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Friday, April 26, 2024

1924 Election: Marietta Native Charles G. Dawes Elected Vice President of the United States

Turned off by the spiteful rhetoric in today’s political discourse? Stressed by the twenty-four hour news cycle and social media rancor? Go back to the 1924 presidential campaign. A Marietta native, Charles Gates Dawes, was the running mate of Calvin Coolidge on the Republican ticket. Dawes is the serious-looking one on the right in the photo. He grew up on Fourth St. in Marietta, the son of General Rufus Dawes and Mary Gates Dawes, and a descendent of William Dawes who rode with Paul Revere to warn colonists that “the British are coming.”

1924 Campaign Poster viewed at Coolidge is on the left; Dawes on the right.

1924: It was the roaring twenties. The economy was strong; there were no foreign policy crises. There were also no computers, cell phones, or television. Radio would soon become a boom industry. Locally, farming, brick making, furniture manufacturing, and the oil industry thrived. Trolleys ran regular routes up and down the valleys. Shoppers packed the downtown area on weekends. Life was good; but it always seems that way when we look back in time.

Talk about qualifications for high public office: Charles G. Dawes was a graduate of Marietta College (what other qualification would you need?) and Cincinnati Law School, an executive with utility companies in Chicago, started a bank in Chicago, appointed Comptroller of the Currency, served in the U. S. Army during World War I in leadership roles for logistics and attaining the rank of Brigadier General, and was budget director for President Warren G. Harding. All of this was intermingled with political activity, including an unsuccessful Senate run, mostly in campaign support for others. He was a co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1925 for his role in helping plan the financing of Germany’s World War I reparation debt.

A young Charles G. Dawes, around the time of his appointment at age 33 as Comptroller of the Currency in 1898. From

Dawes and his wife endured the loss of their son Rufus at age 21 in a drowning accident. In his son’s memory, Dawes built homeless shelters in Boston and Chicago and financed a dormitory building at his son’s Alma mater Lawrenceville School in Lawrenceville, NJ.

The 1924 campaign had little of today’s harsh rhetoric, though the Democratic Convention required over 100 ballots to finally select West Virginian John W. Davis for President and Charles W. Bryan for Vice President. Calvin Coolidge was a shoo-in for the Republicans, having been elevated to the Presidency in 1923 when Warren G. Harding died in office. The Coolidge-Dawes ticket won by a landslide.

Though Dawes seemed well qualified for office, his actual performance in office was an embarrassment. He was bluntly outspoken on many issues, often inviting negative publicity - not the desired profile of a Vice President. One writer observed: “Dawes was criticized by many of Coolidge’s opponents and was also resented by many of the President’s allies.” 

Caricature of Charles Dawes with his strange looking “underslung” pipe.

In March, 1925, he missed a critical tie-breaking vote on a cabinet confirmation in the Senate, causing defeat of a Coolidge cabinet nominee. Dawes had been told his presence would not be needed that day; Republicans were sure they enough votes for confirmation. So, instead of being at the Senate, he was napping at the Willard Hotel. 

Meanwhile, a political crisis was unfolding. The surplus of votes dissipated for the Attorney General nominee Charles Warren. It would be a close vote; the Vice President’s vote might be needed to break a tie. But he wasn’t there. Urgent calls went out to Dawes at the hotel. He sprang out of bed and bolted, not fully dressed, out on to the street with arms flailing to hail a cab - like an ordinary citizen. There were no limos or secret service protections then. The taxi (perhaps a 1924 Checker Model E) plodded to Capitol Hill. A disheveled Charles Dawes burst into the Senate chamber, panting and sweating. But it was too late. Warren’s nomination was defeated. President Coolidge was livid.

Republican leaders publicly blamed themselves for telling Dawes he didn’t need to be there. Dawes was nonetheless pilloried in the press for being asleep when duty called. He became a laughing stock of Washington. The Willard Hotel put up a sign: “Dawes slept here.” Writers even invoked Dawes’ ancestor William Dawes’ who rode with Paul Revere. Longfellow’s poem “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere” was parodied as “The Midday Ride of Charles Dawes.” He was mocked and held in low regard by the press - despite his impressive public service record. 

Dawes was predictably passed over as Herbert Hoover’s running mate in 1928. Hoover appointed him as ambassador to Great Britain, a very prestigious assignment.

Charles G. Dawes was not only a successful businessman and dedicated public servant - he was also a talented musician.Dawes was a pianist, flutist, and composer. His composition Melody in A Major became well-known piano and violin piece in 1912. Later, lyrics were added, transforming it to the popular tune “It’s All in the Game,” which became a No. 1 Billboard hit.

The Dawes family left us with many remarkable people. Charles Gates Dawes was one of those.

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