|31st Vice President of the United States|
March 4, 1929 – March 4, 1933
|Preceded by||Charles G. Dawes|
|Succeeded by||John Nance Garner|
|Senate Majority Leader|
March 9, 1925 – March 4, 1929
|Deputy||Wesley Livsey Jones|
|Preceded by||Henry Cabot Lodge|
|Succeeded by||James Eli Watson|
|President pro tempore of the United States Senate|
December 4, 1911 – December 12, 1911
|Preceded by||Augustus O. Bacon|
|Succeeded by||Augustus O. Bacon|
|United States Senator
March 4, 1915 – March 4, 1929
|Preceded by||Joseph L. Bristow|
|Succeeded by||Henry J. Allen|
January 29, 1907 – March 4, 1913
|Preceded by||Alfred W. Benson|
|Succeeded by||William H. Thompson|
|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Kansas's 1st district|
March 4, 1899 – January 28, 1907
|Preceded by||Case Broderick|
|Succeeded by||Daniel R. Anthony, Jr.|
|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Kansas's 4th district|
March 4, 1893 – March 4, 1899
|Preceded by||John Grant Otis|
|Succeeded by||James Monroe Miller|
January 25, 1860|
|Died||February 8, 1936
|Spouse(s)||Annie Elizabeth Baird Curtis (died on June 20, 1924)|
|Children||Permelia Jeannette Curtis,
Henry "Harry" King Curtis,
Leona Virginia Curtis
Charles Curtis (January 25, 1860 – February 8, 1936) was a United States Representative, a longtime United States Senator from Kansas later chosen as Senate Majority Leader by his Republican colleagues, and the 31st Vice President of the United States (1929–1933). He was the first person with significant acknowledged Native American ancestry and the first person with significant acknowledged non-European ancestry to reach either of the two highest offices in the United States government's executive branch. He was enrolled in the Kaw tribe and his maternal ancestry was three-quarters Native American: Kaw, Osage and Pottawatomie. His father was European-American. Curtis spent years of childhood living with his maternal grandparents on their Kaw reservation.
As an attorney, Curtis entered political life at the age of 32, winning multiple terms from his district in Topeka, Kansas, starting in 1892 as a Republican to the US House of Representatives. He was elected to the US Senate first by the Kansas Legislature (in 1906), and then by popular vote (in 1914, 1920 and 1926), serving one six-year term from 1907 to 1913, and then most of three terms from 1915 to 1929 (when he became Vice President). His long popularity and connections in Kansas and national politics helped make Curtis a strong leader in the Senate; he marshaled support to be elected as Senate Minority Whip from 1915–1925 and then as Senate Majority Leader from 1925–1929. In these positions, he was instrumental in managing legislation and accomplishing Republican national goals.
Curtis ran for Vice-President with Herbert Hoover as President in 1928. They won a landslide victory. Although they ran again in 1932, the population saw Hoover as failing to alleviate the Great Depression, and they were defeated by Franklin D. Roosevelt and John Nance Garner.
Early life and education
Born on January 25, 1860 in Topeka, Kansas Territory, prior to its admission as a state in January 1861, Charles Curtis is notable as an Executive Branch officer born in a territory rather than a state of the Union. Curtis was nearly half American Indian in ancestry. His mother, Ellen Papin (also spelled Pappan), was one-fourth French, one-fourth Kaw, one-fourth Osage, and one-fourth Pottawatomie. His father, Orren Curtis, was an American of English, Scots and Welsh ancestry. His paternal grandparents were William Curtis and Permelia Hubbard. William's parents were Thomas Curtis and Eunice Peet from early Connecticut. On his mother's side, Curtis was a descendant of the chiefs White Plume and Pawhuska, of the Kaw and Osage, respectively.
