April 18, 1853
Alabamian William Rufus King served as vice president of the United States for only a few weeks before he succumbed to tuberculosis. But his power and influence in Washington and as a diplomat lasted decades.
Born in 1786 in North Carolina, he served there in the legislature and in Congress before moving to the Alabama Territory. He purchased a river estate near the town of Cahaba and was one of the founders of Selma before being selected a delegate to the territory’s 1819 constitutional convention and then, as one of the state’s first U.S. senators. When President Zachary Taylor died in 1850, sending Vice President Millard Fillmore to the White House, the vice presidency was left vacant. The Senate unanimously chose King as president pro tempore, making him, in effect, acting vice president.
In 1852, the nation elected Franklin Pierce president with King as his running mate. But the tuberculosis King likely contracted while minister to France in the 1840s was taking its toll. In January 1853, King left Washington for Cuba, where he hoped to recover his strength. Congress passed legislation allowing him to be sworn in outside the country because he was too weak to return for the inauguration. Barely able to stand, King on March 4 became the nation’s 13th vice president, in the seaport town of Matanzas, east of Havana. Knowing the end was near, King made the difficult journey home, reaching his Alabama plantation on April 17. He died the following day at age 67.
Read more at Encyclopedia of Alabama.
For more on Alabama’s Bicentennial, visit Alabama 200.