Charles Gates Dawes, 30th Vice-President of the United States, was born in Marietta, Ohio on 27 August 1865. He was the son of Civil War veteran General Rufus R. Dawes, and Mary (Gates) Beman Dawes. Dawes’ early life was that of a young boy growing up in the Midwest. His career in public service perhaps began when he graduated from Marietta College in 1884, and the Cincinnati Law School in 1886.

LAWYER AND BUSINESSMAN

Dawes began his law practice in Lincoln, Nebraska, in 1887. These were the days of the robber barons, and Dawes made a name for himself prosecuting cases involving unfair railroad rates. He had acquired an interest in business from his father, who owned a lumber company, and Dawes began to involve himself in ventures of his own. In just a few years, he controlled an entire city block of buildings; invested heavily in bank stocks and land; and was named director of a local bank. In 1894, he purchased artificial gas plants in La Crosse, Wisconsin and Chicago, Illinois. Eventually, he would control gas plants in twenty-eight states and become wealthy doing so. Dawes moved to Evanston, Illinois to be nearer his business operations.

DAWES ENTERS POLITICS

The United States entered World War I in 1917, and Dawes immediately enlisted. Serving under General “Black Jack” Pershing, he became controller of the American Expeditionary Forcesprocurement system and later expanded his methods to the entire Allied force.

After the war’s end, Dawes continued his public service when he was appointed to the newly created position of Director of the Budget of the United States. He applied lessons learned as a businessman to the office in two notable ways: insisting that the government prepare a budget and stay within it, and instituting a unified purchasing system across all lines of government.

Dawes’ success led to an invitation from the League of Nations, in 1923, to assist with the question of German reparations and economic reform. He submitted a report in early 1924 suggesting measures to stabilize the German currency, and he proposed a system of regular payments to meet the demands of war reparations. For his efforts, Dawes was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1925.

VICE-PRESIDENT DAWES: PUBLIC SERVANT

It was only natural that a man of Dawes’ accomplishments should seek higher office. He was selected to share the 1924 Republican ticket with Calvin Coolidge, and subsequently was elected Vice-President in the general election. The tone of the Coolidge administration was “the business of America is business”, and Dawes wasted no time in proposing reforms. His term as Vice-President was not eventful, and he was unsuccessful in changing the US Senate’s filibuster procedures. When Coolidge declined to run again in 1928, Dawes followed his lead and retired from national office. He later served on a commission to provide financial advice and assistance to the Dominican Republic.

After leaving office, Dawes assisted in the country’s recovery from the Great Depression as chairman of the Reconstruction Finance Commission (RFC). In this capacity, he oversaw the lending of federal funds to banks and other businesses, in an effort to stave off the effects of the Depression and avert total financial collapse.

RETURN TO PRIVATE LIFE

After his service in the RFC ended, Dawes retired to his home in Evanston. He remained active; he taught himself to play piano and flute, and composed many melodies. Lyrics were later written for one of his melodies, and the song became famous as “It’s All In The Game”, rendering Dawes the only vice president to have composed a popular song. He was instrumental in bringing Grand Opera to Chicago, and was the author of nine books, about finance and about his term as vice president.

Charles G. Dawes died at home, on 23 April 1951, of a coronary thrombosis.

SOURCES

Butterfield, Roger, The American Past. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1957.
Kunhardt, Philip B., Jr.; Kunhardt, Philip III; Kunhardt, Peter W., The American President. New York: Riverhead Books, 1999.
Nobel e-Museum, “Charles G. Dawes – Biography,” Nobel Laureates. 9 December 2002. <http://www.nobel.se/peace/laureates/1925/dawes-bio.html>. (23 January 2003).
Hicks, John D., “Charles G. Dawes,” Grolier’s The American Presidents. 2000. <http://gi.grolier.com/presidents/ea/vp/vpdawes.html> . (22 January 2003)

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