Charles Curtis was the most famous Kansan political leader of his era. After studying law with Topeka attorney, A. H. (Hib) Case in 1879, Charles Curtis was admitted to the bar in 1881 at the age of 21 years old. His office was located at rooms three & four at 406 Kansas Avenue, and criminal law was his specialty. He had many law cases. One was the killing of an Indian by a white man. The argument he used was if the murdered man had been a white man, the man who did the killing would have thought more about and probably not have committed murder. The saying "the only good Indian is a dead Indian" was very strong in this time period, as was "shoot first and ask questions later". He won the majority of the criminal cases that he worked on.
From 1885 (he was 25 years old) to 1889 he was Prosecuting Attorney for Shawnee county, Topeka, Kansas. Charles Curtis had warned the voters, "If you don't want the laws enforced, then don't vote for me." He enforced the law so much, he had all the saloons closed down in Topeka within thirty days. He was the first Prosecuting Attorney to do so. The barkeepers would ask him, "Hey Charley, why aren't you giving us a break?" He would tell them, "I am enforcing the law." After he was no longer attorney for Shawnee county, other Prosecuting Attornies would allow the bars to stay open, until later (1899) when Carrie Nation came along.
A conservative Republican lawyer from Kansas, Charles Curtis sat (1892-1906) in the U.S. House of Representatives. In January 1907, Curtis was chosen by the state legislature to fill an unexpired term in the U.S. Senate. Some of the local townspeople were perplexed about what to call Charles Curtis now. For years, he was "Charley" to them, now they didn't know what to call him. He replied, "Well, I guess you need to call me Charles from now on.
In 1907, Charles Curtis was re-elected to the Senate for the 1907-1913. In 1912, Charles Curtis suffered a brief political defeat when he lost for re-nomination to the U.S. Senate in the GOP Primary.
WASHINGTON - THE DAILY MIRROR, DECEMBER 30:
Senator Curtis a "Back-row and Cloakroom Leader""Mr. Curtis, who might ask for and have any seat he chose, prefers the back row, on the aisle which divides the Republican side from the Democratic side of the house, the other end of the row from the one young Bob La Follette as a neophyte occupies.
Senator Curtis' seat has certain advantages. It is two steps away from the Republican cloakroom door, also an equal number of steps away from the Democratic cloakroom door. Senators leaving the cloakroom or around on the floor may stop and whisper to the Republican leader or he may ease into the cloakroom, where most leading is done.
The choice of this seat is Mr. Curtis'. He leads from the rear. He does not get out in front and say " Come on, boys; follow me". All of his leading is done before the session begins or in whispers in the cloakroom. He does not try to gain glory that anyone else might be, or by standing on his legs and replying in opposition. He knows every egotism there is on either side of the chamber and never clashes with it or arouses any jealousy. He cares only for results which is hard enough to get and is similar to advertising. He is a back-row, cloakroom leader."
After being defeated for reelection in 1912, he won the nomination from Senator Joseph L. Bristow in 1914; Charles Curtis won in a tight multi-candidate race: Charles Curtis (Republican)- 36%, Congressman George Neeley (Democrat)- 35% and Congressman Victor Murdock (Progressive)- 23%.
Charles Curtis re-entered the Senate, where some of his major concerns were; Indian rights, farmers rights and women's rights. Charles Curtis won re-elections to the Senate in 1920, and in 1926, carrying a massive 64% in each of those elections.
A day for Senator Charles Curtis
6:30 AM Charles Curtis arises for the coming day
7:45 AM His breakfast is served by Mina Johnson.
9:00 AM Charles Curtis "autos" to his office
1:00 PM Lunches out with other senators
--- PM Takes late afternoon walks of three miles
6:00 PM Dines with his sister or attends a banquet
10:00 PM Reads "weighty" literature
11:00 PM Retires to bed for the night
10:00 AM Returns to his office on Sundays
A Glance at the Record of Senator Charles Curtis
Among the legislative proposals Senator Curtis actively has supported are:1) Woman Suffrage Amendment
2) Soldiers' Adjusted Compensation Bill
3) Anti-Child Labor Amendment
4) Bill to give Union men the right to trial by jury in
contempt cases growing out of acts committed
outside the court's presence
5) Anti-Narcotic Legislation
6) Bill for protection of American women who
7) Bill making all Indians citizens of the U.S.A.
