American History Moment

In March 1853, William Rufus Devane King was sworn in as Vice President of the United States—in Havana, Cuba. King was suffering from tuberculosis and had become increasingly ill during the presidential campaign. After the election, King’s physician advised him to leave Washington, D.C. for a warmer climate. King resigned from his Senate seat and traveled to Cuba.  By a special act of Congress, the Vice President-elect was permitted to take the oath of office on foreign soil. King, born on his family’s plantation in North Carolina in 1786, had a long record of public service. He practiced law, served in the North Carolina House of Commons and was elected to three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. In 1818, King purchased land in the territory of Alabama and established a plantation called Chestnut Hill.  After Alabama became a state in 1819, William Rufus King helped draft the state constitution and was elected to the U.S. Senate, where he served six consecutive terms. He was known as a moderate and a loyal Unionist. In 1844, King was appointed as minister to France. In 1852, he was nominated to be the running mate of Gen. Franklin Pierce. After King was sworn in as vice president, his condition continued to worsen. He left Cuba in early April to return to his plantation at Chestnut Hill, arriving there on April 17, 1853, where he died the following evening. His death left the U.S. without a vice president until John Breckinridge assumed the office in 1857.