From his mother, Curtis first learned French and Kansa. As a boy living with his mother and her family on the Kaw reservation, he started racing horses. Curtis was a highly successful jockey in prairie horse races. On June 1, 1868, one hundred Cheyenne warriors invaded the Kaw Reservation. Terrified White settlers took refuge in nearby Council Grove. The Kaw men painted their faces, donned their regalia, and rode forth on horseback to meet the Cheyenne. The two Indian armies put on a military pageant featuring horsemanship, war cries, and volleys of bullets and arrows. After four hours, the Cheyenne retired with a few stolen horses and a peace offering of coffee and sugar by the Council Grove merchants. Nobody was hurt on either side. During the battle, the mixed-blood Kaw interpreter, Joe Jim, galloped 60 miles to Topeka to request assistance from the Governor. Riding along with Joe Jim was eight-year old Curtis (also called “Indian Charley”).
Curtis' mother had died in 1863 when the boy was three. His father remarried and divorced, then married again. The elder Curtis was imprisoned because of an event during his service in the American Civil War. During this time, Charles was cared for by both sets of grandparents. His Curtis grandparents helped him gain possession of his mother's land in North Topeka, which he inherited despite his father's attempt to gain control of the land.
Curtis was strongly influenced by both sets of grandparents. After living on the reservation with his maternal grandparents, Julie Gonville and M. Papin, Curtis returned to Topeka. He lived with his Curtis grandparents while attending Topeka High School. Both his grandmothers encouraged him to get an education.
Afterward Curtis read law in an established firm and worked part-time. Curtis was admitted to the bar in 1881. He commenced practice in Topeka and served as prosecuting attorney of Shawnee County, Kansas from 1885 to 1889.
Marriage and family
Charles Curtis married Annie Elizabeth Baird (1860–1924), with whom he had three children: Permelia Jeannette Curtis, Henry "Harry" King Curtis and Leona Virginia Curtis. He and his wife also provided a home for his half-sister Theresa Permelia "Dolly" Curtis and then after his wife died in 1924.
A widower when elected Vice President in 1928, Curtis had his half-sister "Dolly" Curtis Gann live with him in Washington, DC and act as his hostess for social events. To date, Curtis is the last Vice President who was unmarried while in office.
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The zest Curtis showed for horse racing (he was a jockey in his youth) was expressed in his political career. First elected as a Republican to the House of Representatives of the 53rd Congress, Curtis was re-elected for the following six terms. He made the effort to learn about his many constituents and treated them as personal friends.
While serving as a Congressman, Curtis originated and helped pass the Curtis Act of 1898, with provisions that included bringing the Five Civilized Tribes of Oklahoma under land allotment and restructuring provisions. It limited their tribal courts and government. By his own experience, Curtis believed that the Indians could benefit by getting educated, assimilating and joining the main society. The government tried to encourage Indians to accept individual citizenship and lands, and to take up European-American culture. In application of these goals, some administrators went too far in terms of threats and breaking down families. (see Indian Boarding Schools)
With his ties in Congress, Curtis was always abreast of changes in Indian law and programs. He re-enrolled with the Kaw tribe, which had been removed from Kansas to Oklahoma when he was in his teens. In 1902 the Kaw Allotment Act disbanded the Kaw nation as a legal entity. This was the tribe of Curtis and his mother. The act transferred 160 acres (0.6 km²) of former tribal land to the federal government. Other land formerly held in common was allocated to individual tribal members. Under the terms of the act, as enrolled tribal members, Curtis (and his three children) received about 1,625 acres (6.6 km²) in total of Kaw land in Oklahoma.
Curtis served in the House from March 4, 1893 until January 28, 1907, when he resigned, after being chosen by the Kansas Legislature, to fill the short unexpired term of Senator Joseph R. Burton in the United States Senate. On that same day of January 28, Curtis was also chosen by Kansas' state lawmakers for the full senatorial term commencing March 4 of that year and ending March 4, 1913. In 1912 he was unsuccessful in gaining the legislature's designation again as senator, but his absence from the Senate was brief.
