Born: 1755-03-24 Scarborough, Massachusetts
Died: 1827-04-29 Jamaica, Queens, New York, New York
King graduated from Harvard College at the head of his class in 1777. Though the son of a Tory, he sided with the colonists during the American Revolution and, after studying law for a year after graduation, enlisted briefly in the army as an officer. King earned admittance to the Massachusetts bar in 1780, earning appointment as justice of the peace the following year. From 1783 to 1785, he sat as a delegate in the Massachusetts General Court. King represented Massachusetts in the Confederation Congress from 1784 to 1787, during which he advocated for a stronger federal government. He was also an opponent of permitting slavery in federal territories and helped draft the Northwest Ordinance. In 1786, he married the wealthy Mary Alsop, with whom he had seven children.
A delegate to the Constitutional Convention, King's primary contribution was advocating that the convention's records be kept private after its conclusion. In 1788, he moved to New York City and won election to the New York State Legislature the following year. The state legislature then appointed King to the U.S. Senate, where he sided with the Federalists and helped establish the First Bank of the United States. He won reelection in 1795 and co-wrote with John Jay and Alexander Hamilton the "Camillus Papers" defending Jay's Treaty. He left the Senate in 1796 to accept an appointment as U.S. minister to Great Britain. As minister, King failed to convince the British government to cease the impressment of U.S. sailors, but he did get the British to accept a £600,000 pound settlement for all claims recoverable from the Revolution. Hoping to aid his Federalist brethren back home and limit Irish support for the Democratic-Republicans, he prevented the emigration of Irish rebels to the United States after the abortive 1798 Irish Rebellion.
King resigned as British minister in 1803 and unsuccessfully ran as vice president on the Federalist ticket in 1804. Moving to Jamaica, New York, after the election, he opted to accept nomination as the Federalist candidate for vice president again in 1808, and again lost. In 1812, the New York legislature returned King to the U.S. Senate, where he became the leading opponent of James Madison's conduct of the War of 1812. This made him one of the most prominent late-period Federalists, although he did not attend the Hartford Convention. In 1816, King was the last Federalist nominee for president, losing in a landslide to James Monroe. He once again returned to the Senate in 1820 and remained until 1825, when President John Quincy Adams appointed him minister to Great Britain for the second time. Once in Britain, King became ill and had to return home, dying the following year.
Steven E. Siry, "King, Rufus," American National Biography (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 12:711-13.