Fairbanks first ever job was as an agent for Associated Press in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. A political reporter, he conveyed information on political rallies for Horace Greeley.
In 1874, Fairbanks moved to Indianapolis. Same year, he officially began his career as an attorney for Chesapeake and Ohio railroad system. His career flourished, as he made a name for himself as a railroad financier, effectively managing bankrupt Indianapolis, Bloomington and Western Railroad. His excellence at his work earned him attention of Indiana's Republican Party.
By the late1880s, Fairbanks made his entry into politics. The 1892 victory of the Democrats gave Fairbanks an opportunity to strengthen his place in the Republican Party as he helped in rebuilding the party. Same year, he befriended William McKinley, governor of Ohio. This friendship proved beneficial for both the men.
His first attempt for the office of the United States Senate in 1893 turned out to be a failure. However, undeterred, he tried yet again and in 1896 was finally elected as a Republican for the United States Senate. He assumed office on March 4, 1897.
As a senator, Fairbanks proved to be quite competent. He first served as the Chairman of the Immigration Committee before taking up chairmanship of the Committee on Public Buildings and Grounds. In both the offices, he functioned exceedingly well.
In 1898, he supported President William McKinley in the Spanish-American War and served as the key adviser to the latter. He was appointed as a member of the United States and British Joint High Commission that essentially met to decide the US-Canadian boundary dispute about Alaska.
As a senator, Fairbanks popularity only heightened. He stuck to the party policies and was respected by the party officials for his calm demeanour and conventional thinking. He strongly defended McKinley administration and was well-admired by preeminent Republicans. Due to this, he became a natural choice as the successor for McKinley.
In 1900, when Ohio Senator, Mark Hanna, offered Fairbanks name as the contender for the Vice-Presidential seat, he declined the proposal as he aimed for nothing less than the Presidential chair. He preferred remaining as a Senate instead.
Fairbanks escalating political career steeply plummeted after the tragic and untimely death of President McKinley. The eventual succession of Theodore Roosevelt changed Fairbanks political fortune drastically. Though the former took ahead deceased McKinley’s policies further, Fairbanks role in presidential matters reduced significantly.
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The phase after McKinley’s death proved detrimental for Fairbanks. Unlike during McKinley’s administration when Fairbanks enjoyed ample attention and popularity as the former’s key adviser, Roosevelt, under his administration, dominated the news leaving no scope for the former. Adding to the woes was the appointment of a young Indiana activist, Albert J Beveridge in the Senate. Beveridge became a major threat for Fairbanks as his radical policies gained much limelight.
During the 1904 elections, Fairbanks secured himself the Republican ticket for the office of the Vice President. He had, by then, realized that the presidential office was far from being a reality. As such, he compromised to make himself available for the Vice Presidential office.
In the 1904 Presidential elections, Republicans won by a landslide victory. While Roosevelt continued in his office of the President, Fairbanks took up the post of the Vice President. As the Vice President, Fairbanks spent much of his time presiding over the Senate. He took part in Roosevelt’s ambitious legislative program and worked effectively to bury unwanted legislation in hostile committees in the Senate.
During his vice-presidency, Fairbanks spent a considerable amount of time trying to secure the Republican presidential nomination in 1908 but in vain. President Roosevelt broke down all rumors by choosing not to seek re-election. Roosevelt, in turn, chose William Howard Taft as his successor, thus crushing down all hopes of Fairbanks for a Presidential office.
William Howard Taft’s appointment as the President and James Sherman’s as the Vice President in 1908 marked an end to Fairbanks political career. He resumed his practice of law, maintaining a low profile in the politics. In 1912, he supported Taft's re-election and in 1914 came to prominence once again as an advocator of party unity.
In 1916, Fairbanks, for the last time, unsuccessfully attempted the Republican presidential nomination. However, he did win the nomination for the Vice President as the running mate to Charles Evans Hughes. Nevertheless, the election turned out in favour of the Democrats as Hughes and Fairbanks lost to Woodrow Wilson and Thomas Marshall in close election.
Following the defeat in the 1916 election, Fairbanks retired to private life, practicing law in Indianapolis. During the last days of his life, he suffered from frail health.
Personal Life & Legacy
Fairbanks married his childhood sweetheart Cornelia Cole on October 6 1874. Immediately after the wedding, the couple shifted to Indianapolis, Indiana.
Fairbanks breathed his last on June 4, 1918 due to nephritis. He was buried at Crown Hill Cemetery.
Posthumously, numerous places have been named after him, including city of Fairbanks Alaska, Fairbanks School District in Union County Ohio, Fairbanks Minnesota, Fairbanks Oregon, and Fairbanks Township Michigan and so on.