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About Henry Laurens Dawes
Henry Laurens Dawes (October 30, 1816 – February 5, 1903) was a Republican United States Senator and United States Representative, notable for the Dawes Act.
Henry Dawes was born in Cummington, Massachusetts. After graduating from Yale University in 1839, he taught at Greenfield, Massachusetts, and also edited The Greenfield Gazette. In 1842, he was admitted to the bar and began the practice of law at North Adams, where for a time he edited The Transcript. He served in the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1848-1849 and in 1852, in the state Senate in 1850, and in the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention of 1853.
From 1853 to 1857, he was United States district attorney for the western district of Massachusetts; and from 1857 to 1875, he was a Republican member of the United States House of Representatives. During this time, in 1868, he received 2,000 shares of stock in the Crédit Mobilier of America railroad construction company from Congressman Oakes Ames, as part of the Union Pacific railway's influence-buying efforts.
In late 1871 and early 1872, Dawes became an ardent supporter of the creation of Yellowstone National Park. In March 1871, he supported federal financing for Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden's fifth geological survey of the territories which became a driving force in the creation of the park. Dawes' son, Chester Dawes was a member of the survey team, and Annie, the first boat on Yellowstone Lake was purportedly named after his daughter, Anna Dawes. When the Act of Dedication bill came before congress, Dawes was one of its most active supporters.
In 1875, succeeded Charles Sumner as U.S. Senator from Massachusetts, serving until 1893.
During this long period of legislative activity, he served in the House on the committees on elections, ways and means, and appropriations, took a prominent part in the anti-slavery and Reconstruction measures during and after the Civil War, in tariff legislation, and in the establishment of a fish commission and the inauguration of daily weather reports.
In the Senate, he was chairman of the committee on Indian affairs, where he concentrated on the enactment of laws that he believed were for the benefit of the Indians.
Dawes most prominent achievement in Congress was the passage in 1887 of the General Allotment Act of 1887 (Dawes Act), ch. 119, 24 Stat. 388, 25 U.S.C. § 331 et seq., which authorized the President of the United States to survey Indian tribal land and divide the area into allotments for the individual Indian. It was enacted February 8, 1887, and named for Dawes, its sponsor. The Act was amended in 1891 and again in 1906, by the Burke Act.
The Dawes Commission, set up under an Indian Office appropriation bill in 1893, was created, not to administer the Act, but to attempt to persuade the tribes excluded under the Act to agree to the allotment plan. It was this commission that registered the members of the Five Civilized Tribes and many Indian names appear on the rolls. The Curtis Act of 1898 abolished tribal jurisdiction of these tribes' land.
On leaving the Senate, in 1893, he became chairman of the Commission to the Five Civilized Tribes (the Dawes Commission) and served in this capacity for ten years, negotiating with the tribes for the extinction of the communal title to their land and for the dissolution of the tribal governments, with the object of making the tribes a constituent part of the United States. Native Americans lost about 90 million acres (360,000 km²) of treaty land, or about two-thirds of the 1887 land base over the life of the Dawes Act. About 90,000 Indians were made landless. The Act forced Native people onto small tracts of land distant from their kin relations. The allotment policy depleted the land base, ending hunting as a means of subsistence. A Calvin Coolidge Administration study, completed in 1928, found that the Dawes Act had been used to illegally deprive Native Americans of their land rights.
Henry Dawes died in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, in the year 1903.