I should hate to think that the Senate was as tired of me at the beginning of my service as I am of the Senate at the end.— Charles G. Dawes
Dawes was born in Marietta, Ohio, in Washington County, son of Civil War General Rufus Dawes and his wife Mary Beman Gates. Rufus Dawes had commanded the 6th Wisconsin Regiment of the Iron Brigade from 1863 to 1864 during the American Civil War. His Uncle was Ephraim C. Dawes, younger brother to Rufus, was a Major who served under Ulysses S. Grant at the Battles of Shiloh and Vicksburg.
He graduated from Marietta College in 1884, and from the Cincinnati Law School in 1886. His fraternity was Delta Upsilon.
Dawes was admitted to the bar in Nebraska, and he practiced in Lincoln, Nebraska, from 1887 to 1894. When Lieutenant John Pershing, the Future Army general, was appointed as a military instructor at the University of Nebraska while attending its law school, he and Dawes met and formed a lifelong friendship. Dawes also met Democratic Congressman william Jennings Bryan, forming a friendship with Bryan despite his opposition to Bryan's free silver policies.
Dawes married Caro Blymyer on January 24, 1889. They had a son, Rufus Fearing Dawes, and a daughter, Carolyn. They later adopted two children, Dana and Virginia.
Dawes relocated from Lincoln to Chicago during the Panic of 1893. In 1894, Dawes acquired interests in a number of Midwestern gas plants, and he became the President of both the La Crosse Gas Light Company in La Crosse, Wisconsin and the Northwestern Gas Light and Coke Company in Evanston, Illinois.
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 States 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.
Upon the death of his father in 1899, Dawes became a First Class Companion of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States.
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.
On September 5, 1912, Dawes' 21-year-old son Rufus drowned in Geneva Lake, while on summer break from Princeton University. In his memory, Dawes created homeless shelters in both Chicago and Boston.
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.
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. For his work on the Dawes Plan, 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' plan was replaced with the Young Plan, which reduced the total amount of reparations and called for the removal of occupying forces.
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 traveled throughout the country during the campaign, giving speeches to bolster the Republican ticket. He frequently attacked Progressive nominee Robert M. La Follette Sr. as a dangerous radical who sympathized with the Bolsheviks. Dawes was elected Vice President of the United States on November 4, 1924 with more popular votes than the candidates from the Democratic and Progressive parties combined. The inauguration was held on March 4, 1925.
In 1927, Coolidge announced that he would not seek re-election. Dawes again favored Frank Lowden at the 1928 Republican National Convention, but the convention chose Herbert Hoover. Rumors circulated about Dawes serving as the vice presidential candidate on the ticket with Hoover. Coolidge made it known that he would consider an affront the renomination of Dawes as vice President, and Charles Curtis of Kansas, known for his skills in collaboration, was chosen as Hoover's running mate.
After Dawes had finished his term as vice President, he served as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom (i.e., to the Court of St. James's) from 1929 to 1932. Overall, Dawes was considered to be a very effective U.S. ambassador, as George V's son, the Future Edward VIII, would later confirm in his memoirs. Dawes was rather rough-hewn for some of his duties, disliking having to present American débutantes to the King. On his first visit to the royal court, in deference to American public opinion, he refused to wear the customary Court dress, which then included knee breeches. This episode was said to upset the King, who had been prevented by illness from attending the event.
Dawes resumed a role in the banking Business, serving for nearly two decades as chairman of the board of the City National Bank and Trust Co., from 1932 until his death.
He died on April 23, 1951 at his Evanston home from coronary thrombosis. He is interred in Rose Hill Cemetery, Chicago.
Dawes and Coolidge quickly became alienated from one another. Dawes declined to attend Cabinet meetings and annoyed Coolidge with his attack on the Senate filibuster. Dawes championed the McNary–Haugen Farm Relief Bill, which sought to alleviate the 1920s farm crisis by having the government buy surplus farm produce and sell that surplus in foreign markets. Dawes helped ensure the passage of the bill through Congress, but it was vetoed by President Coolidge.