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Kansan Charles Curtis: First Native American Vice President

Charles Curtis

When Charles Curtis of Topeka, Kansas served as a United States Representative in 1892, he became the first person with significant Native American and acknowledged non-European ancestry to do so. This would be the beginning of a rather long list of “firsts” he would achieve.

Curtis's Political Career Begins

Born on Jan. 25, 1860 to a mother of the Kaw Nation, Curtis is recognized also for being one of the only Executive Branch officers born in a territory rather than a state. Curtis, who had first worked as an attorney, entered the political field at the age of 32, when he joined the ranks of the United States House of Representatives in 1892. Curtis served Kansas’s fourth district until 1899 when he moved to the first district. He remained a republican Representative in the first district until resigning to take a position in the Senate in 1907.

A Seat in the Senate

Curtis then became the first Native American to serve in the U.S. Senate. According to a website dedicated to Curtis, he still holds a Senate record for serving on the most subcommittees at one time. He was initially elected to the Senate by the Kansas Legislature, but was re-elected by popular votes in 1914, 1920 and 1926.

Curtis’s success continued. He developed connections in Kansas and national politics and he quickly rose through the ranks. He was elected Senate Minority Whip in 1915 and remained so until 1925, at which time he became a Senate Majority Leader. He was the first Native American to serve in either of these roles. While in the senate, Curtis was instrumental in accomplishing national goals for the Republican party and managing legislation.

America's First Native American Vice President

Offered a spot as Vice President on the Republican ticket in 1928, Curtis would be the running mate of Herbert Hoover. The two won by a landslide, making Curtis not only the first Native American to appear on the ballot, but also the first and only to serve in a vice presidential office. In addition, he was the first Vice President to take his oath with a Bible.

Once elected, the firsts didn’t stop. Curtis added another to his list of firsts when he lit the White House Christmas tree in 1932.

Hoover and Curtis Run for Re-election

Hoover and Curtis ran for re-election, but were not as well received by voters as they had been the first time. Because many voters felt as though President Hoover had not properly alleviated the Great Depression, their loyalty changed, resulting in Franklin D. Roosevelt’s election in 1932.

After his unsuccessful run for a second term as Vice President, Curtis resumed his practice of law in Washington D.C. until 1936 when he died of a heart attack.

Learn more about Curtis here.

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