8) Bill exempting Labor unions from Sherman Law
9) Parts of the Tariff Act protecting farm interests
10) Plan to help wheat growers whose crops failed
11) Hepburn railroad bill eliminating discrimination
12) Bill providing for purchase of $50,000,000 issue
of Farm Loan Bonds to enable board to make
loans to farmers at low interest rate
A list of different committees that Charles Curtis served on at the same time:Charles Curtis served as Senate Republican Whip from 1915-1925, and as first Senate Majority Leader from 1925-1929.
1) Senate Leader
2) Rules Committee
3) Finance Committee
4) Appropriations Committee
5) Indian Affairs Committee
6) Steering Committee
"Of course, it was the same Senate -- the 69th. There was Senator Charles Curtis, the Republican leader, getting up from his back row seat and going out with Senator Reed Smoot, the tall, lean Mormon, who is the Chairman of the Finance Committee. When the latter speaks, it is with a dry, holy passion for financial soundness. Mr. Curtis rarely speaks, but together they steer, or attempt to steer the Senate. Last week they brought peace into the Republican ranks, placated the insurgents with good committeeships.
"TIME" Vol.VIII. No. 25
December 20, 1926 15 cents
Senator Charles Curtis on the cover
".......from Kaws to caucuses"
On the floor the Democrats scoffed at these peace gestures - and who could scoff better than Senator Pat Harrison, the jester from Mississippi? Grinning malignantly at the Republican side of the Chamber, he said: "You've had political toothache ever since the November elections and now you are applying every remedy to ease your suffering and your pain." Then he looked at Senator David A. Reed of Pennsylvania and aid "Mellon's man Friday"; turned to lame duck Senator Herreld with something about a "tall gusher from Oklahoma."
Senators laughed; they always did laugh at Pat Harrison when they have nothing else to do. The first week of a Senate session is more vaudevillian than legislative. It helps the new Senators become acclimated. This session there are only four newly-elected ones: Arthur R. Gould of Maine, Republican, 6 ft 2 in., healthy and 70; Harry B. Hawes of Missouri, Democrat, able fisherman and breeder of pedigreed hogs; David W. Stewart of Iowa, Republican, portly, bald and 41; David I. Walsh of Massachusetts, Democrat, bachelor, with a deep, rich voice (he had been in the Senate before).
Regardless of party, these Senators will soon learn to admire the Republican leader in the dark suit in the back row - Senator Charles Curtis.
. . . . .In the blood of this man was the Frenchman, the Indian, and the Yankee - to be exact: 7/16 French, 1/16 Indian, 8/16 Yankee. Many years ago, when the 19th century was an infant, a comely daughter came to White Plume, chief of the Kaw tribe of Kansas. She was the great-grandmother of Senator Charles Curtis; she married a swashbuckling young Frenchman named Conville, who had hammered down his stakes near St. Louis. Their daughter married Louis Pappan, a French trader - from which wedlock sprang the mother of the Senator. Captain O. A. Curtis, his father had come the Kansas from New Hampshire.
Charles' mother died early and he went to live with his grandmother on the Kaw reservation. There he frolicked with young redskins, taught tricks to puppies, rode ponies. At 8, he was a jockey in a state fair; Kansans cheered lustily for "ol' Captain Curtis' boy." There is a story that he was a Paul Revere at the age of 10; he rode 60 miles to Topeka to bring aid to the Kaws when the Cheyennes swooped down on their reservation. When the Kaws were sent to new lands in Oklahoma, he started out to go with them, but his family said: "No, Charles, you must go to school." So, Charles went to school in the winter; jockeyed and worked in a livery stable in the summer.
Then there must of have been some mysterious protoplasmic resolution within him, for his New England blood took the upper hand. It suggested that he give up the livery stable for the law. He obeyed. At 21, he was admitted to the bar; at 24, he was elected Prosecuting Attorney of Shawnee County. Although backed by many a Wet, Mr. Curtis soon gave notice that he was a Dry, closed the saloons, was re-elected. Later, he accumulated a comfortable little income as a criminal lawyer, and in 1893 was elected to Congress, where, except for two years, he has been ever since. In the House he served 14 years; in the Senate he is now on his 17th.
Politically, Mr. Curtis is a man of the party - a staunch, conservative Republican. When the railroads (Missouri Pacific, Rock Island, Santa Fe, Union Pacific), once dominant in Kansas politics, backed his campaigns for Congress, he was their faithful watchman. He was an indifferent speaker. He is no orator today; seldom does he speak from the floor. It is in the party caucuses, in the committee rooms, in the cloakrooms that he patches troubles, puts through legislation. His friends are many; his personality vexes few; the public is not conscious of him.
