Charles Curtis

Charles Curtis
Charles Curtis
31st Vice President of the United States
In office
March 4, 1929 – March 4, 1933
President Herbert Hoover
Preceded by Charles G. Dawes
Succeeded by John Nance Garner
1st United States Senate Majority Leader
In office
March 9, 1925 – March 4, 1929
Deputy Wesley Livsey Jones
Preceded by Henry Cabot Lodge (acting)
Succeeded by James Eli Watson
President pro tempore of the United States Senate
In office
December 4, 1911 – December 12, 1911
Preceded by Augustus O. Bacon
Succeeded by Augustus O. Bacon
United States Senator
from Kansas
In office
January 29, 1907 – March 4, 1913
Preceded by Alfred W. Benson
Succeeded by William H. Thompson
In office
March 4, 1915 – March 4, 1929
Preceded by Joseph L. Bristow
Succeeded by Henry J. Allen
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Kansas's 4th district
In office
March 4, 1893 – March 4, 1899
Preceded by John Grant Otis
Succeeded by James Monroe Miller
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Kansas's 1st district
In office
March 4, 1899 – January 28, 1907
Preceded by Case Broderick
Succeeded by Daniel R. Anthony, Jr.
Personal details
Born January 25, 1860(1860-01-25)
Topeka, Kansas
Died February 8, 1936(1936-02-08) (aged 76)
Washington, D.C.
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Annie Elizabeth Baird Curtis (died on June 20, 1924)
Children Permelia Jeannette Curtis,
Henry "Harry" King Curtis,
Leona Virginia Curtis
Religion Methodist
Signature Cursive signature in ink

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. His maternal ancestry was three-quarters' Native American, of ethnic Kaw, Osage and Pottawatomie ancestry[1]. Curtis spent years of childhood living with his maternal grandparents on their Kaw reservation.

As an attorney, Curtis entered political life early, 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 1914), and then by popular vote (in 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 in January 1860 in Topeka, Kansas Territory prior to the arrival of statehood in January 1861, Vice President Curtis is notable as an Executive Branch officer born in a territory rather than 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. On his mother's side, Curtis was a descendant of Kaw Chief White Plume and Osage Chief Pawhuska.[2]

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.[3] A colorful incident occurred on June 1, 1868, when 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 finery, and sallied forth on horseback to meet the Cheyenne. The two Indian armies put on a military pageant featuring horsemanship, fearsome howls and curses, 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 or “Indian Charley” as he was called.[4]

Curtis' mother 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 taken care of by his paternal Curtis grandparents, especially during high school. They 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.[3]

Curtis was strongly influenced by both sets of grandparents. After living with his maternal grandparents on the reservation, Curtis returned to Topeka to live with his paternal grandparents and to attend Topeka High School. Both his grandmothers encouraged him to get an education.

Afterward Curtis studied ("read") law and worked part-time. Curtis was admitted to the bar in 1881.[3] He commenced practice in Topeka and served as prosecuting attorney of Shawnee County, Kansas from 1885 to 1889.

Marriage and family

Curtis married Anna 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 after her mother died.

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.

Political career

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 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 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 tapped 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 trying to be redesignated by the legislature as senator, but his absence from the Senate was brief.

After passage of the 17th Amendment, which provided for direct election of senators, Curtis was elected by popular vote in 1914 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."[3] 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."[5]

President of the United States Calvin Coolidge, First Lady of the United States Grace Goodhue Coolidge, and Senator Curtis on their way to the Capitol building on Inauguration Day, March 4, 1925.

In 1928 Curtis ran with Herbert Hoover heading the Republican ticket for president and vice-president. Following their landslide 58% – 41% victory, Curtis resigned from the Senate on March 3, 1929 to assume the office of Vice President. The pair was inaugurated 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.)

The problems of the Great Depression led to defeat of the Republican ticket in the next election. Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected as president by a margin of 57% – 40% in 1932. Curtis' term as Vice President ended on March 4, 1933.

After politics

Curtis decided to stay in Washington, D.C. to resume his legal career. There he had a wide network of professional contacts.

He died there on February 8, 1936 from a heart attack.[6] By his wishes, his body was returned to his beloved Kansas and buried next to his wife at the Topeka Cemetery.

