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America’s first gay vice president?

‘Lifelong bachelor’ William Rufus King lived with President Buchanan

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Editor’s note: This is the first installment in a month-long series profiling prominent figures in American history who were gay (or rumored to be) as part of the National Gay History Project commemorating LGBT History Month. For more coverage, visit washingtonblade.com.

William Rufus DeVane King, the 13th United States vice president, has the distinction of having served in that office for less time than any other vice president.

He died of tuberculosis on April 18, 1853, just 25 days after being sworn into office on March 24, 1853, according an official biography of King prepared by the Office of the Historian of the U.S. Senate.

Other historians have speculated that King holds yet another distinction — the likely status of being the first gay U.S. vice president and possibly one of the first gay members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.

William Rufus DeVane King, the 13th United States vice president, is believed by some historians to have been gay. He holds the distinction of being sworn into office on foreign soil, while in Cuba for health reasons.

King (1786-1853) served in the House of Representatives from North Carolina for six years beginning in 1811 and later served in the Senate from the newly created state of Alabama from 1819-44, when he became U.S. minister to France.

He returned to the Senate four years later, in 1848, where he served until December 1852, when he resigned after winning election in November 1852 as vice president on the ticket of Franklin Pierce.

A lifelong bachelor, King lived for 15 years in the home of future U.S. president James Buchanan while the two served in the Senate. Buchanan, also a lifelong bachelor, is believed by some historians to be the nation’s first gay president.

“They certainly didn’t have the word gay back then,” said Paul F. Boller Jr., professor emeritus of history at Texas Christian University and author of several books on presidential politics, including the book “Presidential Campaigns: From George Washington to George W. Bush.”

In a telephone interview, Boller said Washington insiders at the time speculated over whether King and Buchanan’s well-known close friendship had evolved into a romantic relationship.

“I don’t think the word homosexual was used either,” Boller said. “So they’d sort of use the term ‘a little feminine’ and all of that.”

Boller and historian Jean H. Baker, professor of history at Maryland’s Goucher College and author of a biography of Buchanan, each cite reports that President Andrew Jackson referred to King as “Miss Nancy” and “Aunt Fancy.” Aaron V. Brown, who became U.S. postmaster general while Buchanan was president, reportedly referred to King as Buchanan’s “wife.”

Baker reports in her Buchanan biography that King’s and Buchanan’s nieces reportedly destroyed their uncles’ correspondence with each other, fueling speculation that the two men were in a gay relationship that their families wanted to conceal.

In one letter that survived, Buchanan expressed sadness over King’s departure from his house in 1844 to become the U.S. envoy to France.

“I am now solitary and alone, having no companion in the house with me,” Buchanan wrote. “I have gone a wooing to several gentlemen, but have not succeeded with any one of them.”

King’s relationship with Buchanan, who was from Pennsylvania, could have been a factor in Buchanan’s sympathy for the South during Buchanan’s tenure as a senator and later as president from 1857-61.

Most accounts by historians of King’s political career portray him as a moderate southerner who supported slavery while emerging as a strong unionist. King voiced opposition in the Senate to calls by some of his fellow southerners for the South to secede from the United States during the tense decade prior to the Civil War.

“From such a calamity may God in His mercy deliver us,” King wrote in expressing opposition to the growing calls for secession.

King was born in 1786 in Sampson County, N.C., to a family of wealthy planters. His father owned more than two-dozen slaves, the Office of the Senate Historian reports in its biography of King.

It says King attended an elite preparatory school before attending the University of North Carolina, where he studied law. Following a legal apprenticeship, he was admitted to the state bar in 1805 and began a legal practice. He served in the North Carolina Legislature from 1808-09 and won election in 1810 to the U.S. House and began serving as a congressman in 1811 at age 25.

He resigned from the House in 1816 to enter the world of diplomacy by taking a job as legation secretary for William Pinkney, who was appointed by President James Monroe as U.S. minister to Russia in St. Petersburg. King returned to the U.S. in 1818, when he moved from North Carolina to the territory of Alabama, becoming one of the leaders of the Alabama statehood movement.

