Photo above: Wright Brothers airplane 1903. Right: Mesa Verde Cliff Dwelling. Photos courtesy Library of Congress.
U.S. Timeline - The 1900s
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January 23, 1907 - The first Native American Senator, Charles Curtis, from Kansas, is elected to office.
Charles Curtis was born on January 25, 1860 in North Topeka, Kansas Territory. His mother was one quarter Kaw Indian (part Osage, Potawatomie, and French), a descendent of White Plume, a Kansa-Kaw chief who had assisted the Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1904. His father was white with other descendents reaching back to French-Canadian roots. Due to the mixed heritage, his grandmother had been given a plot across from Topeka, not on the traditional reservation, and ran a profitable ferry business. Charles Curtis grew up learning French and Kansa before English. At the age of six, he moved with his maternal grandparents to the Kaw Reservation. Within a few years, he returned to Topeka to live with his paternal grandparents, who owned a racetrack. Charles Curtis became a jockey in 1869 and raced until 1876, retiring that year to attend school after turning down an offer to race at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition.
While his formative years were spent between both Indian and white culture, at the age of sixteen, Charles Curtis began attending Topeka High School, then studied law, before admittance into the Kansas bar at the age of twenty-one. His first election in 1884 was for Shawnee County Attorney, which he won on the Republican ticket. After losing his first effort to fill a vacancy in the House of Representatives in 1889, Curtis won election in 1893 as a Republican congressman, one of only 124 in the House against 218 Democrats and 14 Populists.
In 1903, Charles Curtis wanted to move to the Senate, but agreed to wait until the next opening, allowing Republican colleague Chester Long to run. In 1906, the next opening occurred. Current Senator Joseph Burton, indicted and convicted for violating federal statues, resigned on June 4. With the Kansas State Legislature out of session (state legislatures at the time appointed Senators), a caretaker was appointed by the Kansas Governor before a campaign for the Senate within the legislature convened. Curtis was pro-tariff and pro-railroad. The Emporia Gazette editor, William Allen White, stating to President Theodore Roosevelt at the time, ...
"Two railroad attorneys when I asked them why they were for Curtis, frankly told me in confidence of friendship that orders came from higher up to be for Curtis and they are obeying orders."
The Kansas State legislature voted to elect Charles Curtis on January 23, 1907.
A quote from Charles Curtis shows, in part, how he approached issues. "There are only two ways to be quite unprejudiced and impartial. One is to be completely ignorant. The other is to be completely indifferent. Bias and prejudice are attitudes to be kept in hand, not attitudes to be avoided."
Becoming Vice President
During his years in the Senate, Curtis rose through political circles and became a trusted advisor to President Warren Harding. In 1925, he rose to the position of Majority Leader in the Senate. By 1928, Charles Curtis had thought of running for President many times, but Herbert Hoover, the Commerce Secretary, also harbored that ambition. Hoover was not popular in farm states due to his policies about farm aid during World War I. Curtis announced for President, but ran a back room campaign, hoping for a deadlocked convention. However, Hoover won the Republican nomination easily, recieving 837 of 1,084 votes, during their convention despite Curtis speaking out against the nomination. Charles Curtis got only 64 votes.
Charles Curtis was nominated to be Hoover's Vice Presidential running mate; he accepted due to allegiance to the Republican Party who needed a farm state Senator to balance the ticket. His stance on farm relief was popular with residents of the midwest. The Hoover-Curtis ticket won the presidency on November 6, 1928 over Democratic nominees Alfred Smith for President and Joseph T. Robinson for Vice President in a landslide, 444 Electoral votes to 87.
During their only term in office, Hoover did not rely on Curtis for advice and their relationship was strained at it had been at the Republican convention. Curtis presided over the Senate, but rarely met with the President on issues or socially. Neither had mentioned the other during their inaugural addresses.
Check out Chronology, A Collection of 50 Short Essays Within the Timeline of American History.
March 4, 1893 - Inducted into the House of Representatives for his first term as Congressman, serving until January 28, 1907.
January 23, 1907 - Elected to the United States Senate to fill out the term of Senator Joseph Burton, and simultaneously elected to serve the succeeding term.
January 29, 1907 - First day of service in the United States Senate. During term, Curtis served as the President Pro Tempore of the Senate in the 62nd Congress. He lost his reelection campaign in 1912 after support for the high tariff legislation, the Payne-Aldrich Tariff, caused a split in the Republican Party. Curtis lost the nomination to another Republican, who also lost the seat.
March 4, 1915 - Seventeenth Admendment causes direct election of Senators. Charles Curtis runs for Senate again, defeating the Democratic and Progressive candidates in 1914 election due to voter concerns of the economic recession and World War I. Inaugurated on this date, serving as a Senator through March 3, 1929.
March 4, 1929 - On winning ticket of Herbert Hoover and inaugurated on this date as Vice President of the United States, serving for one term. The Hoover-Curtis ticket lost their reelection bid on November 8, 1932 to Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt, 472 Electoral College votes to 59, due in large part to the economic depression and stock market collapse of 1929.
Photo above: Charles Curtis, 1908, G.V. Buck. Courtesy Library of Congress. Below: Vice President Charles Curtis and President Herbert Hoover, 1928, Harris and Ewing. Courtesy Library of Congress. Source: Biographical Directory of the United States Congress; Senate.gov History; Kansas Historical Society; azquotes.com; vpcharlescurtis.net; Wikipedia Commons.
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