Friday, September 6, 2013
Life of Rufus King, Maine native, from the 1815 edition of Delaplaine's Repository of the Lives and Portraits of Distinguished Americans
Engraving and several page biography of Rufus King, a Maine native who rose to became a statesman, signer of the United States Constitution and Presidential candidate.
The pages were removed at some point from the 1815 edition of "Repository of the Lives and Portraits of Distinguished Americans", published by Joseph Delaplaine (1877-1824) of Philadelphia.
According to paperwork that came with the pages, the portrait was engraved by Leney, from a painting by Wood, and printed by B. Rogers. The pages are 11"x 9", just a tad too large for my scanner.
Rufus King was born 24 March 1755 at Scarborough, Maine, the son of merchant Richard King and wife Sabilla (Blagden) King. See a photograph of the King home at Dunstan Landing here. Rufus King was still alive at the time of this tribute; he died 29 April 1827.
Rufus pursued his education in Massachusetts and made his life there, in New York City, in London, as Minister to the Court of St. James, and at his farm at Jamaica, New York, on Long Island. Rufus' half brother William King became Maine's first governor in 1820.
His wife Mary (Alsop) King was the daughter of merchant John Alsop, who was a delegate to the Continental Congress. The King home at Jamaica, New York is now the King Manor Museum, and part of the farm is now known as Rufus King Park along Jamaica Avenue.
LIFE OF RUFUS KING
RUFUS KING is the eldest son of Richard King, a merchant of Scarborough, in the district of Maine, and was born in the year 1755. Having received a good school education, he was sent, at between twelve and thirteen years of age, to Byfield academy, in the town of Newbury, and placed under the care of its excellent classical teacher, Samuel Moody; who, in many respects, is said to have resembled the celebrated Busby. Under the severe discipline for which this eminent instructor was noted, he finished his academical studies; and was, in the year 1773, admitted into Harvard college. Soon after his matriculation at Cambridge, he wan deprived of his father, who died at Scarborough, leaving to his numerous family a very considerable property. In the year 1775, on the breaking out of the war of independence, the college became the barracks of the American troops, and the students were, for the time, dispersed. In the autumn of the same year,
however, they re-assembled at Concord, a village about eighteen miles distant from Cambridge, where their collegiate course was resumed and prosecuted, until the evacuation of Boston by the English army in 1776, and the removal of the American troops from the colleges in the following year, when the students returned to Cambridge. During this interval, Mr. King pursued his studies, with his old master, at Byfield. In 1777, he received the
honours of the college, having acquired great reputation for his classical attainments, and more especially, for his extraordinary powers of oratory; an accomplishment in which he was particularly desirous to excel, and to the acquisition of which he applied himself with the passion of an enthusiast. From Cambridge he went immediately to Newburyport, and entered
as a student of law in the office of the celebrated Theophilus Parsons, late chief justice of Massachusetts, with whom he completed his studies, and was admitted to the bar in 1780. While he was yet a student, however, in the year 1778, he had an opportunity of displaying his ardour and alacrity
in the cause of his country, and was one of those volunteers who joined general Sullivan, to whom Mr. King was appointed an aid, in his enterprize with Count D’Estaing against the British in Rhode Island.
In the first cause in which Mr. King made his appearance at the bar, he had for an adversary his great instructor, Parsons. This circumstance, far from depressing him, seems to have called forth his best efforts, and he exhibited, at that time, such evidence of talents, both as a lawyer and a speaker, that immediate and confident predictions were made of his future eminence. One who was present on that occasion told the writer of this sketch, that the effect of his address upon the court, the bar, and the auditory was electrifying. He was chosen, soon after, to represent the town of
Newburyport in the state legislature, or, as it is called, the general court of Massachusetts, in which he was soon distinguished for his abilities. About the year 1784, congess recommended to the several states to grant to the general government, a five per cent. impost. The proposition met with much opposition in the general court. A distinction immediately arose between the federal and state interest. Those members who were adverse to the grant, being classed as friends of the states, those in favour of it, as the
friends of the general government. The leader of the latter party, on this occasion, was the late governor of Massachusetts, Sullivan, then the most popular speaker in the house; of the former, Mr. King. The debate was in the highest degree interesting, and after being protracted for several days, terminated in the triumph of those who voted with Mr. King. Of the merits of the controversy, however, we forbear to speak: for it would necessarily lead us into too wide a discussion, to be enabled to ascertain the precise point at which state jealousies became unreasonable. But Mr. King was then in the season of warm and ingenous youth, and if, in this instance, he did not take the better side, it may be safely asserted, that, at least, his choice was made from pure and proper feeling.
