THE MONTH and a half following his appointment as Collector of the Port of San Francisco was a busy time for Thomas Butler King. In October 1850 he returned to Saint Simons Island, where the prospect of an indeterminate but certainly long absence must have filled every moment with decisions and preparations. Young Thomas Butler, Junior, was attending college in Athens, Georgia, when he read the news of his father’s appointment. He immediately wrote his mother, asking that she use her influence with the new collector to secure him an appointment in some subordinate office at the San Francisco Custom House. His request was granted, and a month later he accompanied his father north to catch the steamer for Chagres, Panama. The last few days before the ship sailed the Kings spent in Philadelphia and New York, where the new collector conferred with political and personal friends. On November 26, 1850, father and son took leave of Henry Lord Page King, who had come down from Yale to see them off on the steamer Ohio.1
The journey from New York to San Francisco was still a strenuous undertaking, even after the Forty-niners had tried and proved so many paths. The Kings travelled by steamer to New Orleans and Chagres, across the Isthmus by canoe and muleback, and again by steamer to San Francisco. For the younger King, at least, the voyage to New Orleans was lightened by the opportunity to become acquainted with Miss Lillie Devereux, to whom his brother Henry had already lost his heart. The crossing of the Isthmus was less pleasant. It took the better part of three days to cover twenty miles, and no food was to be had for twenty-four hours of that time. Worse still, the brandy ran low, so that some members of the party had to depend on the resources of the ranches along the way to relieve their thirst. The cities of Panama and Acapulco on the Pacific side offered a welcome contrast to the rigors of the crossing. The Kings dined with the American consul and paid a visit to the theater on Sunday night—the most fashionable night, Butler assured his mother. He also reported to her on the wonders of the cathedral, with its solid silver altar weighing “about 5 tun, [sic]” and remarked on the similarity of a native fiesta with the Christmas antics of the slaves on Saint Simons—“the only difference was they were a much more miserable looking set—and measured their beef by the yard.”2
San Francisco, which the travelers reached on January 8, 1851, was more to the young man’s liking, although he found the city as noisy as New York, with “every other door a gambling house-in which they have a band playing all the time.”3 They had been ashore no more than twenty minutes, he reported, before his father was deep in consultations with friends, and in the ensuing days the elder King was occupied from 6:30 A.M. to 11:30 P.M. “F[ather] has not had one moment to himself,” Butler wrote. “I do believe he likes it.”4 Father and son settled in two comfortable rooms at the Union Hotel, where their domestic wants were relieved by Davy, a Negro whom they had brought from Saint Simons.5 Within a week both senior and junior King took up their duties at the Custom House, where the retiring collector, James Collier, had been in charge for more than a year.
Collier had received his appointment because he and his brother had served the Taylor cause in the campaign of 1848, but the appointment proved to be an unfortunate one for the Whig administration. When Collier assumed his duties, conditions in California were chaotic because of the influx of goldseekers and the confusion of governmental authority. Faced with novel conditions, he approved of some measures that were contrary to the letter of the revenue laws. He permitted the use of ships in the harbor of San Francisco as warehouses. The bonds which he took from importers later proved to be unenforceable. More important were the charges that he used his office to enrich himself and his family. Upon his return to Washington, his accounts were found to be more than $750,000 short.6 Collier’s successor took on an extraordinary burden with the transfer of authority.
When Thomas Butler King assumed his office at the Custom House on January 14, 1851, he inaugurated new policies. In general, the new collector required importers to comply strictly with the letter of the law. He was prompt and energetic in carrying out specific instructions, but he refused to assume authority on doubtful questions, referring such problems to his superiors in Washington. Inevitably, this reversal in policy aroused opposition among the merchants who had been accustomed to Collector Collier’s liberal interpretations of the law and lax administration. As a result, King found himself constantly in hot water with the San Francisco merchants. The newspapers of the city took up some of these differences of opinion and discussed them endlessly; other matters required extensive correspondence with the Treasury Department. The slowness of communication between San Francisco and Washington kept decisions pending for months and added to the difficulties of the collector’s tasks.
