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The Midday Ride of Charles Dawes


March 11, 1925

Vice President Charles Dawes

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow celebrated the opening skirmish of the Revolutionary War in his 1860 poem "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere." "On the eighteenth of April in Seventy-five;/ Hardly a man is now alive/ Who remembers that famous day and year." Picking up on Longfellow’s success, another Civil War-era poet, Thomas Read, chronicled the gallop of Union General Philip Sheridan to rally his beleaguered troops. Decades later, in 1925, a United States senator tried his hand at the genre of speeding-horse-poetry. Nebraska Senator George Norris lightly revised "Sheridan’s Ride" into a comic description of a vice president’s frantic journey from Washington’s Willard Hotel to Capitol Hill. It could have been titled "The Midday Ride of Charles Dawes."

At stake in the March 11, 1925, speeding-car epic was whether the United States Senate, for the first time in its history, would reject a president’s nomination for attorney-general.

Vice President Charles Dawes—a descendant of Paul Revere’s fellow rider William Dawes—had been sworn into office just a week earlier. Known for his colorful expressions, particularly "Hell an’ Maria," he earnestly entered into his duties as presiding officer. On March 11, having been assured by the leadership that there would be no votes cast that afternoon, Dawes retired to his apartment at the Willard for a nap.

The Senate was debating President Calvin Coolidge's attorney-general nominee, Charles Warren, but the debate took a decidedly negative turn as Democrats and progressive Republicans attacked Warren's questionable connections to sugar lobbyists. Fearful that Warren's support was eroding, the majority leader called for a vote. The tally was expected to be close. A hurried summons went to the Willard.

Up jumped the vice president, who dressed hastily and rushed out to catch a cab. As the taxi lumbered along Pennsylvania Avenue, the Senate vote tally reached 40 to 40. The Republican majority leader desperately stalled for time. Suddenly, through the swinging doors into the chamber burst the disheveled vice president. But, at that moment, the only Democrat to support the nominee rose and changed his vote. Coolidge had lost his attorney-general, 39 to 41.

Victorious Democrats loved Senator Norris’s sardonic reworking of "Sheridan’s Ride." The final stanza captures its mood.

Hurrah, Hurrah for Dawes!
Hurrah for this high-minded man!
And when his statue is placed on high,
Under the dome of the Capitol sky,
The great senatorial temple of fame—
There with the great General’s name,
Be it said in letters bold and bright,
"Oh, Hell an’ Maria, he has lost us the fight."