Rufus King Biography

U.S. Representative, Diplomat, Lawyer (1755–1827)
Rufus King was an American diplomat, politician and framer of the U.S. Constitution.


Rufus King was an American lawyer and politician born in March 1755, in Scarborough, Maine. After the Revolutionary War ended, he graduated from Harvard College at the top of his class and studied law. He was admitted to the bar in 1780 and soon after represented Massachusetts in the Continental Congress and at the Constitutional Convention. King was one of the framers and signers of the U.S. Constitution and was a vocal lifelong opponent of slavery. In 1789, King became one of New York's first U.S. senators and later served as U.S. ambassador to Great Britain.

Early Politics and the Continental Congress

A founding father of the United States, Rufus King was born in 1755, in Scarborough, Maine. He entered Harvard College in 1773, but his studies were interrupted in 1775 by the onset of the Revolutionary War, as the buildings on Harvard's campus were allocated to house soldiers. In 1776, King's studies commenced, and he graduated the following year, soon beginning a career in law in Newburyport, Massachusetts.

King was admitted to the bar in 1780 and was elected to the Massachusetts state legislature, which sent him to Philadelphia in 1784 to represent Massachusetts in the Continental Congress (until 1787, when he became one of the signers of the new Constitution). In the Continental Congress, King introduced the resolution suggesting a convention be held to draft a new Constitution and added resolutions to the Northwest Ordinance that banned slavery in the Northwest Territory.

Always a staunch anti-slavery activist, King later (as a U.S. senator, in 1817) voted to end the domestic slave trade and demanded that an anti-slavery clause be added to Missouri's application for statehood (1820) or the petition should be denied.

U.S. Senator From New York

In 1788 King moved to New York, where he was elected to the state assembly the following year. During King's first summer in New York, he and General Philip Schuyler—who served in the Revolutionary War as well as the Continental Congress—were elected New York's first U.S. senators (1789). King became known as a Federalist leader in Congress and remained a prominent and loyal member of the party his entire career. President George Washington approached King about becoming secretary of state, but King declined and instead accepted a later appointment as U.S. ambassador to Great Britain (1796–1803; 1825–1826).

To take the post, King had to resign from the Senate, only a year after winning his reelection bid. He returned to the Senate in 1813, however, and served two more terms. Over the course of his Senate career, King helped form the first Bank of the United States and chaired the Committee on Roads and Canals and the Committee on Foreign Relations.

Higher Aspirations and Later Years

Also during this time, King launched campaigns for higher office, running (unsuccessfully) for vice president in 1804 and 1808 and for president in 1816, a race that marked King as the last candidate to run under the banner of the Federalist Party. A busy year for King, 1816 also saw him run, again unsuccessfully, for governor of New York.

After King's final Senate term, President Adams appointed him minister plenipotentiary at the court of London (1825), but he returned to New York a year later due to poor health. A year after that, King died, on April 29, 1827, at age 72.

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