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signer of the Constitution, member of the first U.S. Senate, Minister to Great Britain
Rufus King was born in Scarborough, Maine (then a part of Massachusetts), on March 24, 1755. He fought briefly in the Revolutionary War, graduated from Harvard College in 1777, was admitted to the bar in 1780, and served in the Massachusetts General Court from 1783 to 1784.
As a Massachusetts delegate to the Congress of the Confederation (1784-1787), King offered proposals that resulted in the prohibition of slavery in the Northwest Territory. It was largely through his efforts that the Massachusetts General Court rejected the amendment to the Articles of Confederation authorizing Congress to levy a 5% impost. And, on February 21, 1787, he introduced the resolution in Congress sanctioning the call for the Constitutional Convention, at which he played a prominent role. In 1788 he was one of the most influential members of the Massachusetts convention which ratified the Constitution.
Removing to New York in 1788, King was elected to the New York Assembly in 1789, and was chosen one of the first representatives of New York in the U.S. Senate. Serving in that body from 1789 to 1796, King became one of the recognized leaders of the Federalist Party.
In 1796, King was named Minister to Great Britain, in which capacity he served until 1803.
King was the Federalist candidate for Vice-President in 1804 and 1808, and for President in 1816. He returned to the Senate in 1813, was re-elected in 1819, and served until 1825. During the Missouri Compromise debates King supported the anti-slavery program, but for constitutional reasons he voted against the second clause of the Tallmadge Amendments providing that slaves born in the state after its admission into the Union should be free at the age of 25 years. He also proposed plans for emancipating the slaves and resettling them in Africa.
King was again appointed Minister to Great Britain in 1825, but illness forced him to return to America the following year. He died at Jamaica, Long Island, New York, on April 29, 1827.
This page was last updated on March 23, 2017.