King’s characteristics as the administrator of the nation’s fifth largest port can best be seen in his handling of the outstanding problems that arose during his term of office. His first major reform in collection practices was to require the storage of all imported goods in warehouses, according to the law. Secretary of the Treasury Corwin had instructed him to stop the use of ships in the harbor as warehouses, and he had made arrangements for renting premises in San Francisco for a government warehouse before he left Washington in 1850. Even so, warehouse space was at a premium, and importers had to pay extra for lighterage because of the lack of docking facilities. The Chamber of Commerce appointed a committee to try to persuade King to return to the former practices, but he refused to recede from his position. The Collector convinced his fellow San Franciscans that his instructions permitted no deviation from standard practices. This strict enforcement of the warehousing requirements had an unfortunate sequel when the government warehouse was destroyed by the great fire of May 3–4, 1851. Strangely enough, it was the national administration, rather than King, that received the blame for the losses which the merchants sustained in the fire. The fire may actually have helped King by making the merchants realize that claims against the government could be filed if losses occurred in a federal warehouse.7
King’s policy of enforcing bonds also raised differences of opinion between the new collector and the merchants of San Francisco. When King succeeded Collier, he turned all unfulfilled bonds over to the United States District Attorney for prosecution, and the trials began in the federal district court in September 1851. The Democratic Alta California and the Herald attacked King for his part in the proceedings, while the Whig Daily Evening Picayune defended the collector vigorously and published a long statement by him. The climax of the controversy came when a mass meeting of merchants appointed a committee to wait upon King and enlist his aid in obtaining relief from authorities in Washington. King was quite willing to support their petition, and Corwin eventually granted him the authority to delay action on penal bonds. Yet the new instructions did not arrive until he had made himself thoroughly unpopular by following the usual practice in regard to bonds. It was somewhat galling to him to learn that Corwin had finally reversed the policy after the merchants had brought pressure to bear through Senator William M. Gwin, rather than listening to the reports of the collector. In the matter of forfeited bonds, King was again the victim of slow communications with Washington and of disregard for local conditions on the part of his superiors.8
King did not always appear before the public as a virtuous civil servant dutifully enforcing unpopular decrees. An incident of March 1851 brought a storm of protest down on his head, particularly from the Democratic press. King received information that the mails were being used to smuggle goods, and sent the surveyor of the port to the post office to witness the opening of the mail bags from the steamship Columbia. Surveyor Hart Fellows met a rude reception from the postal authorities, went aboard the Columbia, impounded the remaining mail sacks, and proceeded to open them himself. Postmaster Charles C. Moore and the Democratic newspapers were incensed at Kings interference with the mails, and King was affronted by their refusal to permit an inspection. Both officials issued public letters explaining their side of the controversy. Legally, both sides were at fault, for the postal clerks should not have refused permission to inspect and King’s subordinate exceeded his powers when he opened the mail sacks. The whole tempest in a teapot is noteworthy only because it illustrates King’s vigorous performance of what he considered his duty.9
Another incident connected with King’s office gave his enemies an opportunity to ridicule him. To promote efficiency, the San Francisco collector was named a special depositary of Treasury funds with authority to pay out customs receipts in the Pacific area for duly authorized federal expenditures. King was therefore responsible not only for the collection of customs but also for the safekeeping and disbursement of federal funds. At his direction, a vault with three-foot masonry walls reinforced by iron grating was built in the Custom House to protect the government specie. Soon afterwards, the supposedly fireproof Custom House was destroyed in the great fire of May 1851. Young Butler King sent home a vivid account of the disaster:
The flames broke out about half past ten—or eleven o’clock on the night of the third of this month—and by daylight of the next morning —as much property was destroyed as was in the great fire of four or five days in New York all most the whol City it was. Father very unfortunately had just left that afternoon to go up into the country for a day or two—the first time he has been away for an hour in months. I saved all the important papers of the Custom House … and I had the money down in the vault—but whilst I was attending to the papers at the Custom H—the fire spred all over town … there were hundreds burned to death. The fire came on them so quickly—that though they knew it was coming they had not time to escape. I came very nere being in the same fix—for the steps that is stare case were all on fire when I came out of the Custom House. I got a little burned but had put some buckets of water by me and after doing all I could I threw the water over myself put my hat over my face and made a rush.10
After the fire the specie was found intact in the vault, and guards were posted about the ruins until a new vault could be built. King’s foresight was praised, and his strong room was pointed to as a model for businessmen who were rebuilding their premises.11
So far, the Collector’s precautions were commendable; it was when the time came for removing the specie to a new vault that he evoked ridicule. After a morning of preparation he assembled a company of armed sailors and Custom House employees, marshalled them in military fashion, and personally supervised the transfer of the funds amid a display of armed force. Opposition newspapers had a field day in their mock-heroic reports:
