Monday, March 22, 2010

March 24: Rufus King – First Senator from New York

He would sign the new United States Constitution for Massachusetts, be the first U.S. Senator from New York, twice be a candidate for Vice President - and once for President. His views on slavery preceeded the Civil War by half a century, and he was our Ambassador to Great Britain during a time of great contention between the two sovereign nations.

Rufus King was born on March 24, 1755, at Scarboro, Massachusetts. After Maine achieved statehood in 1820, King’s hometown became Scarborough, Maine. He was the eldest son. His parents were Richard King and Sabilla Blagden King, and his father was a prosperous farmer-merchant. His father – who had fought in the French and Indian War in the successful assault on the French Fortress at Louisbourg, Canada, was a staunch Loyalist. He supported the unpopular Stamp Act – and had his home ransacked by local Sons of Liberty in 1766. In 1774 a force of local militia visited the King home, demanding the elder King recant publically his support for the Crown. The elder King died soon after, and his death instilled in his son a true passion for law and order – and a society controlled by rational men.

He received an elementary education at local schools, and at the age of 12 received a classical education at Dummer Academy in South Byfield, Massachusetts. In 1777 he would graduate from Harvard.

During the American Revolution, King would serve briefly in the Massachusetts militia as an aide to Brigadier General John Glover – whose Massachusetts “Marbleheaders” had ferried Washington and his troops across the Delaware to the Battle of Trenton two years earlier. King would serve as a Major in the militia, and participated in the siege of Newport, Rhode Island.

While his military career was short-lived, it did broaden King’s political horizons. Instead of viewing the war and the world from simply a New England perspective, his view was now more encompassing and national in outlook. It also illustrated to King the need for a strong central government that could protect interstate commerce to help the nation grow.

After his experiences in the military, he decided to pursue a legal career – studying under noted lawyer and legal philosopher, Theophilus Parsons – and entered the legal practice in 1780 in Newburyport, Massachusetts.

King had an oratorical gift, and a personal presence and bearing that soon led him into a political career. He was a member of the Massachusetts legislature from 1783 to 1785, and was sent to the Continental Congress from 1784 to 1786. He gained a reputation in the Continental Congress both as a brilliant speaker and an early opponent of the institution of slavery.

He married Mary Alsop, the daughter of a wealthy New York merchant, on March 30, 1786 during the close of his tour in the Continental Congress. She was described at the time as a great beauty, and between her appearance and her father’s prestige, she found herself a much sought-after lady of society.

“her face was oval, with finely formed nose, mouth, and chin, blue eyes, a clear brunette complexion, black hair, and fine teeth. Her movements were at once graceful and gracious, and her voice musical”
King performed his final duties to his home state of Massachusetts by representing her at the Constitutional Convention. King was – at the age of 32 – one of the youngest of the delegates at the Philadelphia Convention – but was also one of the most capable orators there. He attended every session, and became – along with James Madison – one of the leading figures in promoting a true national concept of government. He took numerous notes during the proceedings – which have been studied and analyzed by historians since then.

After these duties were discharged in 1789, he moved permanently to New York to pursue his legal and political career.

In New York he was elected to the state legislature in 1789 and, just prior to the opening of the state’s legislative session, was appointed to the U.S. Senate as one of New York’s first Senators. King represented New York as a U.S. Senator for two terms.

During that time he was one of the Senate’s Federalist leaders and demonstrated a keen and insightful understanding of military issues. He became one of the key proponents for the permanent establishment of a U.S. Navy. He also supported Alexander Hamilton’s fiscal program, as well as being a strong proponent of the unpopular Jay’s Treaty. In 1791 he also became one of the directors of the First Bank of the United States.

King declined President Washington’s offer of a Cabinet post, but after his reappointment as Senator in 1796 did accept the offer to become the U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain. He would hold this position during the administration of three Presidents, and was a key figure in Britain during a difficult time of relationships between the two countries. He was instrumental in negotiating a settlement of Revolutionary War issues with the British, as well as initiating discussions on European interests in Latin America that would ultimately be expressed in the Monroe Doctrine.

King returned to the United States in 1803 – returning to his career in politics. In 1804 and 1808 he was the Federalist Vice Presidential candidate – with fellow Constitution signer Charles Cotesworth Pinckney as the Presidential candidate. He was defeated. He would run as the Federalist candidate for President in 1816 – losing to another signer of the Constitution, James Madison.