In the same year, he was elected, by an almost unanimous vote of the legislature, as a delegite to the old congress, although he had not, by several years, attained the age, at which, consistently with the usages of the state, he could expect that distinction. The congress were then in session at Trenton, where he took his seat as a member of that body. Towards the close of the year, they adjourned to meet at New York.
In 1785 and 1786, he was re-elected to congress. About this time, he and Mr. Monroe were sent to the legislature of Pennsylvania, to remonstrate, on behalf of congress, against certain measures which that state had recently adopted. The requisitions of contribution from the several states, had all been complied with; but yet, owing to the poverty of the national treasury, the public creditors were disappointed, by not receiving their dues; and such of them as belonged to those states which were the most punctual
in their payments, complained that claimants from the states which paid little or nothing, obtained money from the government, while their claims were totally disregarded. In this disorder of the finances, Pennsylvania,
VOL. 1. z z
whose payments had been made with more regularity than those of some other states, adopted certain resolutions in her legislature by which her quota to the general treasury was to be applied to those public creditors who might reside within that state, instead of being turned over to be disposed of according to the discretion of the general government.
Against this procedure, congress resolved to remonstrate to the Pennsylvania legislature, then consisting of a single house, and for this purpose, selected two of their own members, Mr. King and Mr. Monroe. When the day arrived on which these gentlemen were to speak, the hall of the Pennsylvania assembly was thrown open and soon crowded to overflow; so highly was the public curiosity and expectation excited by the novelty of the occurrence, and the distinguished characters of the deputies. Mr. King being first named in the commission, seemed entitled to claim precedence,
and was, therefore, to open the business of their mission. Amidst the immense concourse present, all was silent and breathless anxiety, when Mr. King arose to deliver his address. But he had scarcely left his chair, before his thoughts became scattered, his ideas vanished, and his tongue refused utterance-
"Steteruntque coma, et vox faucibus hasit."
Confused and mortified, he had barely sufficient presence of mind to turn to Mr. Monroe, who was sitting beside him, and request him to take his place. His colleague commenced with his usual self-possession and ability, and soon engaged the attention of the audience. In the mean time Mr. King rallied his powers, recalled and arranged his disordered ideas, and became composed. When Mr. Monroe finished, he rose again, and, converting the untoward occurrence into an occasion of bestowing a well turned compliment
on his audience, in whose august presence, be said, it was not surprising that he should feel an awe which bereft him, for a moment, of his faculties, proceeded in one of the most elegant and masterly speeches ever heard. A similar accident once happened to general Hamilton, in the celebrated Spanish cause, which was tried in New York in the year 1794; the first in which he was engaged alter his return to the bar.
In 1787, Mr. King was appointed, by the legislature of Massachusetts, a delegate to the general convention held at Philadelphia, and he bore a large share in the discussion and formation of our present system of government.
He attended during the whole session of the convention, and was one of the committee appointed by that body to prepare and report the final draft of the constitution of the United States. That instrument hafing been reported by the convention to congress, and by them referred to the consideration of the several states for ratification, Mr. King was chosen, by his old constituents of Newburyport, a member of that convention. In the mixed
assemblage which composed this body, among a number of men of strong and ardent feelings, but whose minds were filled with preconceived opinions, difficult to eradicate, there were also found some distinguished for their talents; among whom were Parsons, Amos, Strong, and King. It was on this occasion, that Mr. Ames first rendered himself conspicuous as a popular speaker, and gave testimony of the ability which was one day to lead him to eminence. He and Mr. King took the lead in the convention; the
former sustaining his established character as a learned statesman and an accomplished orator; the latter appearing under the plain and simple manners of a farmer, without the use of a single gesture. Every day they made converts, and became more popular, until, at last, the question was carried
against the declared determination of those who came there for the express purpose of defeating it.