The Senate historian’s biography says King purchased 750 acres of land in Alabama and established a plantation. He later joined others to form a land company that founded the town of Selma, which King reportedly named. In December 1819, he became one of Alabama’s first two U.S. senators.

As a moderate Democrat, King became an early supporter of Andrew Jackson’s quest to become president, the Senate biography says. It quotes an unnamed critic of King as describing him as a “tall, prim, wig-topped mediocrity,” noting that King wore a wig “long after such coverings had gone out of fashion.”

The biography quotes a fellow senator as having this to say about King: “He was distinguished by the scrupulous correctness of his conduct. He was remarkable for his quiet and unobtrusive, but active practical usefulness as a legislator … To his honor be it spoken, he never vexed the ear of the Senate with ill-timed, tedious or unnecessary debate.”

The Encyclopedia of Alabama reports in a 2003 article that rumors circulating in Washington about King’s sexual orientation increased as his close friendship with Buchanan became widely known.

“Neither man ever married, and by 1836 they were sharing a residence in Washington,” the encyclopedia article says. “Any negative reactions to their relationship appear to have had little effect, and the men continued with their living arrangement and their work as legislators.”

By 1840, newspapers in Alabama supportive of the Democratic Party, of which King was a prominent member, promoted King as a vice-presidential running mate for incumbent President Martin Van Buren. Although King received little support outside Alabama for the vice-presidential nomination, he continued to position himself behind the scenes as a possible vice-presidential candidate for the next two decades, the Alabama Encyclopedia reports.

The Senate biography of King says President John Tyler interrupted King’s vice-presidential ambitions in 1844 when he nominated him to become U.S. minister to France and the Senate quickly confirmed the nomination by a lopsided margin.

The bio says King succeeded in his main mission to persuade France not to oppose U.S. plans to annex Texas, which the U.S. acquired following the Mexican-American War.

King returned to the Senate in 1848, two years after completing his service in France. In July 1850, King became the de facto U.S. vice president when President Zachary Taylor died in office and then-Vice President Millard Filmore became president, leaving the office of vice president vacant.

King’s Senate colleagues responded by unanimously selecting him as president pro tempore of the Senate, which normally would have placed him third in line to become president. With the vice president’s post vacant, King emerged as first in line to become president if Filmore were to die in office.

In 1852, after years of vying for the vice-presidential nomination, the constellations appeared to be in perfect alignment with Democratic Party politics for King’s longtime dream. After nominating Franklin Pierce for president on the 49th ballot, the Democratic Convention, convening in Baltimore, nominated King as Pierce’s running mate. In the ensuing months, King campaigned aggressively for the Pierce-King ticket, playing some role in Pierce’s victory in November 1852.

But biographers report that King’s coughing spells became increasingly frequent and painful, leading to a diagnosis of tuberculosis. By December 1852, King described himself to friends as “looking like a skeleton,” the Senate biography reports. Later that month he resigned from the Senate and made arrangements, at the advice of his doctor, to spend the winter in Cuba, where the warm, tropical climate would perhaps help him regain his health.

In early February 1853, King realized his condition was getting worse and he would not be well enough to travel to Washington in time for the March 4 inauguration ceremony.

Upon learning of King’s deteriorating health, Congress took the unusual step of passing a law allowing him to take the oath of office for vice president on foreign soil.

“On March 24, 1853, near Matanzas, a seaport town 60 miles from Havana, the gravely ill statesman, too feeble to stand unaided, became the nation’s 13th vice president,” his Senate biography says.

King boarded a ship to return to the U.S. in April 1853 and arrived home at his Alabama plantation on April 17. He died one day later at age 67.

David Durham, a University of Alabama professor of law and history, said in a Sept. 9 interview that it remains an open question whether King was gay. Durham said it’s also uncertain but a strong possibility that King played a role in shaping Buchanan’s policies and views on the issue of slavery in the years leading up to the Civil War.

“I don’t think anybody can prove it one way or the other,” he said in discussing King’s sexual orientation.