General King gallantly took his stand in a most exposed position upon the top of a pile of bricks, and with a six-barrelled revolver in one hand, and a formidable looking cane in the other, issued his orders for the removal of the treasure, with admirable coolness.… The whole conduct of the exploit exhibited military skill of the highest order, and heroic devotion worthy of all praise.12
King maintained, with some reason, that his show of force was necessary. San Francisco was notorious for its lack of law and order, and the city was currently submitting to the extra-legal rule of the Vigilance Committee of 1851. Sam Whittaker, later hanged by the Committee, confessed that his gang had actually discussed robbing the new Custom House after the fire. Paradoxically, the same papers that ridiculed King were supporting the stern measures of the Vigilantes.13
King’s uncompromising policy of strict compliance with the laws eventually began to pay dividends in the form of an easing of the demands of his position. After October 1851 the Custom House seldom figured in the headlines of the newspapers, and references to the Collector touched mainly on his political activities. He settled into a quiet daily routine in his personal life and enjoyed improved health. Young Butler, who shared his father’s quarters as well as his duties at the Custom House, noted the change:
We are getting on here now very well. All the infernal scoundrals who used to bother us have found it of no use to benefit themselves by all their deepness and smartness—And the business is not nearly so severe upon Father—this change for the better has done him much good I assure you—not only in allowing his health to improve but actually sometimes they allow him to keep in a good humor all day—which I assure you was not the case six months ago.14
It must not have been entirely comfortable to live with the Collector.
In contrast to the stormy early period, King’s last twelve months of administering the Custom House passed by so quietly as to require no special notice. Father and son lived in the temporary customs building while new federal offices were being erected. In their leisure Butler tasted the pleasures of society, while his father devoted himself to a number of investments. Both Kings purchased city lots in San Francisco, San Diego, Sacramento, and Benicia, and in Port Oxford, Oregon, although none of these ventures is known to have brought large returns. The elder King also retained his interest in the law office which he had opened when he first arrived in California, and through this connection participated in the settlement of one of the most famous of the early California estate cases.15 The greatest possibilities for wealth lay in acquiring and exploiting gold-bearing lands, a speculation that engaged King’s attention as his term in office drew to a close. The duties of the collectorship began to pall on him, and the drawbacks of his position to outweigh its advantages, as he confided to his wife:
I have been so abused and misrepresented for the faithful performance of my duties that I have become disgusted with the place and the people. Collier, my predecessor is a defaulter and I perceive that some of the papers in the Atlantic States speak of the defalcation as having occurred at the San F--Custom House and mix my name with it.16
Writing to Corwin in a similar mood, King hinted that he would like to resign August 1; later, he reconsidered his decision and expressed his willingness to serve until the new administration should be inaugurated in March 1853. He was chagrined to find that his hint had been accepted as a resignation by Corwin and President Fillmore, and that his successor had been appointed immediately.17
When King’s successor took over his duties in November 1852, there was a flurry of dinners, presentations, and testimonials for the retiring official. Even King’s erstwhile enemies joined in his praise, and his conduct was held up to the incoming collector as a model. Gone from the columns of the Alta were the strictures of earlier days, and in their place appeared a eulogistic farewell. After describing the trying conditions under which King assumed office, the Democratic paper continued:
In all the transactions which our commercial citizens have had with Mr. King, they have found him liberal, courteous, and accommodating.… Mr. King retires tomorrow from a position that has been more prolific of labor and anxiety than of popular praise or pecuniary profit.—Wherever he goes, or whatever he does, he carries with him our sincerest regard and esteem for personal worth and official stability.18
These valedictory compliments pleased King, but they did not wipe out the bitterness of earlier attacks. “I shall ever feel grateful to you and the President for bestowing the place upon me,” King wrote to Corwin, “but were the duty to be gone over again, no available consideration I assure you, would induce me to accept it.”19
The office of collector of a port was far more than an administrative appointment. It could be a reward for party services that carried a high salary, as King’s post in San Francisco did. It could be a stepping stone to higher office, as the collectorship of Boston proved to be for George Bancroft. In any circumstances, the collector was a partisan politician, powerful because of his ability to appoint subordinate officers. Each Custom House tended to become the focus of local party activity, for there were centered the loyalties of the minor office-holders who had supported the party in the past and who might supply a corps of reliable workers in the next election. The San Francisco Custom House in 1850 was no exception. The collection district ranked fifth in the United States in the amount of revenue collected. The salary of the collector was $10,000, and other salaries were treble those for comparable offices in other collection districts in order to offset the inflated gold rush prices. Only a few of the staff of two hundred were appointed in Washington, and the payroll and other expenses of the San Francisco district in 1852 amounted to more than a million dollars. Thomas Butler King had a small army of assistants who were indebted to him for their appointments and salary. In addition, he helped to choose the site and superintend the building of a $400,000 Custom House and of a marine hospital, he arranged leases for temporary quarters for federal offices, and he was a subtreasurer with special powers. All these circumstances combined to make King the most powerful federal official on the Pacific Coast.20 He was in a position to render his party notable service by organizing an effective Whig machine in California.