Legacy and honors

  • He was featured as Kansas Senator on the cover of Time magazine, 20 December 1926[7] and 18 June 1928;[8] and as Vice President on the cover of Time, 5 December 1932;[9] all with accompanying articles.

Portrayal in film

  • In Whispers like Thunder, a projected film about the three Conley sisters' battle to preserve the Wyandot National Burying Ground in Kansas City, Kansas, the British actor Sir Ben Kingsley will portray Senator Curtis. The senator introduced the bill to keep the land from being sold and designate it a national monument.[10] The film is being produced by Kingsley's SBK Pictures in association with Luis Moro Productions. It was written by Trip Brooks and Luis Moro.
  • 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,[11]
  • 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.[12]

See also


  1. ^ Pearson, Ellen Holmes. "Divided Loyalties?,", accessed August 15, 2011
  2. ^ "Genealogy of Vice President Charles Curtis - Mother's side: Pappan's (of Charles Curtis)". Retrieved July 19, 2010. 
  3. ^ a b c d Charles Curtis, U.S. Senate: Art & History, US, reprinted from Vice Presidents of the United States, 1789–1993, Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1997, accessed 10 August 2008
  4. ^ Unrau, William E. Mixed Bloods and Tribal Dissolution: Charles Curtis and the Quest for Indian Identity, Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1971, 72-75; Crawford, Samuel J. Kansas in the Sixties. Chicago: A.C. McClurg, 1911, p. 289
  5. ^ "The Congress: Quiet Leader". Time magazine. 10 December 1926.,9171,711494,00.html#ixzz0b8l0B8R7. Retrieved 30 December 2009. 
  6. ^ "Former Vice President, Charles Curtis. Succumbs". Southeast Missourian. February 8, 1936. p. 1.,1762809&dq=charles+curtis&hl=en. Retrieved 13 August 2011. 
  7. ^ "The Congress: Quiet Leader". Time magazine. 20 December 1926.,9171,711494,00.html. Retrieved 30 December 2009. 
  8. ^ "Senator Charles Curtis". Time magazine. 18 June 1928.,16641,19280618,00.html. Retrieved 30 December 2009. 
  9. ^ "Lamest Duck". Time magazine. 5 December 1932.,16641,19321205,00.html. Retrieved 21 January 2010. 
  10. ^ Tatiana Siegel, "Ben Kingsley's SBK announces slate", Variety, November 17, 2008, retrieved on November 19, 2008
  11. ^ "Jim Thorpe -- All-American (1951)". The Internet Movie Database. January 21, 2010. Retrieved January 21, 2010. 
  12. ^ "Sporting Blood (1931)". The Internet Movie Database. January 21, 2010. Retrieved January 21, 2010. 

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Charles G. Dawes
Vice President of the United States
March 4, 1929 – March 4, 1933
Succeeded by
John Nance Garner
Preceded by
William P. Frye
President pro tempore of the United States Senate
Rotating pro tems
Succeeded by
James P. Clarke
United States Senate
Preceded by
Joseph L. Bristow
United States Senator (Class 3) from Kansas
March 4, 1915 – March 4, 1929
Served alongside: William H. Thompson, Arthur Capper
Succeeded by
Henry J. Allen
Preceded by
Alfred W. Benson
United States Senator (Class 2) from Kansas
March 4, 1907 – March 4, 1913
Served alongside: Chester I. Long, Joseph L. Bristow
Succeeded by
William H. Thompson
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Case Broderick
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Kansas's 1st congressional district

March 4, 1899 – March 4, 1907
Succeeded by
Daniel R. Anthony, Jr.
Preceded by
John Grant Otis
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Kansas's 4th congressional district

March 4, 1893 – March 4, 1899
Succeeded by
James Monroe Miller
Party political offices
Preceded by
Charles G. Dawes
Republican Party Vice Presidential candidate
1928, 1932
Succeeded by
Frank Knox
Preceded by
Henry Cabot Lodge
Senate Republican Leader
November 9, 1924 – March 3, 1929
Succeeded by
James E. Watson
Preceded by
James Wadsworth, Jr.
New York
Senate Republican Whip
March 4, 1915 – November 9, 1924
Succeeded by
Wesley L. Jones

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