dward Everett was a U.S. representative and senator from Massachusetts,
diplomat, secretary of state, university professor and president, and
vice-presidential nominee of the Constitutional Union party in the 1860
Everett was born in Dorchester, Massachusetts, to Lucy Hill Everett, daughter of
a wealthy family, and Oliver Everett, a judge and cleric, who died when the boy
was eight. In 1811, young Everett graduated from Harvard College with highest
honors. After completing his divinity degree in 1814, he began ministering at
the Brattle Street Unitarian Church, Boston's most distinguished clerical
position at the time. The next year, however, Everett accepted an endowed chair
of Greek Literature at Harvard. The college paid him full salary to study at
Göttingen University in Germany, where he received his Ph.D. in 1817. He
studied and traveled throughout Europe for two more years, then returned to
Harvard in 1819. Everett also became editor of the North American Review, the
nation's leading literary journal, where he helped inspire the American Romantic
movement. He married Charlotte Gray Brooks in 1822; they had six children.
Already a renowned public speaker, Everett won a Congressional seat in 1824, as
a member of John Quincy Adams's National Republicans. During his five terms in
Congress (1825-1835), Everett promoted industrialization, trade protectionism, a
national bank, and opposed the forced removal of the Cherokees and other tribes
from the South to the West. Because of the economic ties between the
Massachusetts textile industry and Southern cotton plantations, he did not
Everett helped found the Whig party in his home state, and was elected to the
first of four, one-year terms as governor of Massachusetts in 1835. As governor,
he supported funding for internal improvements and public education, including
the establishment of America's first teachers' college in 1839. That same year,
he was defeated for reelection by one vote.
In 1841, President William Henry Harrison, a Whig, named Everett as minister to
Great Britain, where he served until 1845. In that post, he helped ease
Anglo-American tensions over a border dispute and other issues, resulting in the
Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842. Everett served as president of Harvard from
1846 to 1849, during which the Lawrence Scientific School was established, and
black men were allowed to take the college's entrance exam (none was admitted).
In 1850, Everett returned to the state department under Secretary Daniel
Webster, authoring the Hülsemann Letter which stated American sympathy for the
Hungarian revolution. Upon Webster's death, President Millard Fillmore tapped
Everett to head the state department during the administration's remaining four
months. In his short tenure as secretary of state, Everett was involved in
negotiations which led to a commercial treaty with Japan (1854), and he issued a
strongly-worded renunciation of a British-French proposal to guarantee Spain's
permanent control of Cuba.
In early 1853, Everett was elected to the U.S. Senate by the Massachusetts
legislature. He denounced the Kansas-Nebraska bill which opened the territories
to slavery, but an absence caused by illness prevented him from voting against
the bill. Constituents, angered over his failure to vote against the pro-slavery
measure, forced his resignation after only 15 months in office. As the slavery
issue increasingly polarized opinion during the 1850s, Everett tried to stake
out a moderate position, particularly through public speeches delivered across
the country. His orations emphasized the patriotic and nationalistic themes of
union, most notably in his speech "The Character of Washington."
In 1860, Everett was nominated for vice president by the Constitutional Union
party. He and presidential nominee John Bell of Tennessee, representing the
conservative remnant of the former Whig party, vaguely called for adherence to
union and the constitution over the divisive issue of slavery. They did well in
the border states but lost to the Republican ticket headed by Abraham Lincoln.
Once the Civil War began, Everett became a leading public spokesman for the
Union military cause. On November 19, 1863, he was the keynote speaker at the
dedication of the Gettysburg national cemetery, where he delivered a two-hour
oration. Everett's words, however, were eclipsed at the time and ever since by
the brief closing remarks of President Lincoln's famous "Gettysburg
Address." A humbled Everett remarked to the president afterward, "I
should be glad if I could flatter myself, that I came as near to the central
idea of the occasion in two hours as you did in two minutes." In 1864,
Everett strongly supported Lincoln's reelection, but did not live to see the
president's second inauguration.
Sources consulted: American National Biography; Biographical Directory of the
United States Congress.