On the death of Senator Henry Cabot Lodge in 1924, Senator Curtis took over the reins of Republican leadership. Previously he had been the assistant leader, busy salving the wounds which Senator Lodge had inflicted upon his fellow Republicans. As leader, Senator Curtis, for the first time in recent years, succeeded in closing the short session of the 68th Congress on March 4, 1925, without all-night sessions. He kept the calendar clear, the legislative machinery grinding. Nothing roils Senator Curtis more than blocs and filibusters.
Occasionally, this legislative technician takes a day or two of rest and goes to Baltimore to see the races. Then the poker face of the Senator is metamorphosed into the Paul Revere of the Kaws; the drooping mustache stiffins, his eyes gleam, the dash of blood from the daughter of White Plume swirls . . . . . . . And, inevitably, the senior Senator from Kansas returns to his caucuses. . . . . .
Charles Curtis unsuccessfully sought the nomination for President in 1928, finishing in third place at the 19th Republican National Convention in Kansas City, Missouri, June 12, 13, 14, 15; with 6% - far behind victorious nominee Herbert Hoover. He did carry all of Kansas, Oklahoma and Ohio in ballots. Charles Curtis, however, won the contested fight for the Vice Presidential nomination. After other nominees declined their nominations in favor of Senator Charles Curtis, these men are Governor Chase S. Osborn of Michigan, Governor Sam A. Baker of Missouri, Senator John Q. Tilson of Connecticut, Governor Alvan T. Fuller of Massachusetts. There was no such declining in the Presidential nominations. Charles Curtis had the motion of seconding his nomination for Vice-president many times, his daughter Leona virginia Curtis Knight, delegate of Rhode Island was about fifth place in seconding his nomination. He gave an unofficial acceptance speech at Convention Hall in Kansas City (where was Herbert Hoover? hhmmm..........). Charles Curtis gave his official acceptance speech in Topeka, Kansas.
The Hoover-Curtis ticket won in a 58% - 41% landslide over Democrat Al Smith of New York.
TIME 1932 Charles Curtis
For the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles, California; at the request of President Hoover, Vice-President Charles Curtis opened the Games for the United States. An actual recording of Charles Curtis announcements can be heard in the movie "The Jim Thorpe Story".
As to the rumors of Charles Curtis "little black book", Charles Curtis himself admitted that it existed. He used it for when he was campaigning in Kansas, he switched to a Rolo-dex when he went to Washington D.C. He kept track of every possible voter and congressman, their tastes and dislikes. This was to continue throughout his entire political career. This "black book" was to be destroyed after his political career was ended. No record of it has been found.
Charles Curtis did not like being Vice President very much. He did not like Herbert Hoover and Herbert Hoover did not like him. They played their parts well in the public as good friends, but they were really not. Charles Curtis was just a President-In-Waiting.
Some of his favorite hobbies were playing poker and horse racing, he did not smoke and he liked to eat nuts and candy.
The Great Depression struck in 1929 and worsened over the remaining Hoover-Curtis years. The same Republican team of Hoover-Curtis was badly defeated in their re-election bid in a 57% - 40% landslide by the Democratic candidates, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and John Nance Garner.
Re-election Button 1932
Charles Curtis returned to his law practice. Charles Curtis died (at the age of 76) of a heart attack, 10:25 am, alone, in Washington D.C. on Feb. 8, 1936.
Charles Curtis holds many political records:
1. Only native Kansan to hold the 2nd highest office. (Eisenhower born in Texas)
2. Elected to political office for 38 years.
3. First politician with traceable (half) Indian ancestry, lived on an Indian reservation as a child to hold high political office.
4. Only Vice-President to light Washington D.C. Christmas tree.
5. Only person to have his funeral conducted in the Kansas Capitol in Topeka.
6. Has a plaque dedicated to his memory on the south steps of the State Capitol Building in Topeka.
7. His father Orin Arms Curtis was a Civil War veteran.
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Web Site History/the designer
Timeline A: The Indians in Kansas
Timeline B : The timelines of Kansas and the USA
Timeline C - Major events and Famous Firsts
Biography A : Charles Curtis and his extended family genealogy.
Biography B : Charles Curtis (before going into Politics)
Politics and Beliefs of Charles Curtis
Legacy left by Charles Curtis
Memorials and donations
Charles Curtis home in Topeka, Kansas
Signature Bldg. New Kansas State Office Building named for Charles Curtis
Resources and recommended books for reading.
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