as a Federalist, but the party was already disbanding and had only a small minority in the New York State Legislature. Due to the split of the Democratic-Republicans, no successor was elected to the U.S. Senate, and the seat remained vacant until January 1820 when King was elected again. Trying to attract the former Federalist voters to their side at the next gubernatorial election in April 1820, both factions of the Democratic-Republican Party supported King, who served another term in the U.S. Senate until March 4, 1825.


King had a long history of opposition to the expansion of slavery and the slave trade. This stand was a product of moral conviction which coincided with the political realities of New England federalism. In 1785, King first opposed the extension of slavery Northwest Territories, although he was willing "to suffer the continuance of slaves until they can be gradually emancipated in states already overrun with them." He did not press the issue very hard at this time, however. At the Constitutional Convention he indicated his opposition to slavery was based upon the political and economic advantages it gave to the South, and he was willing to compromise for political reasons.

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]


Rufus King Mansion, Jamaica Avenue, Queens.

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.

His wife Mary Alsop was born in New York on October 17, 1769 and died in Jamaica, New York on June 5, 1819. She was the only daughter of John Alsop, a wealthy merchant, and a delegate for New York to the Continental Congress from 1774 to 1776. She was also a great niece of Governor John Winthrop of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. She married Mr. King in New York City on March 30, 1786, he being at that time a delegate from Massachusetts to the Continental Congress then sitting in that city.

Mrs. King was a lady of remarkable beauty, gentle and gracious manners, and well cultivated mind, and adorned the high station, both in England and at home, that her husband's official positions and their own social relations entitled them to occupy. The latter years of her life, except while in Washington, were passed in Jamaica, Long Island, New York.

King died on April 29, 1827 and his funeral was held at his farm in Jamaica, Queens. He is buried in the Grace Church Cemetery in Jamaica, Queens, New York.[4] 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.


Rufus King's descendants number in the thousands today. Some of his notable descendants include;

See also


  1. ^ Ernst, 1–15
  2. ^ from Colonial Hall. Can be retrieved from
  3. ^ Steven E. Siry. "King, Rufus"; American National Biography Online, February 2000.
  4. ^ Rufus King at Find A Grave
  5. ^ "Halsey",
  6. ^ Halsey Minor Read the Hook 11/27/2008

Primary sources

  • King Charles R. The Life and Correspondence of Rufus King, 4 vol 1893-97
  • Ernst, Robert. Rufus King: American Federalist. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1968
  • Arbena, Joseph L. "Politics or Principle? Rufus King and the Opposition to Slavery, 1785-1825." Essex Institute Historical Collections (1965) 101(1): 56-77. ISSN 0014-0953
  • Perkins, Bradford ; The First Rapprochement: England and the United States, 1795-1805 1955.

External links

United States Senate
Preceded by
United States Senator (Class 3) from New York
1789 - 1796
Served alongside: Philip Schuyler and Aaron Burr
Succeeded by
John Laurance
Preceded by
John Smith
United States Senator (Class 3) from New York
1813 - 1819
Served alongside: Obadiah German and Nathan Sanford
Succeeded by
Preceded by
United States Senator (Class 3) from New York
1820 - 1825
Served alongside: Nathan Sanford and Martin Van Buren
Succeeded by
Nathan Sanford
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Thomas Pinckney
United States Minister to Great Britain
1796 - 1803
Succeeded by
James Monroe
Preceded by
Richard Rush
United States Minister to Great Britain
1825 - 1826
Succeeded by
Albert Gallatin
Party political offices
Preceded by
Charles Cotesworth Pinckney(1)
Federalist Party vice presidential candidate
1804 (lost), 1808 (lost)
Succeeded by
Jared Ingersoll
Preceded by
DeWitt Clinton
Federalist Party presidential candidate
1816 (lost)
Succeeded by
Notes and references
1. Technically, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney was a presidential candidate in 1800. Prior to the passage of the Twelfth Amendment in 1804, each presidential elector would cast two ballots; the highest vote-getter would become President and the runner-up would become Vice President. Thus, in 1800, the Federalist party fielded two presidential candidates, Pinckney and John Adams, with the intention that Adams be elected President and Pinckney be elected Vice President.