“A lot of the speculation comes from misinterpreting, I think, 19th century lifestyles, where men commonly slept in the same bed and thought nothing of it,” Durham said. “And the kind of terms of affection used in letters and correspondence between males — in our society now it’s like, umm, that’s very interesting. But they thought nothing of it and it didn’t mean there was some kind of romantic attachment,” he said.

“But that’s not to say that there wasn’t,” Durham added.

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Fausto Fernandez

    October 9, 2011 at 11:09 am

    Opinions of their contempraries are suggestive enough. And that Buchanan letter that survived, to a Mrs. Roosevelt, is the clincher. Believe me, I am not happy that those two mediocre men sre in our team.

  2. Adrian Salsgiver

    October 9, 2011 at 5:44 pm

    Ron Paul / William Rufus DeVane King – 2012

  3. Stanley Wecker

    September 2, 2017 at 3:42 am

    Ja, dis ist sehr gut!

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Real Estate

Helpful tips for homebuyers in seller’s market

2021 has been a great year for home sales

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COVID-19 housing market, gay news, Washington Blade

Without question, 2021 was a great year for home sales. Sellers across the country, in many cases, found themselves listing their homes and quickly having not just one, but multiple offers, many of which were at asking price or above. With limited inventory and high demand, it has been an ideal year to sell—and conversely, often a difficult year to buy. Buyers who are interested in a particular home, or even in a specific neighborhood, often find themselves facing stiff competition to have offers accepted. 

Fortunately, this doesn’t mean that many buyers haven’t had successful and rewarding home buying experiences—just that doing so often means making an extra effort and taking helpful steps to make an offer the most competitive that it can be. With that in mind, let’s take a look at a few helpful tips for buyers in a seller’s market:

  • Plan ahead with mortgage pre-approval: While there are certainly a wide variety of strategies that real estate agents and financial advisors may recommend, and while those strategies might vary depending upon the buyer and the circumstances of a particular market, one thing almost all experts agree on is that obtaining a mortgage preapproval is a smart decision. A mortgage preapproval is an ideal way to reassure sellers that a reputable lender has verified your credit and approved your buying power up to a certain limit. If you’re caught in a bidding war with another potential buyer, having preapproval establishing that you are ready, willing, and able to buy just might give you the advantage you need in a competitive market.
  • Be willing to look under budget so you can bid higher: In this highly competitive market, many home buyers find themselves in a situation where they are in a bidding war with another—or even several other—buyers. In that situation, you may find yourself having to make an offer at, or even in many cases, above, the asking price. This means that you may want to adjust your budget—and bidding—accordingly. Choosing to make an offer on a home that has an asking price that is already at the top of your budget may mean that you simply don’t have much wiggle room when it comes to making an offer over that price. Choosing a home slightly under the top of your budget means you’ll have more flexibility to make a bid that is more competitive and likely to be accepted.
  • Consider offering non-price-oriented incentives: Without question, making a highly competitive offer is going to be the key to increasing your chances of having that offer accepted. It’s important to remember that there is more to an offer than just price, however. Buyers may want to consider increasing the appeal of an offer by supplementing it with other incentives beyond just the dollar amount itself. Examples of such incentives might include things like foregoing the seller-paid home warranty that is often offered as part of the process, offering a shorter closing period, not making the purchase contingent upon the sale of a currently-owned home, or other such incentives. Doing so may give you the edge you need to have your offer selected over other competitive bids.
  • Retain the right real estate agent: Often, for LGBTQ buyers, especially in a competitive market, this piece of the puzzle is particularly important. In many, although certainly not all, cases LGBTQ buyers are drawn to specific areas of a city or community where other LGBTQ individuals live. That means that in a market where inventory is already limited and going quickly, there can be even fewer homes available upon which to bid. When that is the case, you will need a real estate agent who knows the community that you’re interested in, and who can quickly help you identify and take action toward making offers on homes that fit your needs. Having the right agent can make all the difference between a smooth and successful home-buying experience, and a stressful one

Jeff Hammerberg (he/him/his) is the Founding CEO of Hammerberg & Associates, Inc. Reach him at 303-378-5526, [email protected] or GayRealEstate.com

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Dining

Jane Jane brings throwback joy to busy 14th Street

Cocktail bar characterized by warm Southern hospitality

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(Photo courtesy of Deney Lam)

There is no standing at Jane Jane, the new classic cocktail bar in the heart of 14th Street. Its 850 square feet is for sitting and savoring, drinking in the relaxed retro vibe and the thoughtful craft cocktails. 