In the first election in 1849, before any party organizations were formed, Californians had chosen two Democrats, John Charles Fremont and William McKendree Gwin, as their senators. Nearly a year passed before Congress, by admitting the new state, accepted the two men as members. As was customary, Fremont and Gwin then drew lots to see which would have a six-year and which a two-year term. Fremont was the loser in this game of chance, and when Congress adjourned in 1850, he hastened back to California to seek reelection. As a candidate he enjoyed the advantages conferred by his flamboyant personality, the fame of his earlier exploits, and the relative length of his connection with California. On the other hand, he had acquired large landholdings based on Spanish grants, which put his personal interests in conflict with those of the newer arrivals to California, the squatters and the goldseekers. He had failed to achieve any great legislative triumphs, and his enemies pointed out that a land bill on California which he had proposed in the Senate specifically exempted his own holdings from review by the courts, A serious illness contracted during his return journey from Washington prevented him from conducting a vigorous campaign. In view of all these circumstances, the Democrats of California were not united in support of their incumbent senator.21 If the Whigs could capitalize on the division in the Democratic ranks, they might elect one of their number to the United States Senate.
Such was the political situation when King stepped ashore from the Tennessee on January 8, 1851. He was immediately recognized by Democratic papers as the leading Whig candidate for senator. Indeed, hardly had he assumed the reins of office at the Custom House before he departed for San Jose, where the legislature met, in order “to take care of his chances for the U.S. Senate.”22 King’s avowed candidacy and his active self-promotion injected new life into the senate campaign. The Democratic Pacific News noted that his arrival in San Jose had enheartened the Whigs of the legislature and that he would prove a formidable opponent. To the editor it appeared as if the administration “had expressed a man to California, for a specific object, with the demand that he must be expressed back, in compliance.”23 The Herald, also Democratic, stated flatly: “It is now a matter of certainty that he has come to this country, labelled and endorsed by the powers that be to their liege subjects here for election to the Senate.”24 Both President Fillmore and Secretary of the Treasury Corwin would doubtless have objected to the statement, but they certainly knew of King’s bid for office and counted on him to build a Whig political machine in California. The election of a Whig Senator there would go far to extend the operation of the two-party system into the new domain of the West.25
In San Jose, King and the other candidates maintained open house, where champagne and roast duck were dispensed to the legislators who were to choose the new senator. The seats in the legislature were divided among twenty-seven Democrats, eighteen Whigs, and five Independents, but the Whigs were united on one man, while the Democrats could not agree on a single candidate. As the day of election approached, rumors of arranged resignations and political deals indicated the likelihood of a victory for King, which the Pacific Daily News seemed prepared to accept: “If elected, aside from his efforts in the political field, to make California a Whig state, he would no doubt exert himself faithfully and energetically to accomplish the most good for California.”26 The Democratic Alta also predicted that King would win the Senate seat.
A prolonged contest began on February 18, 1851, when the legislature sat as a convention to elect a senator. On the first ballot King received fifteen votes; on the second, sixteen; and on the third, seventeen. The Democrats split their votes among three candidates: Solomon Heydenfeldt, John B. Weller, and John C. Fremont. Nine ballots in all were taken on the first day, but the results did not vary appreciably. King’s seventeen votes led the field, but the other forces showed no signs of weakening. The political correspondent of the Pacific News sourly reminded his readers of an earlier warning that he had voiced, “that only through a legislative caucus could the requisite union be effected” for a Democratic victory.27 He pointed to the Spanish-American Californians as the keys to the situation, asserting that they would vote for no Democrat but Fremont and that if they were released from him their vote would go to King. The lesson, as he saw it, was that the other Democratic candidates should throw their support to Fremont.
