Rare Book Monthly

Articles - October - 2003 Issue

Trivial Pursuit?<br>Collecting Vice-President William R. King



It makes me wonder, could we be doing anything like this ourselves today and be so blind as not to see? I cannot imagine it. And yet, a small but growing number of people feel our treatment of animals is comparable. Will our descendants one day look at us with similar confusion if not disgust for our carnivorous habits?

But this leads me to the only explanation for people like King I can come up with. They must have thought of slaves, and thereby logically all black people, as being little more than animals. How else could they justify such behavior? If this is what they were brought up to believe, does it make this behavior understandable, justifiable? I am still troubled. The fact is that the William Kings of this era were all confronted by the abolitionists and they would have come in contact with a Frederick Douglas or some other erudite Blacks. How can they have so completely turned their backs? I may not share the views of the aggressive animal rights advocates, but I do know that the first day a cow approaches me and speaks up passionately for the rights of her “people” will be the last day I ever eat a hamburger.

This distressing part of an otherwise upright legacy led to a sad rejection of King over a century after his death. King County, Washington, home of Seattle, was named for William R. King, the American statesman, in 1852. I find no record of how King reacted to this honor, but he surely must have been proud. This was not slave territory, but it appears there was no objection to granting King this honor.

In 1986, the King County Council set about renaming their county. No one would have wanted to change all of the county seals, stationary, and history, but that was no problem, for they wanted to rename their county after another southern King. Ironically, that King would be the nation’s greatest voice of civil rights, Martin Luther King.

No doubt Martin Luther King fully deserved this honor and many more. However, the county could be named to honor both Kings without diminishing the tribute granted to M.L.K. However, it is obvious the council wanted to disassociate itself with the earlier King as much as honor the later one. His slaveholding past was reason enough to overlook all of the good William King had done in his long career.

From the motion which renamed King County for Martin Luther King, here are a few of the opening paragraphs:
“WHEREAS, the County of King in the State of Washington was named after William Rufus Devane King by the Oregon Territorial legislature in 1852, and

WHEREAS, William Rufus DeVane King was a slaveowner and a 'gentle slave monger' according to John Quincy Adams, and

WHEREAS, the citizens of King County believe that the ownership of another human being is an injustice against humanity, and

Rare Book Monthly

  • <center><b>Swann Auction Galleries<br>A Record Breaking Season</b>
    <b>Swann:</b> <i>The Book of Mormon,</b> first edition, Palmyra, NY, 1830. Sold Sept. 30 — $112,500.
    <b>Swann:</b> Vincent Van Gogh, <i>Homme à la Pipe: Portrait du Docteur Gachet, Evening,</i> etching, 1890. Sold Nov. 2 — $161,000.
    <b>Swann:</b> Edward Ruscha, <i>Stains,</i> title page, one of 70, signed, 1969. Sold Nov. 9 — $112,500.
    <b>Swann:</b> John James Audubon, <i>Carolina Parrot, Plate 26,</i> hand colored aquatint, 1828. Sold Dec.9 — $137,000.
    <b>Swann:</b> Edmund Dulac, <i>The Snow Queen,</i> watercolor, gouache, pen & ink, 1910. Sold Dec. 16 — $125,000.
  • <b>Il Ponte Casa d’Aste, Jan. 25:</b> DANTE ALIGHIERI (1265-1321). <i>Commedia.</i> Venezia: Vindelino da Spira, 1477. Estimate: € 40.000 - 60.000.
    <b>Il Ponte Casa d’Aste, Jan. 25:</b> DALI, Salvador (1908-1989) - William SHAKESPEARE (1564-1616). <i>Romeo e Giulietta.</i> Milan: Rizzoli, 1975. Estimate: € 25.000 - 35.000.
    <b>Il Ponte Casa d’Aste, Jan. 25:</b> MALVASIA, Cornelio; MONTANARI, Geminiano. <i>Ephemerides novissimae motuum coelestium.</i> Modena: Cassiani, 1662. Estimate: € 8.000 - 12.000.
    <b>Il Ponte Casa d’Aste, Jan. 25:</b> JANSSONIUS, Johannes. <i>Atlantis majoris quinta pars, Orbem maritimum [Novus Atlas, volume V: carte marittime].</i> Amsterdam: Janssonius, 1650. Estimate: € 12.000 - 18.000.

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