At the foot of the mixed-use Liz development where Whitman-Walker is the major tenant, Jane Jane’s creative use of a shoebox-sized space brings throwback joy to a busy thoroughfare. 

In the pre-COVID days of 2019, Whitman-Walker approached the Jane Jane owners, hospitality veterans Jean Paul (JP) Sabatier, Ralph Brabham and Drew Porterfield, all gay men, to make good use of the vacant parcel, and ensure it would be run by LGBTQ entrepreneurs. “It required some gymnastics because of the layout,” says Brabham, “but we came up with this cozy classic cocktail concept.” 

The hangout spot is an effort by the trio to “celebrate hospitality. We want everyone who walks into the space to feel like friends of ours we are having over for drinks or a bite. Its a cocktail party in our home,” he says. They felt connected to the idea of a tiny bar—a space where they would want to have a drink.

Named for Brabham’s mother, Jane Jane is as alluring and lively as it is intimate, each detail in the experience characterized by warm Southern hospitality—right from the bowl of spiced nuts that swiftly appear at each table at the beginning of service.

Sabatier, who has held stints at D.C. institutions like Rappahannock Oyster Bar, Maydan, and Compass Rose, oversees the bar and cocktail program, organized by spirit. (For their part, Brabham and Porterfield, romantic partners, also act as co-owners of Beau Thai and BKK Cookshop; Porterfield is also the current Curator and Director of Long View Gallery in Shaw.)

Sabatier has presented classic cocktails with a few noteworthy nods to current zeitgeist, as imagined by his lengthy experience behind the bar. The booklet-like menu includes a broad selection of familiar favorites like a Negroni, Manhattan, martini, but also features Sabatier’s handpicked favorite classics like the Boulevardier (a whiskey Negroni), Last Word (gin married to herbaceous green chartreuse) and Air Mail (rum, honey and cava). Drinks fall in the $13-$16 range; a “Golden Hour” runs daily until 7 p.m. featuring beer and wine specials and a punch of the day. 

Sabatier’s creative juices flow on the first page through cocktails like the vividly named Tears at an Orgy, with brandy, orange and maraschino, as well as the best-selling, highly Instagrammable Crop Top, a gin cocktail with a red-wine floater—and a name that matches the look of the bi-color drink. “It’s fun, delicious, and speaks to the space,” says Sabatier. He notes that their vodka of choice comes from Civic, a local, women- and LGBTQ-owned distillery.

Sabatier, a classically trained chef and Culinary Institute of America graduate, also oversees the small selection of bar bites (the space has no kitchen, part of the required “gymnastics” to make it functional.)

Beyond the complimentary vessel of rosemary-flecked mixed nuts, other bar snacks run from pickled vegetables to a Southern-style Pimento cheese dip and an onion dip creamy enough to make your grandmother blush. The “Jane’s Caviar” dish is a spread of trout roe and crème fraiche and comes with a towering mound of shatteringly crisp chips. A weekend brunch is in the works, which will serve goodies from local bakeries.

The retro-style interior recalls both California and the South, with only 32 seats inside and a 14-seat patio. Cozy booths done up in a hunter green as warm and inviting as a cool aunt are slung below walnut-wood walls and bar. Bright patterned tiles run the length of the floor; the back wall has playful cocktail wallpaper. A charming needlepoint by the restrooms kindly requests of guests, “please don’t do coke in the bathroom.”

The owners note that while Jane Jane is not explicitly a gay bar, its location in a traditionally gay-welcoming institution means that it has LGBTQ in its bones.

“Supporting LGBTQ people, businesses, and causes has been in Jane Jane’s ownership’s DNA at every establishment at which they have been involved,” they say, having supported local LGBTQ+ organizations like Casa Ruby, Victory Fund, SMYAL and the Human Rights Campaign, among others. 

