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William Maxwell Evarts

In office
March 12, 1877 – March 7, 1881
President Rutherford B. Hayes
Preceded by Hamilton Fish
Succeeded by James G. Blaine

In office
July 17, 1868 – March 4, 1869
President Andrew Johnson
Preceded by Henry Stanberry
Succeeded by Ebenezer R. Hoar

In office
March 4, 1885 – March 3, 1891
Preceded by Elbridge G. Lapham
Succeeded by David B. Hill

Born February 6, 1818
Boston, Massachusetts
Died February 28, 1901 (aged 83)
New York City, New York
Resting place Ascutney Cemetery, Windsor, Vermont
Political party Whig
Spouse(s) Helen Minerva Bingham Wardner
Alma mater Yale College
Harvard Law School
Profession Law

William Maxwell Evarts (February 6, 1818 – February 28, 1901) was an American lawyer and statesman who served as US Secretary of State, US Attorney General and US Senator from New York. He was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of author, editor, and Indian removal opponent Jeremiah Evarts, and the grandson of Declaration of Independence signer Roger Sherman.


School, family, and early career

William attended Boston Latin School, graduated from Yale College in 1837 and then attended Harvard Law School. While at Yale he became a member of the secret society Skull and Bones, but later in life spoke out against such societies at the 1873 Yale commencement alumni meeting, claiming they bred snobbishness. [1][2]

He was admitted to the bar in New York in 1841, and soon took high rank in his profession. He married Helen Minerva Bingham Wardner in 1843. They had 12 children between 1845 and 1862, all born in New York City.

Political career

A Whig Party supporter before joining the fledgling Republican Party, Evarts was appointed an assistant United States district attorney and served from 1849-1853. In 1860 he was chairman of the New York delegation to the Republican National Convention where he placed Senator William H. Seward's name in nomination for President. In 1861 he was an unsuccessful candidate for the United States Senate from New York. He was a member of the State constitutional convention in 1867-1868.

He was chief counsel for President Andrew Johnson during the impeachment trial, and from July 1868 until March 1869 he was Johnson's Attorney General of the United States. In 1872 he was counsel for the United States before the tribunal of arbitration on the Alabama claims at Geneva, Switzerland.

Evarts served as counsel for President-elect Rutherford B. Hayes, on behalf of the Republican Party, before the Electoral Commission in the disputed U.S. presidential election of 1876. During President Rutherford B. Hayes's administration he was United States Secretary of State. He was a delegate to the International Monetary Conference at Paris 1881.

From 1885 to 1891 he was a U.S. Senator from New York. While in Congress (49th, 50th and 51st Congresses), he served as chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on the Library from 1887 to 1891. As an orator Senator Evarts stood in the foremost rank, and some of his best speeches were published.

He led the American fund-raising effort for the pedestal for the Statue of Liberty and spoke at its unveiling on October 28, 1886.


Senator Evarts retired from public life due to ill health in 1891. He was also part of a law practice in New York City called Evarts, Southmoyd and Choate. He died in New York City and was buried at Ascutney Cemetery in Windsor, Vermont.

Portrait of William M. Evarts

Extended family

William was a member of the extended Baldwin, Hoar & Sherman family, which had many members in American politics.

Ebenezer R. Hoar, a first cousin of Evarts, was a U.S. Attorney General, Associate Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts and representative in Congress. The two were best friends, and shared similar professional pursuits and political beliefs. Each served, in succession, as United States Attorney General. Some of Evarts's other first cousins include U.S. Senator & Governor of the State of Connecticut, Roger Sherman Baldwin; U.S. Senator for Massachusetts (brother of Ebenezer R.) George F. Hoar; and California state senator and founding trustee of the University of California, Sherman Day.

Son Maxwell Evarts graduated from Yale College in 1884, where he was also a member of Skull and Bones. He served as a New York City District attorney, and then later as General Counsel for E. H. Harriman, which later became the Union Pacific Railroad, president of two (2) Windsor, VT banks, and the chief financial backer of the Gridley Automatic Lathe (manufactured by the Windsor Machine Co.). In politics, Maxwell served as a representative in the Vermont state legislature and was a Vermont State Fair Commissioner.

Allen Wardner Evarts, another son, graduated from Yale College in 1869. He supported the founding of Wolf's Head Society, and was first president of its alumni association and held the position for 20 years over two separate terms. He was a law partner, corporate president, and trustee of Vassar College.

Grandson Maxwell E. Perkins was the famed Charles Scribner's Sons editor of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Wolfe, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and James Jones.

Great nephew Evarts Boutell Greene was the famed American historian appointed Columbia University's first De Witt Clinton Professor of History 1923, Department Chairman from 1926 to 1939. Chairman of the Columbia Institute of Japanese Studies, 1936–39. He was a noted authority on the American Colonial and Revolutionary War periods. Another relative, Henry Sherman Boutell, was a member of the Illinois state house of representatives, 1884; member of the U.S. Representative from Illinois from 1897 to 1911 (6th District 1897-1903, 9th District 1903-11); delegate, Republican National Convention from Illinois, 1908; U.S. Minister, Switzerland, 1911-13.

Great great nephew Roger Sherman Greene II, the son of Daniel Crosby Greene and Mary Jane (Forbes) Greene; was the U.S. Vice Consul in Rio de Janeiro, 1903-04; Nagasaki, 1904-05; Kobe, 1905; U.S. Consul in Vladivostok, 1907; Harbin, 1909-11; U.S. Consul General in Hankow, 1911-14.

Great great nephew Jerome Davis Greene (1874-1959): President, Lee, Higginson & Company from 1917 to 1932; Secretary, Harvard University Corporation from 1905 to 1910 & 1934-1943; General Manager of the Rockefeller Institute 1910-1012, assistant and secretary to John D. Rockefeller Jr. as Trustee, Rockefeller Institute; Trustee, Rockefeller Foundation; Trustee, Rockefeller General Education Board from 1910 to 1939. executive secretary, American Section - Allied Maritime Transport Council, 1918 Joint Secretary of the Reparations, Paris Peace Conference, 1919; Chairman, American Council Institute of Pacific Relations, 1929-32; Trustee, Brookings Institution of Washington from 1928 to 1945; and a founding member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Great-grandson Archibald Cox served as a U.S. Solicitor General and special prosecutor during President Richard Nixon's Watergate Scandal, whereas Evarts defended a U.S. President Andrew Johnson in his impeachment trial. In a sense, they both successfully argued their cases, which represent two of the three U.S. Presidential impeachment efforts. An impeachment trial was never held in Nixon's case, due to the president's resignation.


Popular Culture

William M. Evarts was a running gag in the Jack Benny radio episode of 53-04-05 Easter Parade.


  1. ^ Alexandra Robbins, Secrets of the Tomb: Skull and Bones, the Ivy League, and the Hidden Paths of Power, Little, Brown and Company, 2002, Robbins, page 131, 199.
  2. ^ Chester Leonard Barrows, William M. Evarts, Lawyer, Diplomat, Statesman, University of North Carolina press, 1941, page 12

External links

Legal offices
Preceded by
Henry Stanberry
United States Attorney General
Succeeded by
Ebenezer R. Hoar
Political offices
Preceded by
Hamilton Fish
United States Secretary of State
Served under: Rutherford B. Hayes

March 12, 1877–March 7, 1881
Succeeded by
James G. Blaine
United States Senate
Preceded by
Elbridge G. Lapham
United States Senator (Class 3) from New York
Served alongside: Warner Miller, Frank Hiscock
Succeeded by
David B. Hill


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