Charles Curtis

Charles Curtis (January 25, 1860 – February 8, 1936) was an American attorney and Republican politician from Kansas who served as the 31st vice president of the United States from 1929 to 1933. He also previously served as the Senate Majority Leader from 1924 to 1929. A member of the Kaw Nation born in the Kansas Territory, Curtis was the first person with any Native American ancestry and with acknowledged non-European ancestry to reach either of the highest offices in the federal executive branch. He is the highest-ranking enrolled Native American ever to serve in the federal government. He is the most recent Executive Branch officer to have been born in a territory rather than a state. Based on his personal experience, Curtis believed that Indians could benefit from mainstream education and assimilation. Curtis entered political life when he was 32 years old and won several terms from his district in Topeka, Kansas, beginning in 1892 as a Republican to the United States House of Representatives. While serving as a Representative, 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, after they were registered on official rolls. It limited their tribal courts and government. Any lands not allotted were to be considered surplus by the federal government, which sold plots to non-Natives. Implementation of this act completed the extinguishing of tribal land titles in Indian Territory, which prepared the larger territory 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 was elected to the US Senate first by the Kansas Legislature in 1906 and then by popular vote in 1914, 1920, and 1926. Curtis served 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 Republican Whip from 1915 to 1924 and then as Senate Majority Leader from 1924 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. When they ran together again in 1932, during the Great Depression, the public elected Democrats Franklin D. Roosevelt and John Nance Garner in a subsequent landslide.

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