After passage of the 17th Amendment, which provided for direct election of senators, in 1914 Curtis was elected by popular vote for the six-year Senate term commencing March 4, 1915. He was re-elected to the Senate in 1920 and again in 1926. Curtis served without interruption from March 4, 1915 until his resignation on March 3, 1929, after being elected as Vice-President.
During his tenure in the Senate, Curtis was President pro tempore of the Senate as well as Chairman of the Committee on Expenditures in the Department of the Interior, of the Committee on Indian Depredations, and of the Committee on Coast Defenses, as well as of the Republican Conference.
In 1923 Senator Curtis, together with fellow Kansan, Representative Daniel Read Anthony, Jr., proposed the first version of the Equal Rights Amendment to the United States Constitution to each of their Houses. The amendment did not go forward.
Curtis' leadership abilities were demonstrated by his election as United States Senate Republican Whip from 1915 to 1924 and Majority Leader from 1925 to 1929. He was effective in collaboration and moving legislation forward in the Senate. Idaho Senator William Borah acclaimed Curtis "a great reconciler, a walking political encyclopedia and one of the best political poker players in America." As Time magazine reported when featuring him on the cover in December 1926: "It is in the party caucuses, in the committee rooms, in the cloakrooms that he patches up troubles, puts through legislation."
Vice President of the United States
In 1928 Curtis ran with Herbert Hoover heading the Republican ticket for president and vice-president. Following their landslide 58% to 41% victory, Curtis resigned from the Senate on March 3, 1929 to assume the office of Vice President. The pair was inaugurated, he had an Indian jazz band perform, on March 4, 1929. Soon after the Great Depression began, Curtis endorsed the five-day work week, with no reduction in wages, as a work-sharing solution to unemployment. (See John Ryan's book Questions of the Day.)
Curtis' nomination for vice president made history because he was the only native Kansan and only Indian to hold the post. As the first American of Indian ancestry to reach high office, he decorated his office with Native American artifacts and posed for pictures wearing Indian headdresses.
Curtis was remembered for not making many speeches. The same Star article also said that he had the "best card index of the state ever made." Curtis used a black book, later a card index, to write down all the people he met while he was in office or campaigning, causing him to be known for "his remarkable memory for faces and names."
"Never a pension letter, or any other letter for that matter, came in that wasn't answered promptly," the article stated. "And another name went into the all-embracing card index. The doctors were listed. The farm leaders. The school teachers. The lists were kept up to date. How such an intricate index could be kept up to date and function so smoothly was a marvel to his associates. It was one of Curtis' prides."
Curtis was celebrated as a "stand patter," the most regular of Republicans, and yet a man who could always bargain with his party's progressives and with senators from across the center aisle. Newspapers claimed that Curtis knew the Senate rules better than any other senator and declared him "the most competent man in Congress to look after the legislative program of the administration."
He was the first Vice President to take the oath of office on a Bible in the same manner as the President always had. Since Curtis employed a woman as secretary to the Vice President, instead of the customary man, he scored another minor first. Miss Lola M. Williams of Columbus, Kansas, who had been working for Curtis for some time, became one of the first females to venture out on the Senate floor, traditionally a masculine monopoly. The Topeka Drum Corps, featuring an eighty-two year-old fife player, journeyed to Washington to drum him into office; it WAS claimed that this had always been done for Curtis since he became county attorney in 1884. Other hokum in the tradition of American politics included the presentation of several gavels and the receipt of a comical telegram from the leader of an Indian delegation from Oklahoma, asking for horses to meet the train so the squaws and children wouldn't have to walk, n humorous way of asking that transportation from the station be provided."
After the Stock Market Crash in 1929, the problems of the Great Depression led to the defeat of the Republican ticket in the next election. Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected as president by a margin of 57% to 40% in 1932. Curtis' term as Vice President ended on March 4, 1933, and he was succeeded by John Garner.