Through six more days the balloting continued, broken only by unsuccessful attempts at a caucus by the Democrats. By the 131st ballot the contest had become a three-way race, with King and Heydenfeldt leading and the twelve Fremont supporters holding the balance. The earlier proceedings had engendered a good bit of acrimony, but now they took on the aspect of a good-natured farce. John Smith was nominated and withdrawn, the clerk was ordered to read instructive or cryptic Bible verses, and members began to circulate pen-and-ink sketches of the candidates and their backers. On Wednesday, February 26, the legislature seemed no nearer to a choice than it had been ten days previously. On the 141st ballot, Heydenfeldt’s name was withdrawn and John B. Weller’s was substituted. Although Heydenfeldt and one of his followers broke Democratic ranks to vote for King, the Whigs still lacked a majority. The convention thereupon adjourned until January 1, 1852, leaving the choice of a United States Senator to the next legislature.28
King’s bid had failed, but not his aim. Since the senatorial seat now depended on the legislature that would meet in 1852, one issue was set for the state elections in September: How would the candidates for the legislature vote when the choice for senator confronted them? The Whigs must close ranks and enforce party discipline for the forthcoming battle. A Whig caucus of the legislature proceeded to read James M. Crane and his Courier out of the party for opposition to King during the convention. Shortly thereafter, the Pacific Neivs, which had formerly supported Fremont, announced that it had become a Whig newspaper. The weight of patronage was used to encourage the faithful, and Democrats complained that the Custom House payroll was used to subsidize a correspondent for three of the newspapers in the interior, thus to a certain extent giving tone to public opinion in the mining region.29
Party organization continued to develop, when in May 1851 both Democrats and Whigs held conventions, the first of their kind in the brief history of the state. The Whigs adopted a twelve-point platform which called on the federal government for extensive legislation in favor of California. High on the list were federal aid to a transcontinental railroad, aid to steam communication with China, and appropriations for river and harbor improvement. The platform rejected national Whig policy in regard to mining lands and other public domain. Where President Fillmore had called for either the leasing of the goldbearing lands under government supervision or outright sale of the lands, the California Whigs endorsed government ownership for the benefit of miners with no tax or restriction. Similarly, the California Whigs approved the extension of preemption rights to the bona fide settlers and improvers of private lands in California.30 At the Whig convention, the dominance of King adherents was noted by an opposition newspaper, which foresaw in the Whig organization “the one purpose of sending Mr. Thomas Butler King to the Senate of the United States.” The same paper commented that in “most of the recent nominations for State offices he [King] has triumphed,” but predicted a division in Whig ranks because of King’s success.
Inevitably, because of King’s dominant position in the party and his well-publicized candidacy for the Senate, the administration of the Custom House became a political issue in California. The attacks on King—over the opening of the mails, the new and stringent warehousing and bonding regulations, and the removal of the deposits from the ruins of the federal building—were merely part of the development of party politics in the state. Similarly, the defense of King by Whig papers was also aimed at attracting voters. When the Pacific News switched politics for the second time in three months, a rival welcomed the return to Democratic ranks with a jocular paragraph:
Hung be the Custom House with black. Its worshipper has departed, and now pays his devotions at another shrine.… “King and the Custom House” will give place to the patent and euphonious combination of “Bigler and Democracy.”31
To lead their forces as a candidate for the governorship, the Whigs chose Pearson B. Reading, an “old” Californian of polished manners. In contrast, the Democrats picked as their nominee a raucous ex-dockhand, journeyman printer, and lawyer, known as “Honest John” Bigler. Despite internal divisions, the Democrats claimed the allegiance of the agricultural and mining populations, but conceded San Francisco and Sacramento to the Whigs on the basis of their commercial interests. The platforms of the two parties differed very little. On the most important point, both favored the continued exploitation of government mineral lands for private gain without tax. Beyond that, the Democrats were less emphatic in supporting the claims of squatters on privately owned lands, nor did they subscribe to such sweeping demands for federal financing of internal improvements as did the Whigs.32
A new element was introduced into the campaign by the entry of a third ticket in the San Francisco city elections. In August 1851 members of the famous Vigilance Committee endorsed an Independent ticket of reformers for city offices. Although both Whigs and Democrats were represented on the Independent ticket, the entire list was denounced by the Whigs as a political maneuver to elect four Democrats to key positions, while the other names were declared to be mere window-dressing.33
The last week of August brought a climax of electioneering tactics. At night, “Reading Rangers” paraded about the streets of San Francisco by torchlight, cheering Whig candidates and chanting political doggerel. Both parties brought their campaigns to a close in San Francisco with mass rallies. Senator Gwin and David Colbert Broderick led a procession to the Democratic meeting, while their followers carried banners and transparencies lampooning King. Scenes purporting to illustrate the Collector’s life were shown—King on a throne, with the legend, “Whigs tremble and obey your King”; a tavern with an advertisement, “T. Butler King’s free Grocery at San Jose. Licensed to get drunk on the premises”; and the Collector and his armed cohorts removing the Custom House treasure. The Whigs replied in kind, taunting the Democrats with allusions to “water lots,” San Francisco real estate that figured in a number of charges of political grafting.