In 1784, when Mr. King tools his seat in congress, he renounced, for ever, his professional occupation. About two years after, in 1786, he married Miss Alsop, the only child of John Alsop, an opulent merchant, and one of the delegates of New York in the first continental congress; and in the year 1788, he removed from Massachusetts to the city of New York. In 1789, he was chosen by the city, one of the members of the legislature, and, during its extra session, in the summer of that year, he and general
Schuyler were elected the first senators from the state, under the constitution of the United States.
In 1795, when the British treaty was promulgated, and the nation was thrown into a violent ferment by the conflict of opinion on its nature and provisions, Mr. King appeared by the side of his friend general Hamilton, at a meeting of the citizens which had been called in the public street, to explain and defend it. But they were not permitted by the people to proceed in their harangue, and they retired, reserving the explanations they might have to offer, to be conveyed through the medium of the press. A series of papers was, accordingly, commenced, under the signature of Camillus; of
which, those relative to the permanent articles of the treaty, the ten first numbers, were written by general Hamilton, and the remainder, those concerning the commercial and maritime articles, by Mr. King. But, at that period, they were all supposed to be from the pen of the former; nor was it till several years after, that the contrary was made known, and the information then came from general Hamilton himself. In these masterly papers there is discovered a depth of research, and an acquaintance with the various
treaties and laws of different nations on the subjects of navigation, trade, and maritime law, which render them of inestimable value to those who are desirous to attain a knowledge of these intricate subjects.
About this period, Albert Gallatin being chosen by Pennsylvania, a
senator of the United States, a petition was presented from some of the citizens, against his being permitted to take his seat, in which it was alleged that he was not legally qualified by having been a citizen of the United States a sufficient number of years. Owing to the various modes of naturalization adopted by different states, the question was involved in some obscurity, and, besides, was one of the highest importance. A warm and lengthened controversy arose in the Senate, in which the ablest men of both
parties engaged. Among those who opposed the petition, and maintained the right of the returned member to his seat, were John Taylor of Virginia, Mr. Monroe, and Mr. Burr; on the other side, were Ellsworth, Strong, King, and their political friends; and to Mr. King it was assigned to answer Mr. Burr, if he should take part in the debate; otherwise he was not to speak. Mr. Burr did not rise to address the chair until the president had proceeded half way in putting the question; he then commenced and went through a discourse of considerable ingenuity. When he had finished, Mr.
King immediately replied; and is said to have displayed his talents as an orator, more powerfully than on any occasion during his whole life. An able judge of eloquence, and one of the first men of our country, represents the exhibition as transcending any thing that modern, if not ancient times, ever produced. He says, the orator worked himself up into such a fervour, that he leapt from the floor, and that, extravagant as this action may now appear, it was no more then, than “the action suited to the word.” The
debate resulted in Mr. Gallatin’s exclusion from his seat. Of late years, it
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has been observed, that Mr. King has, with few exceptions, chastised the ardour of his public discourses, and has made the animation of his manner give place to a more calm and dignified moderation.
After the expiration of his first term of service, he was re-elected, and, in the spring of 1796, while yet in congress, was appointed by president Washington, minister plenipotentiary to the court of Great Britain. Before this appointment, the department of state had been offered to him, as successor to Mr. Randolph.
Mr. King represented the United States at the English court, during the last year of president Washington’s administration, the whole of that of Mr. Adams, and for two years of that of Mr. Jefferson, with equal honour and advantage to his country, and credit to himself. While abroad, few foreigners lived on more intimate terms with the public men of the day, as well those in administration as the opposition. He frequented the society
of literary men, and has since maintained a correspondence with some of the most distinguished civilians of the old world. After an absence of seven years, he resigned his mission, and returned home in 1803.