In 1805 he purchased a farm on Long Island and built a home there known as King Manor, which is a museum today. He enjoyed the peace – as well as the occasional political discussions with guests invited to dinner – during his years out of political office.

He was reappointed to the U.S. Senate by New York, where he served from 1813 – 1825. An early critic of the War of 1812, he changed his view after the British burned Washington, D.C. in 1814, because he became convinced that the U.S. was fighting a defensive war. He lent his considerable support to the war effort during the final part of the conflict.

In 1820 King expressed his views on slavery by denouncing the Missouri Compromise. In 1817 he had voted to end the slave trade. Now, three years later, he believed that there should be no compromise on the issue of slavery, but that the issue must be settled immediately and forever by the establishment of a system of compensated emancipation and resettlement of the former slaves in a colony in Africa.

King retired from the Senate n 1825 because of ill health. However, his country called on his services again in the form of President John Quincy Adams, who persuaded him to once again be the U.S. Minister to Great Britain. However, illness forced him to resign from that task a year later, and on , 1827, he died at the age of 72.

He was buried near his beloved King Manor in the cemetery of Grace Episcopal Church, Jamaica, Long Island, New York.

King was a realist, and therefore willing to change his views when the practical outweighed the philosophical. His changing view from sectional to national politics; increased power of a central government; and his dealing with Great Britain allowed him to serve his country faithfully, honorably and well.


Colonial Hall
National Archives: America’s Founding Fathers
National Park Service
Soldier-Statesmen of the Constitution


Oil Portrait of Rufus King by Charles Wilson Peale: Soldier-Statesmen of the Constitution
Portrait of Mary Alsop King: Women of the Republican Court
Portrait of King: Public Domain blog
King Manor: King Manor Museum
Rufus King grave: Find A Grave

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

March 2: Susanna Salter, First Woman Mayor

Susanna Madora Kinsey (nee Salter) was born on March 2, 1860, in near Lamira, Ohio. Her parents were Oliver Kinsey and Terissa Ann White Kinsey, whose Quakers ancestors were colonists in William Penn’s colony.

In 1872, when she was 12, her family moved to an 80-acre farm near Silver Lake in northeastern Kansas, where Salter attended public schools. Then, in 1880, she entered the Kansas State Agricultural College as a sophomore, being able to skip her freshman year because of college-level courses she took while in high school. She was forced to drop out of college just six weeks prior to graduate because of an illness.

While at college she met – and married – Lewis Allison Salter, the son of a former Kansas Lt. Governor, Melville J. Salter. Lewis graduated from college in 1879, and the couple were married on September 1, 1880. Two years later, after the birth of the first of their nine children, the Salter’s moved to Argonia, where Lewis would manage a hardware store. Argonia is in southern Kansas, and would be a city where Susanna would be involved in making history.

The first child born in Argonia was the Salter’s’ second child, Francis Argonia Salter, who was born in the spring of 1883. In 1884, Mrs. Salter’s parents moved to Argonia, where they bought the store in a partnership with Lewis so that Lewis could study the law with a local attorney and prepare for the bar exam.

In 1885 the town of Argonia was incorporated, and again history was made. Susanna’s father became the first mayor, and her husband, Lewis, became the city clerk. As city clerk, Lewis was responsible for writing the ordinances of the newly incorporated town.

In 1885 a bill was introduced in the Kansas state legislature to grant women the right of voting in municipal elections. Two years later the Kansas legislature passed the legislation, and governor John A. Martin signed it into law on February 15, 1887.

In Argonia, Susanna had become an active member and officer in the local W.C.T.U. (Women’s Christian Temperance Union), which had been organized in Argonia in 1883. With the passage of legislation allowing women the right to vote in Kansas municipalities, the Argonia chapter of the W.C.T.U. decided to make the enforcement of a state prohibition of liquor law a priority in the city election, which was to be held in 1887. Due to the absence of their president, Susanna presided at a meeting which selected a ticket of men whom the W.C.T.U. considered eligible for the city’s political offices – and who supported the W.C.T.U. agenda.