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

RUFUS KING (1755-1827), American political leader, was born on the 2 4 th of March 1755 at Scarborough, Maine, then a part of Massachusetts. He graduated at Harvard in 1777, read law at Newburyport, Mass., with Theophilus Parsons, and was admitted to the bar in 1780. He served in the Massachusetts General Court in1783-1784and in the Confederation Congress in 1784-1787. During these critical years he adopted the "states' rights" attitude. It was largely through his efforts that the General Court in 1784 rejected the amendment to the Articles of Confederation authorizing Congress to levy a 5% impost. He was one of the three Massachusetts delegates in Congress in 1785 who refused to present the resolution of the General Court proposing a convention to amend the articles. He was also out of sympathy with the meeting at Annapolis in 1786. He did good service, however, in opposing the extension of slavery. Early in 1787 King was moved by the Shays Rebellion and by the influence of Alexander Hamilton to take a broader view of the general situation, and it was he who introduced the resolution in Congress, on the 21st of February 1787, sanctioning the call for the Philadelphia constitutional convention. In the convention he supported the large-state party, favoured a strong executive, advocated the suppression of the slave trade, and opposed the counting of slaves in determining the apportionment of representatives. In 5788 he was one of the most influential members of the Massachusetts convention which ratified the Federal Constitution. He married Mary Alsop (1769-1819) of New York in 1786 and removed to that city in 1788. He was elected a member of the New York Assembly in the spring of 1789, and at a special session of the legislature held in July of that year was chosen one of the first representatives of New York in the United States Senate. In this body he served in 1789-1796, supported Hamilton's financial measures, Washington's neutrality proclamation and the Jay Treaty, and became one of the recognized leaders of the Federalist party. He was minister to Great Britain in1796-1803and again in 1825-1826, and was the Federalist candidate for vicepresident in 1804 and 1808, and for president in 1816, when he received 34 electoral votes to 183 cast for Monroe. He was again returned to the Senate in 1813, and was re-elected in 1819 as the result of a struggle between the Van Buren and Clinton factions of the Democratic - Republican party. In the Missouri Compromise debates he supported the anti-slavery programme in the main, but for constitutional reasons voted against the second clause of the Tallmadge Amendment providing that all slaves born in the state after its admission into the Union should be free at the age of twenty-five years. He died at Jamaica, Long Island, on the 29th of April 1827.

The Life and Correspondence of Rufus King, begun about 1850 by his son, Charles King, was completed by his grandson, Charles R. King, and published in six volumes (New York, 1894-1900).

Rufus King's son, John Alsop King (1788-1867), was educated at Harrow and in Paris, served in the war of 1812 as a lieutenant of a cavalry company, and was a member of the New York Assembly in1819-1821and of the New York Senate in 1823. When his father was sent as minister to Great Britain in 1825 he accompanied him as secretary of the American legation, and when his father returned home on account of ill health he remained as charge d'affaires until August 1826. He was a member of the New York Assembly again in 1832 and in 1840, was a Whig representative in Congress in 1849-1851, and in1857-1859was governor of New York State. He was a prominent member of the Republican party, and in 1861 was a delegate to the Peace Conference in Washington.

Another son, Charles King (1789-1867), was also educated abroad, was captain of a volunteer regiment in the early part of the war of 1812, and served in 1814 in the New York Assembly, and after working for some years as a journalist was president of Columbia College in 1849-1864.

A third son, James Gore King (1791-1853), was an assistant adjutant-general in the war of 1812, was a banker in Liverpool and afterwards in New York, and was president of the New York & Erie railroad until 1837, when by his visit to London he secured the loan to American bankers of £i,000,000 from the governors of the Bank of England. In1849-1851he was a representative in Congress from New Jersey.

Charles King's son, Rufus King (1814-1876), graduated at the U.S. Military Academy in 1833, served for three years in the engineer corps, and, after resigning from the army, became assistant engineer of the New York & Erie railroad. He was adjutant-general of New York state in 1839-1843, and became a brigadier-general of volunteers in the Union army in 1861, commanded a division in Virginia in 1862-1863, and, being compelled by ill health to resign from the army, was U.S. minister to the Papal States in 1863-1867.

His son, Charles King (b. 1844), served in the artillery until 1870 and in the cavalry until 1879; he was appointed brigadiergeneral U.S. Volunteers in the Spanish War in 1898, and served in the Philippines. He wrote Famous and Decisive Battles (1884), Campaigning with Crook (1890), and many popular romances of military life.

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