William Maxwell Evarts

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Evarts, William Maxwell

(ĕv`ərts), 1818–1901, American lawyer and statesman, b. Boston; grandson of Roger Sherman. After attending Harvard Law School he began (1841) to practice law in New York City, where, with Charles E. Butler, he formed (1843) a firm that became one of the best known in the country. Evarts was government counsel in the abortive trial of Jefferson Davis for treason and later eloquently defended President Andrew Johnson in the impeachment proceedings. He was one of the counsel for the United States in the Geneva arbitration proceedings (1871–72) on the Alabama claims, and in 1877, as Republican counsel before the electoral commission, he argued the claims of Rutherford B. Hayes to the presidency. He was U.S. Attorney General under Johnson (1868–69) and Secretary of State under Hayes (1877–81). Confronted in the latter capacity with the activity of French interests in constructing an isthmian canal, he stated forcefully that any canal must remain under American control, thus formulating a policy subsequently maintained in American foreign relations. He was U.S. Senator from New York from 1885 to 1891, a period marked by failing eyesight, which resulted in total blindness for the last 11 years of his life.

Bibliography

See B. Dyer, The Public Career of William M. Evarts (1933, repr. 1969); biography by C. L. Barrows (1941).

Evarts, William Maxwell

(1818–1901) lawyer, cabinet officer, U.S. senator; born in Boston (grandson of Roger Sherman). At Yale he founded the Yale Literary Magazine but he took up the law and was admitted to the New York bar in 1841. He soon became one of the most prominent lawyers in the country, and although personally opposed to slavery he would argue the constitutionality of the institution when clients engaged him to return escaped slaves. Originally active in the Whig Party, he joined the new Republican Party in 1854. In 1863–64 he went to England on diplomatic missions to try to stop the British from supplying the Confederate navy. He was the chief counsel for President Andrew Johnson in his impeachment trial, after which Johnson named him the attorney general (1868–69). Returning to New York City, he led the fight against the corrupt Tweed Ring. Among his other celebrated cases, he was counsel for the U.S.A. in the arbitration of the Alabama claims (1871–72), defense lawyer for Henry Ward Beecher in the adultery trial (1875), and chief counsel for the Republican Party in the Hayes-Tilden presidential dispute (1877). After the last-named, Hayes appointed him secretary of state (1877–81). He served New York in the U.S. Senate (Rep., 1885–91) and was forced to retire because of poor eyesight. In addition to the high esteem he earned as a lawyer and public servant, he was noted as a public speaker, and on July 4, 1876, he delivered the principal address at the Philadelphia centennial of the Declaration of Independence.