Porterfield says that they were surprised that, given the locale, people assumed Jane Jane was a gay bar. “It’s not a gay or straight bar, just a fantastic cocktail bar that welcomes anyone to hang out with us,” he says. 

Nevertheless, the owners have taken into consideration the significance of being in the Liz development, as both gay men and as part of the hospitality industry. “It highlights the lack of representation as gay owners in this bar and restaurant world,” says Porterfield. They note the lack of women, LGBTQ and BIPOC representation. 

“It’s very special to us that we opened in this space,” says Porterfield, “so we want to show that we have opened a place that is all about inclusivity.”

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Autos

One lean, mean green machine

New Ford Mustang Mach-E is electrifying

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(Photo courtesy of Ford)

Here’s a shocker: Electric vehicles have been around for over 180 years. By the time of the first Hershey bar in 1900, EVs had hit their own sweet spot—surging to almost 30 percent of all vehicles sold in the U.S. But when Henry Ford began to produce cars on his moving assembly line in 1913, the popularity of the gas-powered Model T soon short-circuited EV sales. Cue to a century later, when the debut of the all-electric Nissan Leaf in 2010 sent a jolt through the auto industry. Yet it would take another decade to get drivers charged up about anything other than gas-powered rides. Today, it’s hard to keep track of all the EVs out there, along with other green machines like hybrids. While the current microchip shortage has slowed or stopped production on many cars for now, I was lucky enough to drive the all-new, all-electric Ford Mustang Mach-E. The experience was, well, truly electrifying.

Ford Mustang Mach-E
$47,000
Range: up to 305 miles
0 to 60 mph: 4.2 seconds

When the Ford Mustang Mach-E was first announced, many auto aficionados were left scratching their heads. After all, a Mustang is one of the most iconic muscle cars ever created, and the Mach-E designation sounds suspiciously like the “Mach-1” branding used on flashy high-performance Stangs. Yet this new Mustang is a crossover SUV—and an electric one to boot. While the initial designs were captivating, plenty of skeptics remained. Luckily, they needn’t have worried. I was mesmerized the moment the Mach-E arrived, eager to run my hand along its sinewy side panels and strapping rear end. To keep the design as aerodynamic as possible, there are no traditional door handles. Instead, you use the key fob, your smartphone or a push button on the window frame to pop open the door. 

On the inside, there’s a small latch in the armrest versus the typical door handle. Such design elements are not only aesthetically pleasing, they also save space and reduce weight. Other novelties: This is the first Ford vehicle to use recycled animal-free fabrics, as well as a vegan steering wheel that’s as durable as leather. On the space-age dashboard, the premium Bang & Olufsen speakers are concealed beneath fabric covers that mimic the look of pricey home-theater speakers. And the unique design of the quiet cabin allows for a subwoofer that is 50 percent lighter than usual, yet still retains a deep rich clarity. As for the gigantic 15.5-inch vertical touchscreen in the center of the dash, it resembles a sort of funky oversized iPad from “The Orville.” Along with large climate controls for easier viewing, the touchscreen has interactive maps to locate the nearest charging stations. Those maps came in handy during two weekend trips, as did the heavily bolstered seats that helped prevent driver fatigue but also were easy on the tush. In total, there are five Mach-E trim levels, each with differing configurations for power and range (the distance you can travel on a full charge). 

While even the base-model Mach-E is fast and lively, it’s the high-test GT version that strikes like a thunder bolt. Rocketing from 0 to 60 seconds in just 3.8 seconds, the Mach-E GT is quicker than a Toyota Supra super coupe. And thanks to lower-than-expected ground clearance and a superb suspension, the Mach-E is just as agile. Those grippy regenerative brakes help, of course, allowing you to speed up or slow down using only the accelerator pedal. 

It’s worth noting there are other EVs in the Ford stable, including the electric F-150 Lightning full-size pickup, the E-Transit commercial van and various green machines on the way. By 2030, Ford is aiming for 40 percent of its global sales to be EVs. That’s a great goal for a company that once helped pull the plug on the “electric horseless carriage” but today is leading the charge with its own cutting-edge EVs.

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