Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

Charles G. Dawes

Charles Gates Dawes was born on August 27, 1865, in Marietta, Ohio, and grew up to be an outstanding public servant. His father was a Civil War veteran and one-term Republican congressman. His ancestors included William Dawes, who had ridden with Paul Revere to warn colonists of the approaching British. Charles Dawes graduated from Marietta College in 1884 and received his law degree from Cincinnati Law School in 1886. He married Caro Blymyer in 1889.

Shortly after finishing law school, the governor of Ohio hired him to go to Lincoln, Nebraska, to look after his real estate holdings. Dawes did so and opened his law practice there. His law office was two floors above that of William Jennings Bryan, who opened his practice the same year. The two became lifelong friends in spite of their political differences.

In 1895, Dawes moved to Chicago, Illinois, to pursue business opportunities. There he met William McKinley and was eventually put in charge of McKinley's Chicago headquarters for the 1896 presidential election. When McKinley won, he made Dawes comptroller of the currency at the Treasury Department. Dawes resigned in 1901 to run for the United States Senate, expecting McKinley's support. When McKinley was assassinated in September and Theodore Roosevelt became President, Dawes no longer had support from the administration or from local party bosses and went down to defeat. Returning to business, Dawes became president of the Central Trust Company of Illinois. When the United States entered World War I, Dawes, 52, was commissioned as a major in the 17th Railway Engineers. He eventually became the chief of supply procurement for American troops in Europe and later served as the U.S. member of the Military Board of Allied Supply after Allied command was unified.

Dawes emerged as a national figure in 1921 when he was called to testify before a congressional committee investigating war expenditures. He had served with distinction and was frustrated with the request to testify. When he was pressed on prices formulas, Dawes became enraged and berated the committee for their "peanut politics." His testimony, expletives deleted, became a Government Printing Office best-seller and earned him the nickname "Hell and Maria," for one the colorful ejaculations he blurted out. When the Bureau of the Budget was created the next year, President Warren Harding named Dawes as its first director. In 1923, when the economy of Germany faltered, he was appointed to devise a plan to address it. The Dawes Plan introduced mechanisms to balance the German budget, reorganize the Reichsbank, and stabilize the currency. Although the plan later proved inadequate, it seemed successful at the time and stood as Dawes's best known contribution to history. It won him the 1925 Nobel Peace Prize.

In 1924, Calvin Coolidge selected Dawes as his running mate, and the two won in a landslide. However, the relationship between the two quickly turned sour. In accordance with a tradition dating back to 1789, Dawes was to deliver a brief Inaugural Address to the Senate. His lengthy tirade against Senate rules stole headlines and the spotlight from the Inaugural Address that Coolidge delivered afterwards. Dawes exacerbated problems by declining to sit in on cabinet meetings before Coolidge had even offered him the right to do so. Another incident of contention arose over Coolidge's second nominee for attorney general, Charles Warren. Dawes, after being assured that no vote would be taken in his absence, left the Senate floor to take a nap at the Willard Hotel during the confirmation proceedings. While he was gone, a vote was taken and resulted in a tie, which Dawes, as the presiding officer of the Senate, could have resolved. By the time he arrived, however, a supporter of Warren's had switched his vote, and the nominee was rejected. It was the first rejection of a cabinet appointee since the presidency of Andrew Johnson, and Coolidge held Dawes responsible.

When Coolidge declined in 1927 to seek another term, Dawes was floated as a candidate for President but support quickly coalesced around Herbert Hoover. Hoover appointed Dawes as the U.S. ambassador to Britain, a post he held from 1929 to 1932. Dawes then served briefly as the head of the new Reconstruction Finance Corporation, created to help ease credit problems during the Great Depression. Dawes left the latter position when the bank of which he had previously been director failed and needed to take loans from the corporation. He eventually reorganized the bank and paid back all its loans. He remained chairman of the board for the Chicago City National Bank and Trust Co. until his death on April 23, 1951.