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Next in Power to Harding

Ironically, this 1921 New York Times Magazine profile called Charles G. Dawes “the most powerful man, excepting the president, in Washington today” four years before he actually became vice president.

At the time, Dawes was the first director of the Treasury Department’s Bureau of the Budget, now known as the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). No, he wasn’t the Treasury Secretary, a position which itself would raise some eyebrows if called the second-most powerful position in D.C. He was the head of a bureau within the Treasury Department.

Of course, it wasn’t Dawes’ position which merited him that superlative, but the man himself.

In part, the power Mr. Dawes has achieved is due to his own robust courage and vigor. He came reluctantly from a bank presidency to what he term “an ossified haymor,” and he came on the express stipulation that what he said had to go. President Harding agreed to that condition, and has stood by the agreement with a mild persistence which even his admirers had not suspected before he took the Executive chair.

(A haymow is the part of a barn where hay is stored. Presumably that word was much more commonly known back in the comparatively agricultural days of 1921.)

Dawes, this article claims, helped balance the federal budget.

As a result, the United States is now living within its income, and is spending actually less than Congress has authorized. Within three weeks after taking office Mr. Dawes was able to announce a saving of more than a hundred millions of dollars out of the appropriations… It is not necessary to set down here a detailed catalog of his economies, but some of the things he has done may be chronicled as indicating the remarkable power he wields. They indicate power, because Washington said at the outset they couldn’t be done.

It’s unclear how much this was actually Dawes’ doing. According to historical statistics from the OMB, the federal government ran a deficit in 1917, 1918, and 1919 during World War I, but then it ran a suplus in 1920 — the year before Dawes took office.

Dawes would go on to become the ostensible second-most powerful person in Washington in 1925, when he served as vice president for Calvin Coolidge. During the next four years, Dawes and Coolidge became increasingly distant, even publicly taking opposing stances on a farm bill. Coolidge didn’t run for president in 1928 and neither did Dawes, though he did serve for that year’s eventual winner Herbert Hoover as the U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom.

 

 

Next in Power to Harding (PDF)

Published: Sunday, September 4, 1921

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Written by Jesse

September 2nd, 2021 at 12:07 pm

Posted in Politics

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