EVERETT, EDWARD (1794-1865), American statesman and orator, was born in Dorchester, Massachusetts, on the 11th of April 1794. He was the son of Rev. Oliver Everett and the brother of Alexander Hill Everett (q.v.). His father died in 1802, and his mother removed to Boston with her family after her husband's death. At seventeen Edward Everett graduated from Harvard College, taking first honours in his class. While at college he was the chief editor of The Lyceum, the earliest in the series of college journals published at the American Cambridge. His earlier predilections were for the study of law, but the advice of Joseph Stevens Buckminster, a distinguished preacher in Boston, led him to prepare for the pulpit, and as a preacher he at once distinguished himself. He was called to the ministry of the Brattle Street church (Unitarian) in Boston before he was twenty years old. His sermons attracted wide attention in that community, and he gained a considerable reputation as a theologian and a controversialist by his publication in 1814 of a volume entitled Defence of Christianity, written in answer to a work, The Grounds of Christianity Examined (1813), by George Bethune English (1787-1828), an adventurer, who, born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, was in turn a student of law and of theology, an editor of a newspaper, and a soldier of fortune in Egypt. Everett's tastes, however, were then, as always, those of a scholar; and in 1815, after a service of little more than a year in the pulpit, he resigned his charge to accept a professorship of Greek literature in Harvard College.
After nearly five years spent in Europe in preparation, he entered with enthusiasm on his duties, and, for five years more, gave a vigorous impulse, not only to the study of Greek, but to all the work of the college. In January 1820 he assumed the charge of the North American Review, which now became a quarterly; and he was indefatigable during the four years of his editorship in contributing on a great variety of subjects. From 1825 to 1835 he was a member of the National House of Representatives, supporting generally the administration of President J.Q. Adams and opposing that of Jackson, which succeeded it. He bore a part in almost every important debate, and was a member of the committee of foreign affairs during the whole time of his service in Congress. Everett was a member of nearly all the most important select committees, such as those on the Indian relations of the state of Georgia, the Apportionment Bill, and the Bank of the United States, and drew the report either of the majority or the minority. The report on the congress of Panama, the leading measure of the first session of the Nineteenth Congress, was drawn up by Everett, although he was the youngest member of the committee and had just entered Congress. He led the unsuccessful opposition to the Indian policy of General Jackson (the removal of the Cherokee and other Indians, without their consent, from lands guaranteed to them by treaty).
In 1835 he was elected governor of Massachusetts. He brought to the duties of the office the untiring diligence which was the characteristic of his public life. We can only allude to a few of the measures which received his efficient support, e.g. the establishment of the board of education (the first of such boards in the United States), the scientific surveys of the state (the first of such public surveys), the criminal law commission, and the preservation of a sound currency during the panic of 1837.
Everett filled the office of governor for four years, and was then defeated by a single vote, out of more than one hundred thousand. The election is of interest historically as being the first important American election where the issue turned on the question of the prohibition of the retail sale of intoxicating liquors. In the following spring he made a visit with his family to Europe. In 1841, while residing in Florence, he was named United States minister to Great Britain, and arrived in London to enter upon the duties of his mission at the close of that year. Great questions were at that time open between the two countries - the north-eastern boundary, the affair of M'Leod, the seizure of American vessels on the coast of Africa, in the course of a few months the affair of the "Creole," to which was soon added the Oregon question. His position was more difficult by reason of the frequent changes that took place in the department at home, which, in the course of four years, was occupied successively by Messrs Webster, Legaré, Upshur, Calhoun and Buchanan. From all these gentlemen Everett received marks of approbation and confidence.
By the institution of the special mission of Lord Ashburton, however, the direct negotiations between the two governments were, about the time of Everett's arrival in London, transferred to Washington, though much business was transacted at the American legation in London.
Immediately after the accession of Polk to the presidency Everett was recalled. From January 1846 to 1849, as the successor of Josiah Quincy, he was president of Harvard College. On the death, in October 1852, of his friend Daniel Webster, to whom he had always been closely attached, and of whom he was always a confidential adviser, he succeeded him as secretary of state, which post he held for the remaining months of Fillmore's administration, leaving it to go into the Senate in 1853, as one of the representatives of Massachusetts. Under the work of the long session of 1853-1854 his health gave way. In May 1854 he resigned his seat, on the orders of his physician, and retired to what was called private life.
But, as it proved, the remaining ten years of his life most widely established his reputation and influence throughout America. As early as 1820 he had established a reputation as an orator, such as few men in later days have enjoyed. He was frequently invited to deliver an "oration" on some topic of historical or other interest. With him these "orations," instead of being the ephemeral entertainments of an hour, became careful studies of some important theme. Eager to avert, if possible, the impending conflict of arms between the North and South, Everett prepared an "oration" on George Washington, which he delivered in every part of America. In this way, too, he raised more than one hundred thousand dollars, for the purchase of the old home of Washington at Mount Vernon. Everett also prepared for the Encyclopaedia Britannica a biographical sketch of Washington, which was published separately in 1860. In 1860 Everett was the candidate of the short-lived Constitutional-Union party for the vice-presidency, on the ticket with John Bell (q.v.), but received only 39 electoral votes. During the Civil War he zealously supported the national government and was called upon in every quarter to speak at public meetings. He delivered the last of his great orations at Gettysburg, after the battle, on the consecration of the national cemetery there. On the 9th of January 1865 he spoke at a public meeting in Boston to raise funds for the southern poor in Savannah. At that meeting he caught cold, and the immediate result was his death on the 15th of January 1865.
In Everett's life and career was a combination of the results of diligent training, unflinching industry, delicate literary tastes and unequalled acquaintance with modern international politics. This combination made him in America an entirely exceptional person. He was never loved by the political managers; he was always enthusiastically received by assemblies of the people. He would have said himself that the most eager wish of his life had been for the higher education of his countrymen. His orations have been collected in four volumes (1850-1859). A work on international law, on which he was engaged at his death, was never finished. Allibone records 84 titles of his books and published addresses.
(E. E. H.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)