He was admitted to the bar and he moved to Lincoln, Nebraska, in 1887. There he practiced law till 1894. He was blessed with an acute business sense and made a name for himself as an intelligent and persuasive lawyer and businessman.
He was a very ambitious person who along with his law practice also managed a meat packing company, acted as director of a bank, and was an investor in stocks.
He became very wealthy and in 1894 he purchased control of a number of artificial gas plants in La Crosse, Wisconsin and Chicago, and became the president of the La Crosse Gas Light Company and the Northwestern Gas Light and Coke Company.
Along with managing his business career, he was also active in politics. Republican party leaders, impressed with his business skills asked him to manage a portion of William McKinley’s bid for the Presidency of the United States in 1896.
He was made the Comptroller of the Currency in the United States Department of the Treasury in 1898 after McKinley’s election success. In this position he collected over $25 million from the banks that had failed during the Panic of 1893. He also revolutionized certain banking policies.
Over the years, his business grew manifold, and he along with his brothers controlled 28 gas and electric plants in ten states. He gave the management of the utilities to his brothers in 1902, and ventured into banking.
In 1902, he founded the Central Trust Company of Illinois and also served as its president. He now devoted himself fully to the management of this company which was also known as the Dawes Bank.
Being a descendant of William Dawes, the famous Revolutionary War figure, he joined the Illinois Society of the Sons of the American Revolution in 1915.
In 1917, he was commissioned as a major in the army and he eventually rose through the ranks as Major and Lieutenant Colonel before being discharged as a Brigadier General. While in the army he integrated the system of supply procurement and distribution for the entire American Expeditionary Force and also served as a member of the Liquidation Commission. He resigned from the army in 1919.
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In 1921, he was appointed by the President Warren G. Harding as the first Director of the newly created Bureau of the Budget.
He was invited by the League of Nations in 1923 to work on the question of German reparations. He diligently worked on and presented the Dawes Report in April, 1924, providing the various facts about Germany’s budget and resources and suggested the measured to deal with the issues.
In 1924, he was nominated by the delegates of the Republican National Convention as a vice presidential nominee. The President Calvin Coolidge liked him and he was elected Vice President of the United States in November, 1924 and served for one term till 1929.
He served as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom from 1929 to 1932. During that time America was reeling under the Great Depression and Dawes agreed to head the newly created Reconstruction Finance Corporation on the request of President Herbert Hoover.
After the end of his career in public service he returned to his business ventures. He became the chairman of the board of the City National Bank and Trust Co. in 1932 and served there till his death.
He was also the author of several works including ‘A Journal of the Great War’ (1921), ‘Notes as Vice President’ (1935), and ‘A Journal of Reparations’ (1939).