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Henry Laurens Dawes (October 30, 1816 – February 5, 1903) was a Republican United States Senator and United States Representative. He is notable for the Dawes Act, which was intended to stimulate the assimilation of Native Americans by ending the tribal government and control of communal lands.

Henry Laurens Dawes
United States Senator
from Massachusetts
In office
March 4, 1875 – March 3, 1893
Preceded byWilliam B. Washburn
Succeeded byHenry Cabot Lodge
Member of the
U.S. House of Representatives
from Massachusetts
In office
March 4, 1857 – March 3, 1875
Preceded byMark Trafton (11th)
Charles Delano (10th)
11th District reissued in 1873
Succeeded by11th District eliminated until 1873
Alvah Crocker (10th)
Chester W. Chapin (11th)
Constituency11th district (1857–63)
10th district (1863–73)
11th district (1873–75)
Member of the Massachusetts Senate
from the Berkshire district
In office
Preceded byJohn Z. Goodrich
William A. Phelps
Succeeded byRichard P. Brown
Asa G. Welch
Member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives
In office
Personal details
Born(1816-10-30)October 30, 1816
Cummington, Massachusetts
DiedFebruary 5, 1903(1903-02-05) (aged 86)
Pittsfield, Massachusetts
Political partyRepublican
Alma materYale University
ProfessionLawyer and Doctor

Early lifeEdit

Dawes was born in Cummington, Massachusetts, in 1816. 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 North Adams Transcript.

Political careerEdit

Dawes 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 district attorney for the western district of Massachusetts. He was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1856, serving until 1875. In 1868, he received 2,000 shares of stock in the Crédit Mobilier of America railroad construction company from Representative 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 to preserve its wilderness and resources. 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 commercial 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.[1]

In 1875, he was chosen by the state legislature to succeed William B. Washburn as U.S. Senator from Massachusetts, serving until 1893.

Henry L. Dawes

During his long period of legislative activity, Dawes served in the House on the committees on elections, ways and means, and appropriations. He took a prominent part in passage of the anti-slavery and Reconstruction measures during and after the Civil War, in tariff legislation, and in the establishment of a fish commission. He also initiated daily weather reports to be provided by the federal government.

In 1869, Dawes became a founding member of the Monday Evening Club, a men's literary society in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.[2]

In the Senate, Dawes was chairman of the Committee on Indian Affairs. He concentrated on enactment of laws that he believed were for the benefit of the Indians. In the late 19th century, after the Indian Wars, there were widespread fears that the Indians were disappearing and that their tribes would cease.

Dawes ActEdit

His 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 or household. It was intended to assimilate Indians by breaking up their tribal governments and communal lands and by encouraging them in subsistence farming. It was enacted February 8, 1887, and named for Dawes, its sponsor. The Act was amended in 1891, 1898 by the Curtis Act, and 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 from the Act by treaties 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 extended the provisions of the Dawes Act to the Five Civilized Tribes, abolishing tribal jurisdiction of their communal lands.[citation needed]

On leaving the Senate in 1893, Dawes became chairman of the Commission to the Five Civilized Tribes, also known as the Dawes Commission, and served for ten years. He negotiated 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 their 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 and ended hunting as a means of subsistence, creating a crisis for many tribes.

The Coolidge administration studied the effects of the Dawes Act and the current conditions for Indians in what is known as the Meriam Report, completed in 1928. It found that the Dawes Act had been used illegally to deprive Native Americans of their land rights.


He died in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, on February 5, 1903.[3]

In popular cultureEdit

Aidan Quinn played his character in the film Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.


  1. ^ Merrill, Marlene Deahl, ed. (1999). Yellowstone and the Great West-Journals, Letters and Images from the 1871 Hayden Expedition. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 0-8032-3148-2.
  2. ^ Monday Evening Club website
  3. ^ "Henry L. Dawes". New York Times. February 7, 1903. Retrieved 2012-09-18. Ex-Senator Dawes had been for ten years out of public life when he died, and ten years is a long while for the memory of public service to last in so busy a land....

External linksEdit

U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by
Mark Trafton
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Massachusetts's 11th congressional district

District eliminated
Preceded by
Charles Delano
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Massachusetts's 10th congressional district

Succeeded by
Alvah Crocker
New district Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Massachusetts's 11th congressional district

Succeeded by
Chester W. Chapin
U.S. Senate
Preceded by
William B. Washburn
U.S. Senator (Class 1) from Massachusetts
Served alongside: George S. Boutwell and George F. Hoar
Succeeded by
Henry Cabot Lodge