Curtis' search for status revived the issue of an official vice-presidential residence. The wealthy widow of Missouri Senator John B. Henderson lived in a brownstone castle on 16th Street, on a hillside several blocks north of the White House. For years Mrs. Henderson had lobbied to rechristen 16th Street as the Avenue of the Presidents and had persuaded many embassies to locate along the street—by selling them inexpensive parcels of land. Mrs. Henderson became convinced that the street would be the perfect location for a permanent vice-presidential dwelling, suitable for entertaining, and she offered to give the government a house overlooking Meridian Hill Park, whose land she had also contributed to the city. Earlier, Vice President Calvin Coolidge had declined a similar offer
Curtis decided to stay in Washington, D.C. to resume his legal career as he had a wide network of professional contacts from his long career in public service.
Legacy and honors
- He was featured as Kansas Senator on the cover of Time magazine, December 20, 1926 and June 18, 1928; and as Vice President on the cover of Time, December 5, 1932; all with accompanying articles.
- His house in Topeka, Kansas has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places and designated as a state historic site; the Charles Curtis House Museum is now operated as a house museum.
Portrayal in film
- In Jim Thorpe – All-American (1951), a biopic about Native-American Olympian Jim Thorpe, newsreel footage from the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics includes Vice President Charles Curtis opening the Olympics.
- In Sporting Blood (1931), Gambler Warren 'Rid' Riddell (Clark Gable) wins a racehorse, Tommy Boy, on a bet. Rid consistently wins with the horse in both honestly and dishonestly run races. Vice President Charles Curtis is shown in newsreel footage of the 1931 Kentucky Derby included in the film.
- Curtis Act of 1898
- List of Chairpersons of the College Republicans
- List of people on the cover of Time Magazine: 1920s — December 20, 1926 and June 18, 1928
- List of people on the cover of Time Magazine: 1930s — December 5, 1932.
- Pearson, Ellen Holmes. "Divided Loyalties?". Teachinghistory.org. Retrieved August 15, 2011.
- Christensen, Lee R. The Curtis Peet Ancestry of Charles Curtis Vice-President of the United States 4 March 1929-3 March 1933.
- "Genealogy of Vice President Charles Curtis - Mother's side: Pappans (of Charles Curtis)". VPCharlesCurtis.net. Retrieved July 19, 2010.
- "Charles Curtis, 31st Vice President (1929-1933)". U.S. Senate: Art & History. US Senate.gov. Retrieved December 14, 2011., reprinted from Vice Presidents of the United States, 1789–1993. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office. 1997.
- Unrau, William E. (1971). Mixed Bloods and Tribal Dissolution: Charles Curtis and the Quest for Indian Identity. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press. pp. 72–75. and Crawford, Samuel J. (1911). Kansas in the Sixties. Chicago, IL: A.C. McClurg. p. 289.
- "The Congress: Quiet Leader". Time. December 10, 1926. Retrieved December 30, 2009.
- "Former Vice President, Charles Curtis. Succumbs". Southeast Missourian. February 8, 1936. p. 1. Retrieved August 13, 2011.
- "The Congress: Quiet Leader". Time. December 20, 1926. Retrieved December 30, 2009.
- "Senator Charles Curtis". Time. June 18, 1928. Retrieved December 30, 2009.
- "Lamest Duck". Time. December 5, 1932. Retrieved January 21, 2010.
- Charles Curtis House Museum, official website
- "Jim Thorpe – All-American (1951)". The Internet Movie Database. January 21, 2010. Retrieved January 21, 2010.
- "Sporting Blood (1931)". The Internet Movie Database. January 21, 2010. Retrieved January 21, 2010.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Charles Curtis.|
- Charles Curtis at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress
- "Charles Curtis; Native-American Indian Vice-President; a biography", Vice President Charles Curtis Website
- Whispers Like Thunder, Moro Films official movie web site
- Don C. Seitz, From Kaw Teepee to Capitol; The Life Story of Charles Curtis, Indian, Who Has Risen to High Estate, full text, Hathi Trust Digital Library
- Charles Curtis House Museum, official website