When the vice president lived in Selma

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 24, 2003

One hundred and fifty years ago today, William Rufus King took the oath of office as vice president of the United States.

By an act of Congress, the oath was administered by U.S. Consul William Sharkey to King in Matanzas, Cuba, on Inauguration Day, March 24, 1853, when newly-elected Franklin Pierce was sworn into the office of president of the United States.

King never presided over the Senate as vice president. Ill with tuberculosis, he was in Cuba hoping the warm climate would improve his health. However, his illness grew more acute and he returned to his home near Cahawba, where he died the next day, April 18, 1853.

Born April 7, 1786, in Sampson County, N.C., he was elected to the North Carolina Legislature in 1806 at the age of 20. Four years later, he was elected to the House of Representatives of the 12th United States Congress. In 1816 King was appointed Secretary to the legation of William Pickney in Naples, Italy, and St. Petersburg, Russia.

Upon his return from Europe he came to Alabama, bought a plantation in Dallas County and built his home at King’s Bend.

On March 2, 1819, Congress passed an act authorizing the Alabama Territory to draw up a constitution in preparation for statehood. In the same month, King, Gilbert Shearer, Dr. George Phillips, Jesse Beene and Caleb Tate formed the Selma Land Company, with their objective the sale of property to the influx of settlers which statehood would bring.

This same act authorized the distribution of representatives among the various counties. King was chosen as the Dallas County representative and that summer, at the age of 33, he was recognized as one of the outstanding men at the Constitutional Convention in Huntsville. He was also one of the three men appointed to put the state constitution into final shape.

On Dec. 14, 1819, President James Monroe signed the resolution creating the state of Alabama. Slightly less than a year later, on Dec. 4, 1820, Moore’s Bluff (formerly High Soapstone Bluff) was incorporated and given the name of Selma by King, who selected it from McPherson’s &uot;Sons of Ossian&uot;:

The oaks of thy shaded walls;

Thy streams sound in my ear;

Thy heroes gather round.&uot;

One of the first acts of the new state government was the election of two senators, and King was one of two elected. King went straight to Washington from North Carolina, where he was on a business trip, and began his more than 30 years of service in the U.S. Senate, from Oct. 8, 1819, to March 4, 1847. During his fifth term he resigned his seat to serve for two years as minister to France.

After resigning as minister he was appointed to the Senate and served from 1848 to 1849.

And in 1849 he was elected to his sixth term.

When Millard Fillmore became president upon the death of Zachary Taylor, King was elected president pro-tem of the Senate and to all intents served as vice president.

During his sixth term in the Senate, he resigned his seat, and in 1852 he was elected vice president, the first Alabamian ever to hold this office.

In 1953 Dallas County’s governing body sent official greetings to the Cuban historical society, which was honoring the 100th anniversary of the administering of the oath of office to King.

The designated representative was Laurence B. Tipton, a family member who was joined by other Alabamians on March 21, 1953, in Havana and welcomed by members of the Sociedad Columbista. They also placed a wreath on the grave of Jose Marti, Cuban patriot, who was honored at the same time as King.

Official greetings were also sent from Selma Mayor Chris B. Heinz and the Dallas County Historical Society.

The body of King was first buried on family land near King’s Bend. However the Selma City Council selected a lot in Live Oak Cemetery and a mausoleum was erected to contain the vault and his remains. His final resting place is one of the many historical monuments in this National Register cemetery.

William Rufus King is not only of our town, he rests permanently in our town.