Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Happy Birthday Charlie Curtis!

Hey Vice-Precedence Blog Readers!

I apologize that there were no blogs last week. It was a very busy and hectic week for Jason and myself, but not for former VP Cheney or current VP Biden. As soon as anything breaks on either of them or anything Vice-Presidential-we'll post something here and update it on our Facebook page which is connected to our Twitter account-so you'll know ASAP. Remember to subscribe to us on Facebook and Twitter for the latest in all VP news.

Now, what with Americans short-attention spans, its hard for most Americans these days to think that any VP was as unpopular as Mr. Cheney. Sure, Dan Quayle was ridiculed a lot, but no one took him really seriously enough to truly despise him. However that wasn't the case with our 31st VP. Though you wouldn't know this if you only looked him up on Wikipedia.

Yesterday, Jan 25th is the birthday of that truly despised VP (and one of Jasons favorites) Vice-President Charles Curtis of Kansas. Born Jan 25th in 1860. Almost 80 years before Barack Obama was elected President, Curtis, who had Native American blood from his mother-who was a mix of Kaw, Osage, and Potawattomie ancestry, was the first person with minority blood/Native American heritage to be elected to the Executive Branch back in 1929 when he was elected VP along with Herbert Hoover.

Curtis was raised for a time by his grandmother on a Kaw Reservation where he learned to ride horses in prairie races "Indian-style"-or bareback-for miles and miles. Curtis was very proud of his Native-American heritage and during the 1929 Presidential campaign co-wrote a book on his life with a Republican ghost-writer titled "From Kaw Teepee to Capitol: The Life Story of Charles Curtis, Indian, who has risen to high estate". Every opportunity he got through the campaign he wore head-dresses and other Indian garb to show his pride in his heritage.

Curtis was chosen as VP by the Republican party because they worried that Herbert Hoover was both too inexperienced (he had never held elected office before) and too liberal (Hoover had been in charge of feeding starving Europeans in the destructive wake of World War 1), and if there is anyone Republicans don't trust-its some millionaire who cares about and works to feed poor people. Joking! Joking! Take it easy Republican "Vice-Precedence" Fans. With Curtis, the Republicans felt that they at least had someone with experience whom they knew and trusted in the White House-Curtis had been in Congress since 1893, and was very popular with his fellow Republicans-having been Senate Majority Whip, Senate President Pro Tempore, and was the first Senate Majority Leader to ever become VP.

These are all things you CAN see on Curtis' Wikipedia page. However, what that page WON'T show you is that to many historians and VP scholars-Curtis was a joke. It can basically be summed up with the following quote:

"Charles Curtis of Kansas, one/eighth Kaw and seven/eighths incompetent."
Sol Barzman, VP scholar, author of "Madmen and Geniuses: The Vice-Presidents of the United States"

In his book, Bland Ambition-Vice-Precedence interview subject and friend of the film, Professor Steve Tally ripped Curtis up so badly and made him such a laughing-stock that the Curtis family threatened to sue Tally for disparaging the name of their illustrious ancestor.

But long before that, legendary American composers the Gershwin brothers: George and Ira-had made Curtis a joke by basing the ridiculous, pitiable, and non-entity Vice-President Alexander Throttlebottom in their Pulitzer-Prize winning musical Of Thee I Sing on Curtis. In the musical Vice-President Throttlebottom is recognized by no one, is unable to get a library card because he doesn't have any ID, and can only get into the White House by coming in with the public tour.

Curtis had no one to blame for himself for his portrayal as a buffoon and bully. As soon as he became VP he insisted that everyone-including men whom he had served with in the Senate for decades call him "Mr. Vice-President". He became so arrogant that one reporter wrote:
"His humility turned inside out."

Curtis was a widower and his married sister Dolly Gann became his official escort to state dinners and other official functions-horrifying polite Washington society. Not only was it kind of creepy, (brother and sister acting like husband and wife...eeewww) but Dolly had a perfectly healthy living husband who was basically cut out of the picture. The whole thing became a tempest in a teapot in Washington with people picking sides about who was right and who wasn't. In our interview Gore Vidal talked about how his family was involved in the whole argument.

Dolly, being rich and not all that bright, wasn't exactly in touch with the fact that a Depression was going on and that the stock market had plummeted and people across the country were out of work, starving, and suffering. She thought it was all a big hullabaloo that was being made too big a deal of-then she announced this opinion to the press-leading a newspaper to bitterly publish the headline-"Dolly Calls It Off!"

Curtis further made himself look like a cruel bully by calling out the Marines on the Bonus Army members outside his office building-the WW 1 veterans who marched to Washington and camped all around the city in the hopes that the government would pay them the bonus they had earned through their service in the war earlier than scheduled in light of the economic crisis of the Depression. President Hoover followed Curtis in calling out the U.S. Army to attack their own veterans in what I think is one of the worst actions in U.S. military history. When Curtis was questioned about this during the 1933 Presidential campaign he yelled:

"I've fed more than you have, you dirty cowards! I'm not afraid of any of you!"

as he shook his fists at the crowd and screamed, the crowd responded with boos and by throwing things at him. Is it any wonder FDR and Garner crushed Hoover and Curtis in the election that year?

One has to wonder why none of that is on the Wikipedia page for Curtis? Could it be more meddling by the Curtis family? Any way-it does need to be said, that way back in 1929, a man who proudly displayed his minority background was elected to national office. In this way, Curtis is something of a predecessor to President Obama-hard to believe, but true in a way. So there you have it:


Thanks for reading!
Matt Saxe


  1. Thanks Talitha! Really appreciate it. Please subscribe and pass it on to others and let them know about it. Also, check out earlier entries-like my meeting with Sarah Palin and let us know what you think. Be sure to watch the trailer for the movie, and Thank You for posting a comment on the Vice-Precedence Blog.

  2. I am the one who notified the Curtis family of Bland Ambition by Steve Tally of his 'research' on not only VP Charles Curtis but ALL VP's as he provides NO resources or bibliography for ANY of his printed material as ANY good author does for a factual book; his conclusions are not supported by the factual records left by Charles Curtis; my opinion of such shoddy research appears on web site of MY research on VP Charles Curtis; that Talley's book is good fictional reading, as he is simply following the lead of many other "authors" on any material on Vice President Curtis as "fact" when in truth, it is not. Feel free to email me!