The Vice President from Evanston

“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 Gates Dawes was our 30th Vice President, and he lived in Illinois.  But unless you’re from Evanston, you probably never heard of the guy.

Dawes was born in Ohio in 1865, became a lawyer, and practiced in Nebraska for awhile.  Then he got into banking and Republican politics.  In 1909 he bought the house at 225 Greenwood Avenue in Evanston.

Dawes Home

During World War I, Dawes was a brigadier general in charge of procurement.  He was called before a congressional committee investigating waste.  The questions got heated, and he finally exploded.  “Hell-and-Maria, we weren’t keeping a set of books!” he yelled.  “We were trying to win the war!”  The newspapers loved it, and he became known as Hell-and-Maria Dawes.

(We will pause here to consider what Dawes meant by the phrase “Hell-and-Maria.”  Does anybody cuss like that today?)

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.

So Dawes came up with the Dawes Plan, which worked something like this—(1) the U.S. loaned money to Germany, (2) Germany used the money to pay reparations to Britain and France, and (3) Britain and France sent the money back to the U.S. to pay their war debt.  If you’re not an international banker, this may sound like an odd way of doing business.  But the plan did win Dawes the Nobel Peace Prize.Dawes

On a lighter note, tobacco aficionados might be interested to learn that Dawes popularized the Dawes Pipe.  If you’ve never seen one, think of the letter “P.”  Now rotate it 90-degrees to the right, and you’ll get the idea.

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 on Greenwood.

The Coolidge-Dawes ticket won a landslide victory.  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 Britain, then returned to banking.  He died in 1951.  Under terms of his will, his house eventually passed to Northwestern University.  Today the Dawes House is a museum operated by the Evanston Historical Society.


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