On election day, Butler Junior reported the sad news to his mother: “We have not yet received the full returns of the election from the state. But from the appearance of things in general—I don’t think the chances for Fathers election to the U. S. S. are very good.”34
In the state at large the Democrats won the election decisively; in San Francisco, the Independent ticket triumphed. Since the Whigs of the new legislature would constitute only a small minority, King’s election to the Senate was now reckoned impossible. Even so, the Whigs kept up their efforts. The issue did not remain long in doubt, for when the legislature met in January 1852, the Democrats united on the eighth ballot to elect John B. Weller Senator from California. For the second time in twelve months King had failed in his quest for a Senate seat. He brought to the contest acknowledged ability, twenty years of legislative experience, wide knowledge of California, and the full power of organized Whig efforts in the state. They were not enough. Because of division in Democratic ranks, King came close to the senatorship, but once the Democrats had united on a candidate his only hope of election was gone.
These senatorial contests of 1851 and 1852 furnish evidence of the breakup of the two-party system. The national Whig party was drifting toward dissolution. While it lived, it helped to bind the nation together; with its passing disappeared one of the bonds of union. In California, the state which finally upset the North-South balance in the Senate, the Whigs never gained a firm foothold. Under the leadership of Thomas Butler King the Whigs of California made a strong bid to capture the state and send a Whig to the United States Senate. When they failed, California politics became a matter of factional quarrels within the Democratic party, a pattern later repeated in the country at large.
Few California Whigs were surprised by their defeat, and in analyzing its causes they tended to blame the bungling of the national party leaders. Two basic faults were frequently mentioned: the delay of the Fillmore administration in organizing the commission which would confirm land titles, and the failure of the authorities to begin construction of any of the public works authorized by Congress. Secondary reasons were found in disregard by national leaders of patronage recommendations from the state, the defection of the San Francisco Courier, and King’s persistence in maintaining his candidacy. John Wilson, a staunch California Whig, informed Secretary of the Treasury Corwin of his solemn conviction that the administration was to blame for the defeat in the state elections and that “before their time is out, the state will irretrievably be locofoco, for many years to come, and that she will carry Oregon with her.”35 The resentment against the administration, particularly in regard to the appointment of Democrats to office in California, culminated in a protest from the Whig Central Committee and in the nomination of anti-administration delegates to the national convention the following year. A Whig nominee for Congress expressed the widespread bitterness when he asserted that he would campaign for any Whig nominee for the presidency except Fillmore, and added: “Mr. Fillmore has evidently adopted the policy of buying his enemies, without being aware that at the same time he is selling his friends.”36
Upon King’s return to Washington in January 1853, he discovered that the lot of an ex-collector was not a happy one. Although Secretary of the Treasury Corwin had promised quick action on the San Francisco accounts, he delayed their final approval until the last days of the Fillmore administration. His Democratic successor, James Guthrie, introduced reforms in accounting as well as new personnel, and King’s agent for settlement wrote pessimistically of the prospect. It took an act of Congress to relieve King of the responsibility for some of the losses from fire and the intervention of former Secretary of the Treasury Robert J. Walker to sustain some of King’s rulings. The accounting, which King had hoped to conclude quickly, dragged on for years and ended in a series of lawsuits.37 The resulting financial uncertainty was to hamper him in his subsequent business and political career.