In 1808, he removed from the city of New York to his farm at Jamaica, Long Island, where he has since resided, respected and beloved by all who know him, and enjoying every blessing that health, ease, and opulence can bestow.
In 1818, he was again chosen by the legislature of New York, a senator of the United States. The nation was, at that time, at war with Great Britain, and it ought to be recorded to the eternal honour of Mr. King, that he was one of those whom no habit of opposition to administration, and no arbitrary classification or supposed claims of party could induce to a forgetfulness, that the United States was his country; and, that the rights and
the honour of that country he ought to support and maintain. It has been observed, that the conduct of the enemy exhibited in their destruction of Washington, tended to unite all parties in America. The speech of Mr. King in the senate, on this occasion, while it may compare with any of his former efforts, in eloquence, has the rare and enviable distinction of being approved and applauded for its sentiments also, by the entire nation.
In 1816, while he was attending his duties at Washington, and without his knowledge, he was unanimously nominated, by a convention of delegates from the several counties of the state, a candidate for the office of governor of New York. With reluctance, and after much solicitation, he acquiesced
in the nomination. The result, however, was unfavourable to the expectations of his friends, and he still continues to fill, with undiminished esteem and applause, his situation in the senate of the United States.
Mr. King, although he has passed the sixty-first year of his age, enjoys, in an uncommon degree, the blessings of a hale constitution, unimpaired by sickness or excesses; and his love of retirement, combined with a taste for elegant literature, which an extensive and well chosen library enables him to indulge, and a well cultivated taste for botany and agricultural pursuits, have
led him to exchange the feverish tumult and enervating routine of cities, for the healthy activity and rational pleasures of a country life. In person he is rather above the middle size; perfectly symmetrical, but somewhat athletic. His countenance is manly, and bespeaks intelligence of the first order. The portrait prefixed gives an uncommonly near resemblance. He possesses naturally a cheerful disposition, with a large portion of sensibility, and much generosity of character. His self command is so perfect, that he
is very seldom, if indeed ever, thrown off his guard, either in debate, or in discourse; by open attack or ensnaring artifices. On subjects of real im-
portance, he bestows much time and thought, and does not decide, until after a thorough investigation: but when his mind is settled, his judgment is irrevocable. At times, his manner is strongly marked with reservedness; by which is not meant a want of frankness, for no man has more of that quality, but the absence of those lively sallies of humour and pleasantry, which, on other occasions, display themselves in his conversation. By assiduous study, he has acquired large funds of information on almost every
subject. His conversation and writings are remarkable for conciseness, force, and simplicity. A constant adherence to the point, and an attentive pursuit of the thread of his argument, leave no opportunity for excursions in search of a figure of rhetoric which might not adorn, and could not
illustrate. And this habit of closeness in reasoning, gives a general character to his style which prevents him from being diffuse, even in familiar narrative.
Mr. King was the intimate friend, both personal and political, of Hamilton. With that great man he was many years in habits of unreserved familiarity, and it is asserted, on the testimony of several of his friends now living, that Hamilton considered Mr. King, not only the most finished orator amongst the moderns, but conceived him to possess a capacity better qualified to take a wide and comprehensive view of his subject, and of judging correctly of results, than any other American.
For his speeches, however great or interesting the occasion, he makes no verbal preparation. Having studied his subject well, and made himself familiar with it in all its bearings, he trusts entirely to the immediate resources of his mind to supply him with words, which never fail to flow in a steady and copious stream.
In fine, as a profound statesman, intimately conversant with the laws
and constitution of his country, and familiarly acquainted with its various interests, foreign and domestic; - as a civilian, well read in the laws of nations; - as an erudite classical scholar, both in ancient and modern literature; - as an elegant writer, and a consummate orator; - as a finished gentleman in his deportment; -and, as “the last key-stone that makes the arch,” as a professor of religion, whose duties he performs with an unostentatious
yet exemplary punctuality, Mr. King may be said to rank with the first of his contemporaries.
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