Fairbanks, Charles

Charles W. Fairbanks (1852-1918) served as Theodore Roosevelt’s vice president from the inaugural in 1905 until the end of Roosevelt’s four-year term in 1909.

Fairbanks was born in Ohio, the son of Mary Adelaide Smith and farmer Loriston Monroe Fairbanks. He graduated from Ohio Wesleyan College in 1872, and, after a brief stint in journalism, passed the Ohio bar and became a lawyer. With his wife, Cornelia Cole, whom he had met at college, Fairbanks moved to Indiana and grew very wealthy as a financier and railroad attorney. He turned his attention to politics in the 1890s and became a leader among Indiana Republicans. In 1897 Fairbanks won election to the U.S. Senate. The close relationship he developed with President William McKinley, a fellow Buckeye, propelled him to a seat on the U.S. and British Joint High Commission charged with adjudicating the Alaskan boundary dispute.

When Theodore Roosevelt assumed the presidency upon the assassination of McKinley in 1901, he did not fill the vice-presidential position he had just vacated. It was not until his campaign for the 1904 presidential election that Roosevelt sought a second on the ticket. To placate conservative members of his party, Roosevelt agreed to Fairbanks. The two were unalike in so many ways that in 1904, one political commentator famously dubbed them “the hot tamale and the Indiana icicle.” They lacked a shared vision; Roosevelt was more in tune with the progressive views of Indiana’s newest senator, Albert J. Beveridge. As a result—and even though Roosevelt was on record in 1896 in support of a more activist vice president—Roosevelt did not utilize Fairbanks.[1] He neither invited him to Cabinet meetings nor sought his advice on matters of state. Fairbanks, presiding over the Senate, instead helped guide some of Roosevelt’s legislation through Congress. Other bills he dispatched because of his ideological disagreement with the Square Deal. As Congress split during the last two years of Roosevelt’s term, conservative Republicans saw Fairbanks as their champion.

Fairbanks’s time as the 26th vice president of the United States did not propel him to the position he most desired: the presidency. Theodore Roosevelt’s enormous popularity meant he could choose his own replacement from among the nation’s Republicans. Instead of his adversarial vice president, Roosevelt selected William Howard Taft in 1908.

Fairbanks bowed out of public life after 1909, except for his unsuccessful campaign in 1916 as Charles Evans Hughes’s vice-presidential nominee. He died in 1918.

[1] Theodore Roosevelt, “The Three Vice-Presidential Candidates,” Review of Reviews, 1 September 1896.