Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The Biography of Charles Gates Dawes from Evanston, Illinois. He was a Lawyer, Businessman, Banker, Politician, Government Employee, WWI Brigadier General, V.P. of the U.S., and Ambassador to Great Britain.

"Once upon a time, there were two brothers. One of them went to sea. The other became Vice President of the United States. Neither of them was ever heard from again.”

That was an old vaudeville joke, and it always got a laugh. It was true enough. Charles G. Dawes was our 30th (1925-1929) Vice President, and he lived in Illinois. But unless you’re from Evanston, you probably never heard of the guy.


Charles Gates Dawes
Dawes was born in Ohio in 1865, became a lawyer, and practiced in Nebraska for awhile. Dawes' prominent positions in business caught the attention of Republican party leaders. They asked Dawes to manage the Illinois portion of William McKinley's bid for the Presidency of the United State in 1896. Following McKinley's election, Dawes was rewarded for his efforts by being named Comptroller of the Currency, United States Department of the Treasury. Serving in that position from 1898 to 1901, he collected more than $25 million from banks that had failed during the Panic of 1893, and also changed banking practices to try to prevent a similar event in the future.

In October 1901, Dawes left the Department of the Treasury in order to pursue a U.S. Senate seat from Illinois. He thought that, with the help of the McKinley Administration, he could win it. McKinley was assassinated and his successor, President Theodore Roosevelt, preferred Dawes's opponent. In 1902, following this unsuccessful attempt at legislative office, Dawes declared that he was done with politics. He organized the Central Trust Company of Illinois, where he served as its president until 1921.

In 1909 he bought this house at 225 Greenwood Street in Evanston, Illinois. The Dawes House was designated a national Historic Landmark in 1976. It is now owned by the Evanston History Center (formerly known as the Evanston Historical Society).
During the First World War, Dawes was commissioned major, lieutenant colonel, and colonel of the 17th Engineers. In October 1918 he was promoted to brigadier general. From August 1917 to August 1919, Dawes served in France during World War I as chairman of the general purchasing board for the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF), as a member representing the AEF on the Military Board of Allied Supply, and, after the war, as a member of the Liquidation Commission of the United States War Department. He was decorated with the Distinguished Service Medal and the French Croix de Guerre in recognition of his service. He returned to the United States on board the SS Leviathan in August 1919.

In February 1921, the U.S. Senate held hearings on war expenditures. During heated testimony, Dawes burst out, "Hell and Maria, we weren't trying to keep a set of books over there, we were trying to win a war!" He was later known as "Hell and Maria Dawes" (although he always insisted the expression was "Helen Maria")

Dawes resigned from the Army in 1919 and became a member of the American Legion. He supported Frank Lowden at the 1920 Republican National Convention, but the presidential nomination went to Warren G. Harding. When the Bureau of the Budget was created, he was appointed in 1921 by President Harding as its first director. Hoover appointed him to the Allied Reparations Commission in 1923.

After the war, Dawes went to work in the Harding Administration. He was Budget Director, and was later put in charge of German reparations payments. Because they had lost the war, Germany had to pay billions of dollars to the victorious allies.

For his work on the Dawes Plan[1], a program to enable Germany to restore and stabilize its economy, Dawes shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1925. The negotiations on reparations broke down. Dawes's plan was replaced with the Young Plan, which reduced the total amount of reparations and called for the removal of occupying forces.

By 1924 Calvin Coolidge was President and running for re-election. He wanted a running mate from the pivotal swing-state of Illinois. The Republican Convention gave the spot to ex-Governor Frank Lowden. He turned it down. Then Dawes got the nod. He delivered his acceptance speech from the porch of the house in Evanston, Illinois.

The Coolidge-Dawes ticket won a landslide victory.
TIME Magazine Cover: Charles G. Dawes - June 11, 1928
After that, the two men didn’t get along. It didn’t help matters when the Vice President missed a crucial tie-breaking vote, and one of the President’s cabinet nominees was rejected. Dawes was back at his hotel at the time, taking a nap.

Dawes was never seriously considered as a presidential candidate. He was later Ambassador to Great Britain, then returned to banking. 

He died in 1951 and is buried in Rosehill Cemetery and Mausoleum in Chicago.

Dawes stipulated in his will that the house become a historical museum. It has been the home of the Evanston History Center since 1960, and it was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1976.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D. 


[1] The Dawes Plan, an arrangement for Germany’s payment of reparations after WWI. On the initiative of the British and U.S. governments, a committee of experts, presided over by an American financier, Charles G. Dawes, produced a report on the question of German reparations for presumed liability for World War I. The report was accepted by the Allies and by Germany on Aug. 16, 1924. No attempt was made to determine the total amount of reparations to be paid, but payments were to begin at 1,000,000,000 gold marks in the first year and rise to 2,500,000,000 by 1928. The plan provided for the reorganization of the Reichsbank and for an initial loan of 800,000,000 marks to Germany. The Dawes Plan seemed to work so well that by 1929 it was believed that the stringent controls over Germany could be removed and total reparations fixed. This was done by the Young Plan. 


Tobacco aficionados might be interested to learn that Dawes designed and popularized the Dawes Pipe.