The topic of the sexuality of President James Buchanan has become a talking point in the media of late due to the presidential campaign of openly gay candidate Mayor Pete Buttigieg of Indiana. In that spirit, we turn to the life of our nation’s only bachelor president and his intimate personal relationship with William Rufus King of Alabama (vice president under President Franklin Pierce). The surprisingly intimate nature of their personal and political relationship reveals how male friendship shaped the politics of America before the Civil War.
James Buchanan, 1834
A lifelong bachelor, Buchanan cherished his intimate friendship with William Rufus King, from their days living together while in the Senate to King’s death in 1853. (Smithsonian American Art Museum)
William Rufus DeVane King, ca. 1838
Although virtually unknown today, King was a southern politician and slaveholder who influenced Buchanan immensely. (Dialectic and Philanthropic Societies Foundation, University of North Carolina)
View of East King Street, first block, south side, 1858
James Buchanan lived in a house from 1829 to 1849 that was located on the northeastern corner of King Street and Duke Street, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. (LancasterHistory, Lancaster, Pennsylvania)
The fiancée of James Buchanan, Ann Coleman died in 1819. Her untimely death left many questions unanswered. Buchanan, his family members, and his political supporters protected the privacy of his relationship with Coleman during his lifetime and beyond. (LancasterHistory, Lancaster, Pennsylvania)
The planation of William Rufus King was situated on King’s Bend in Dallas County, Alabama, near Selma. (Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery)
Cornelia Van Ness Roosevelt, 1857
The wife of Congressman John J. Roosevelt of New York, Cornelia Roosevelt was an intimate friend of both Buchanan and King and facilitated their correspondence. (Gilman Collection, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)
Anna Payne and Dolley Madison, 1848
Buchanan called Anna Payne, the closest niece of Dolley Madison, the “Lovely Miss Annie,” and later served as an executor to the estate of Dolley Madison. (Greensboro Historical Museum, Greensboro, NC)
Created in the wake of the Compromise of 1850, the portrait depicts the politicians who helped, whether directly or indirectly, to pass the series of measures that admitted California, resolved the Texas boundary issue, permitted popular sovereignty in the newly acquired territories of the Mexican Cession, and enacted the Fugitive Slave Law. James Buchanan is pictured standing directly in front of William Rufus King in the second row at right. (Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress)
The inauguration of James Buchanan, March 4, 1857
The crowd for Buchanan’s inaugural was the largest assembled theretofore for a presidential inauguration. (Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress)
Cabinet of President James Buchanan, 1859
This early photograph shows President Buchanan standing, surrounded by his Cabinet including Jacob Thompson, Secretary of the Interior; Lewis Cass, Secretary of State; Howell Cobb, Secretary of the Treasury; Jeremiah Black, Attorney General; Horatio King, Postmaster General; John B. Floyd, Secretary of War and Isaac Toucey, Secretary of the Navy. (Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress)
Harriet Lane Johnston
Harriet Lane Johnston, ca. 1895. The careful efforts of Johnston, Buchanan’s niece, preserved the personal papers of James Buchanan, as well as her own correspondence, for future researchers. (LancasterHistory, Lancaster, Pennsylvania)
Featured Image Credit: “Drawing of President of the United States James Buchanan’s home, ‘Wheatland,’ near Lancaster, Pennsylvania” by Unknown Artist. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Featured Image Credit: “Drawing of President of the United States James Buchanan’s home, ‘Wheatland,’ near Lancaster, Pennsylvania” by Unknown Artist. Public Domain viaWikimedia Commons.