Some of the ‘wets’ in town – those men who opposed the ideas of the W.C.T.U. and favored the open sale of alcohol – held a secret meeting that developed a plan of Machiavellian proportions designed to defeat the W.C.T.U. and lessen the influence of that organization.

They decided to draw up a list of candidates identical with that of the W.C.T.U. – only with Susanna Salter’s name in the mayoral slot. Their thought was that the men in the community would not vote for a woman – nor would many of the W.C.T.U. members. In the end, the W.C.T.U. would, so the plan proposed, be politically embarrassed and would lose some of its influence as a political organization. Susanna Slater’s name was chosen because she was the only W.C.T.U. officer living within the city limits, and therefore eligible to run for mayor.

The election laws at the time did not require advance notice of candidacy, so the plotters ran off their copies of the ballot just before the April 4th election. Because of this, neither Susanna nor her family knew that she was on the ballot.

Surprise and shock greeted the early voters on election day when they saw a woman’s name as candidate for mayor. Word soon spread, and the chairman of the Republican Party in Argonia quickly determined what had been done and organized a delegation to visit Susanna. They found her in her yard, hanging up the laundry. They explained what had happened, asking her if she would accept the post if she won. She agreed.

The delegation spent the day explaining the situation to voters, and worked in the city to get out the vote. Lewis Salter – who was one of the early voters – was reported perturbed when he discovered that his wife was on the ballot, and more so when he returned home and found out that she had consented to be the mayor if she won the election. He eventually consoled himself with the event, even calling himself “the husband of the Mayor”.

Accompanied by her parents, Susanna went to the polls around 4 PM. As was customary for the day, she did not vote for herself – leaving the position of mayor on the ballot unmarked.

Showing that the ‘best laid plans’ can go astray, Susanna Salter was elected mayor of Argonia – and the first woman mayor in the United States. The official notice of the election stated:
ARGONIA 4/6/87


You are hereby notified that at an election held in the city of Argonia on Monday April 4/87, for the purpose of electing city officers, you were duly elected to the office of Mayor of said city. You will take due notice thereof and govern yourself accordingly.


F.A. RUSE Clerk Pro. tem.
There were also five members of the town council elected – three of whom had been in on the plot to embarrass the women of the W.C.T.U.. Reportedly the new mayor had no trouble with the council during her yearlong term. She stated at the first meeting:
“Gentlemen, what is your pleasure? You are the duly elected officials of this town, I am merely your presiding officer."
The council and the mayor got along during their yearlong term. No new ordinances were passed – though it was a time of continued adjustment and application of the city ordinances that were created a mere two years earlier. One sad note during the term of Susanna: one of her children was born during her term as mayor, and died in infancy.

There was quite a bit of press coverage of the election of a woman mayor – both national and foreign newspapers came to the small Kansas town, interviewed the people, attended council meetings – each reflecting the view of their editors as to whether a woman mayor was a good or a bad thing. One item of continued interest was that Susanna was only 27 years old when elected to office. Another was that the position paid one dollar annually.

When asked about her future ambitions in politics by one of the eastern newspapers, Susanna replied:
"No, indeed, I shall be very glad when my term of office expires, and shall be only too happy to thereafter devote myself entirely, as I always have done heretofore, to the care of my family."
Susanna did not run for office again after her year in office expired. She and her family would leave Argonia when the Cherokee Strip was oned in 1893 where Lewis filed a claim on land near Alva, Oklahoma. In 1903 he sold the farm and moved to Augusta where he practiced law and established a newspaper.

Lewis died in 1916, and Susanna moved her family to Norman, Oklahoma, so her youngest child could attend the state university there. She would pass away at the age of 101 on March 17, 1961, and is buried in Argonia, Kansas.

A political ploy had backfired, electing the first woman mayor in the United States. She accepted the job she had not applied for, and made history.


Kansas Historical Quarterly
Kansas State Historical Society
KTWU interview transcript


Portrait of Suzanna Salter, age 27: Kansas Historical Society
Portrait of Suzanna and her husband: Kansas Historical Society
Map of Sumner County, 1887: David Rumsey Collection
Salter home in Argonia: Salter House Museum
Letter notifying Suzanna of her election as mayor: Kansas Memory
Portrait of Suzanna Salter at 94: Kansas Historical Society