|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 3, 1929
|Whip||Wesley Livsey Jones|
|Preceded by||Henry Cabot Lodge|
|Succeeded by||James Eli Watson|
|President pro tempore of the U.S. Senate|
December 4, 1911 – December 12, 1911
|Preceded by||Augustus O. Bacon|
|Succeeded by||Augustus O. Bacon|
|United States Senator
March 4, 1915 – March 3, 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)||Anna Elizabeth Baird "Annie" Curtis|
|Children||Permelia Jeannette Curtis
Henry "Harry" King Curtis
Leona Virginia Curtis
Charles Curtis (January 25, 1860 – February 8, 1936) was an American attorney and politician, elected as the 31st Vice President of the United States (1929–33) with President Herbert Hoover. He grew up in both Native American and European-American households.
After serving as a United States Representative, and being repeatedly re-elected as United States Senator from Kansas, Curtis was chosen as Senate Majority Leader by his Republican colleagues. Born in Kansas Territory to a mother of the Kaw Nation, Curtis was the first person with significant Native American ancestry and the first person with acknowledged non-European ancestry to reach either of the highest offices in the United States government's executive branch. He is notable also as an Executive Branch officer born in a territory rather than a state.
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 (after his election as 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 to 1925 and then as Senate Majority Leader from 1925 to 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 voters thought Hoover had failed to alleviate the Great Depression, and elected Democrats 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 was nearly half American Indian in ancestry. His mother Ellen Papin (also spelled Pappan) was one-fourth Kaw, one-fourth Osage, one-fourth Potawatomi and one-fourth French.[dubious ] His father Orren Curtis was European American, of English, Scots, and Welsh ancestry. On his mother's side, Curtis was a descendant of the chiefs White Plume of the Kaw Nation and Pawhuska of the Osage.
Curtis's first words as an infant were in French and Kansa, learned from his mother. She died when he was three but he lived for some time with her family on the Kaw reservation, and returned to them in later years. He learned to love racing horses; later he 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 regalia, and rode out on horseback to confront the Cheyenne. The rival Indian warriors put on display of superb horsemanship, accompanied with war cries and volleys of bullets and arrows. After about four hours, the Cheyenne retired with a few stolen horses and a peace offering of coffee and sugar from the Council Grove merchants. No one had been injured on either side. During the battle, Joe Jim, an interpreter of the Kaw of mixed-race, galloped 60 miles to Topeka to seek assistance from the Governor. Riding with Joe Jim was eight-year-old Charles Curtis, then nicknamed "Indian Charley").
After Curtis' mother's death in 1863, his father remarried, but soon divorced. He later married a third time. Orren Curtis was captured and imprisoned during his Civil War service, and during this period, the infant Charles was cared for by his maternal grandparents. They helped him gain possession of his mother's land in North Topeka, which in the Kaw matrilineal system, he inherited directly from her. His father tried unsuccessfully to get control of this land.
Curtis was strongly influenced by both sets of grandparents. After living on the reservation with his maternal grandparents, M. Papin and Julie Gonville, he returned to Topeka. He lived with his paternal grandparents while attending Topeka High School. Both grandmothers encouraged his education.
Curtis read law in an established firm where he worked part-time. He was admitted to the bar in 1881, and began his practice in Topeka. He served as prosecuting attorney of Shawnee County, Kansas from 1885 to 1889.
Marriage and family
On 27 November 1884, Charles Curtis married Annie Elizabeth Baird (1860–1924). They had three children: Permelia Jeannette Curtis (1886-1955), Henry "Harry" King Curtis (1890-1946), and Leona Virginia Curtis (1892-1965). He and his wife also provided a home for his half-sister Theresa Permelia "Dolly" Curtis. 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 to be unmarried during his entire time in office. Alben W. Barkley, who served as Vice President from 1949 to 1953, entered office as a widower; he remarried while in office.
|This section needs additional citations for verification. (January 2013)|
The zest Curtis showed for horse racing 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 sponsored and helped pass the Curtis Act of 1898; it extended the Dawes Act to the Five Civilized Tribes of Indian Territory. As such, it ended their self-government and provided for allotment of communal land to individual households of tribal members, to be recorded on official rolls. It limited their tribal courts and government. Any lands not allotted were to be considered surplus and could be sold to non-Natives.
Based on his personal experience, Curtis believed that Indians could benefit by getting educated, assimilating, and joining the main society. Implementation of this act completed the extinguishing of tribal land titles in Indian Territory, preparing it to be admitted as the state of Oklahoma, which was done in 1907. The government tried to encourage Indians to accept individual citizenship and lands, and to take up European-American culture. By the end of the century, it had set up boarding schools for Indian children as another method of assimilation.
Curtis re-enrolled in the Kaw tribe, which had been removed from Kansas to Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) when he was in his teens. In 1902 the Kaw Allotment Act disbanded the Kaw nation as a legal entity and provided for the allotment of communal land to members, in a process similar to that described for other tribes. This was the tribe of Curtis and his mother's people. 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) were allotted 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. He resigned after being selected 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 approval 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." Time magazine featured him on the cover in December 1926 and reported, "it is in the party caucuses, in the committee rooms, in the cloakrooms that he patches up troubles, puts through legislation" as one of the two leading senators, with Reed Smoot.
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 his new office. When the pair was inaugurated, he had arranged for a Native American jazz band to 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. (John Ryan, Questions of the Day.) He was 69 when he took office, making him the second-oldest Vice President to date, behind Alben W. Barkley at 71.
Curtis' election as vice president made history because he was the only native Kansan and only Native American to hold the post. The first American of significant Indian ancestry to reach high office, Curtis decorated his office with Native American artifacts and posed for pictures wearing Indian headdresses.
Curtis was remembered for not making many speeches. He was noted for keeping 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, and referred to it, resulting in his being 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," an article in the Star 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. Since Curtis employed a woman as secretary to the Vice President, instead of the customary man, he scored another minor first. Lola M. Williams of Columbus, Kansas, who had been working for Curtis for some time, was one of the first women to enter the Senate floor, traditionally a masculine monopoly. O
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. Democrat 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.
Mrs. John B. Henderson, wealthy widow of the late Missouri senator, lived in a brownstone castle on 16th Street, 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 house, suitable for entertaining. 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 on the cover of Time magazine, December 20, 1926 and June 18, 1928, while serving as US Senator from Kansas.Full-length articles discussed his life and politics.
- He was featured as Vice President on the cover of Time, December 5, 1932.
- 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 races run both honestly and dishonestly. 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
- 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.
- Blackmar, Frank Wilson (1912). Kansas: A Cyclopedia of State History, Embracing Events, Institutions, Industries, Counties, Cities, Towns, Prominent Persons, Etc. Standard Publishing Company. p. 487.
- "The Congress: Quiet Leader". Time. December 20, 1926. Archived from the original on 2008-12-20. Retrieved December 30, 2009.
- Vice-President Charles Curtis, Askville
- "Former Vice President, Charles Curtis. Succumbs". Southeast Missourian. February 8, 1936. p. 1. Retrieved August 13, 2011.
- "Senator Charles Curtis". Time. June 18, 1928. Archived from the original on 2010-11-21. Retrieved December 30, 2009.
- "Lamest Duck". Time. December 5, 1932. Archived from the original on 2009-04-02. 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