From the Preface to the Shorter History of the United States, by Irving Vanderblock-Wheedle.
IT IS CUSTOMARY when placing before the public the fruits of one’s labors to begin by offering some apology or explanation for the work, especially when the field is crowded with similar offerings. In this case, however, no such apology is necessary. Although more than one history of the United States may be found on library shelves, and perhaps even not a few making some claim to brevity, the neglect in such productions of the manifold contributions of Mr. William Rufus DeVane King has become a byword among serious students of history. The snobbish elitism of professional historians is the only conceivable explanation for this scandalous omission, for among the common people the memory of King shines bright, as the numerous cycles of popular legends and ballads about him testify:
Mr. William Rufus DeVane King was Vice-President
Of the United States when in Cuba he was resident,
runs one jump-rope rhyme still heard in schoolyards across the nation. But there is no need to elaborate this point: we all remember the songs and stories from our school days, and the very land around us is littered with evidences of the popular devotion to the memory of this great American. King Street in Alexandria—King George Street in Annapolis (named for King and some man called George, otherwise lost to history)—the designation of Brooklyn as King’s County—all these and countless other tributes may be found scattered across the map by anyone with the ambition to consult an atlas.
Why, then, the notorious neglect of the man and his accomplishments in our standard histories? As we said, the explanation can only be snobbishness; but to what do we owe this peculiar outbreak of that literary disease?
Part of the answer may be found in political prejudice. William Rufus DeVane King was one of the founders of the state of Alabama; but no reasonable observer could hold him entirely responsible for that, since he could not possibly have foreseen the Alabama of today. There is also the matter of his name, of which there seems to be entirely too much, and perhaps historians have been reluctant to bulk up their productions with repeated references to William Rufus DeVane King when the same number of pages could hold many more years of history involving lesser figures with more economical names, such as John Adams. Andrew Jackson, who was noted for his urbane wit, referred to our subject as “Miss Nancy,” and if the name had stuck, we historians might have been spared a great deal of scribbling.
Finally, there is the embarrassing question of slavery. William Rufus DeVane King was one of the largest slaveholders in the South (measured, that is, by number of slaves; the man himself was rather petite), and this fact may have deterred some historians from addressing his other accomplishments. With these reservations we have considerable sympathy. In the present work, we have adopted the attitude of the recent revision of Huckleberry Finn, and have decided to address the issue of William Rufus DeVane King’s slave ownership by pretending that he kept Yorkshire terriers instead.