Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

Edward Everett (1852–1853): Secretary of State

Edward Everett was born in 1794 in Dorchester, Massachusetts, graduated from Harvard College in 1811, and spent the next three years there as a tutor while studying theology. He was ordained as a pastor in 1813 but accepted his alma mater’s offer of becoming a professor of Greek. It would be four years, however, before he took up his duties. During this time, Everett traveled to Europe to become better acquainted with the subject he would teach, spending two years at the University of Gottingen, where he received a Ph.D.

Everett returned to the United States in 1819 and took up his teaching duties, becoming a much-admired professor and a well-known orator. His popularity extended well beyond the ivy walls of Harvard and allowed him to be elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1824, a post he held until 1835, when he was elected governor of Massachusetts. Everett served four terms before being defeated in 1839.

By 1841, Everett was in England and while there, began serving as President William Henry Harrison’s envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary to the British Court of St. James. Two years later, President John Tyler offered him a similar post in China, but Everett refused it, electing to remain in Great Britain. The Polk administration recalled him in 1845, and Everett promptly assumed the presidency of Harvard University, where he served for three years before resigning due to ill health.

President Millard Fillmore asked Everett to become his secretary of state in 1852, following the death of Daniel Webster. Everett agreed and served for the remaining four months of Fillmore’s term, at which time he was elected to the United States Senate. He assumed his Senate seat in 1853 but resigned it one year later due to stress.

Everett spent the next several years lecturing and raising funds to preserve George Washington’s Mount Vernon home. He did not retire from politics completely, however. In 1860, Everett was nominated as vice president (Daniel Bell was the presidential candidate) of the Constitutional Unionist Party, a group devoted to saving the Union by ignoring the slavery question. Handily defeated in the election of 1860, Everett blamed new President Abraham Lincoln not only for his loss, but for the dissolution of the Union as well.

Everett’s opinion of the Lincoln soon changed. At the dedication of the national cemetery at Gettysburg, Everett preceded Lincoln on the speaker’s podium and, following Lincoln’s two-minute address, Everett -- who had spoken for over two hours -- praised Lincoln’s speech and worked for his reelection a year later. Edward Everett died in 1865.