See a full text list of Biographies
  Name:  Edward Everett
  Born:  April 11, 1794
  Died:  January 15, 1865

  Complete HarpWeek Biography:

Everett, Edward (April 11, 1794 – January 15, 1865) 

Edward 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 election. 

Edward Everett was born on April 11, 1794, 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; the couple later 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 criticize slavery.   

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.  He died January 15, 1865, at his home in Boston. 

Sources consulted:  Daniel Walker Howe, “Everett, Edward,” American National Biography (online); Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.


Website design © 1998-2006 HarpWeek, LLC
All Content © 1998-2006 HarpWeek, LLC
Do not use any materials on this website without express written permission from HarpWeek, LLC
Please submit questions to [email protected]