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About The commoner. (Lincoln, Neb.) 1901-1923 | View Entire Issue (April 19, 1901)
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William JVL Evarts.
The following is an abstract o a
sketch of the lato Will am M. Evarts,
written by Albert Shaw and pub
lished in tho April number of tho
Iteview of Itcvlowf.
Tho mother of William M. Evarts
was the daughter of Roger Sherman.
A sterling patriot was Roger Sher
man, a Massachusetts, handicrafts
man in his young daytf, who became
a man of education, an able lawyer,
an honored citizen of New. Haven,
treasuror of Yale Collego, mayor c.
tho town, assistant govornor of tho
state for a long period, a member of
tho Continental Congress amitotic of
the committee that drew up the Dec
laration of Independence, an active
member of the Constitutional Conven
tion, a prominent figure in Congress
till the day of his death, and, more
than all those things, a man of re
mralcablo traits of personal charac
ter, in whom were blended the classi
cal Roman virtues and the purest
Christian faith. The daughter of
Roger Sherman was qualified by in
heritance and training to rear a re
markable son. The father of William
M. Evarts was a distinguished grad
uate of Yale Collego who studied law,
but subsequently left the bar to be
come an editor in Boston, and a power
in the moral and religious world. The
paper which Jeremiah Evarts for some
time edited in Boston, the Panoplist,
was merged in the Missionary Hora'ld,
which ho thenceforth conducted as the
organ of what was the foremost mis
sionary body of this country, tho fam
ous American Board of Commissioners
for foreign missions. For a long time
Mr. Evarts served as one of the prin
cipal executive officers of the Ameri
. can board. His scholarship was am
ple, and his sympathies wore broad.
Several of the secretaries of the Amer
ican boar,d have been "men of states
manlike talents and of wide knowl
edge of affairs at home and abroad.
Jeremiah Evarts was a great citizen
of this type. He died in 1831 at the
ago of fifty, when his son William was
thirteen years old.
Joremiah Evarts had been precoc
ious, and it is said of him that reading
was his favorite amusement before ho
was three years old. His son William
was predisposed toward books and
study, and entered the Boston Latin
School at the ago of ten. I-Je entered
Yale College at fifteen, it having been
his father's wish that ho should bo
sent to his own college at New Haven
rather than to Cambridgo. This would
naturally also have been his mother's
wish, in view of the very great promi
nonce of her family at New Haven,
where she herself had grown up. Mr.
Evarts graduatod in tho class of 1837.
Ho was, of course, a good scholar,
ranking well in his studies. He was
not one of the three anen who took
highest honors, but he came next, and
was one of the three "high oration"
men. The other two were Morrison R.
Waite, afterward Chief Justlco of the
United States, and Mr. Edwards Pier
repont, who became United States
Minister to England, and was emi
nent in other ways. It has dome sign
ificance that the three highest honor
men of that class were afterward quite
eclipsed by the three men who stood
next below them. Evarts, Waite and
Plerrepont, instead of concentrating
wholly upon class work, were gaining
a broader foundation for life.
Thus Evarts while in collego was
tho principal founder and editor of the
Yale Literary Magazine, and gave sys
tematic attention to acquiring? the art
of public speech and debate, "and to
writing of essays and the formation
of a facile style. He had inherited the
type of mind that in those days found
its appropriate place at the bar and in
public life. The son of Jeremiah
Evarts and the grandson of Roger
Sherman was so manifestly" destined
to study law and to take a high rank
that he was not hampered-by any of
the disadvantages of uncertainty as
to a career. He entered the Harvard
Law School after his graduation at
Yale, and left Harvard two years later
when twenty-one years of age to take
a place in tho office of an eminent New
York lawyer, Mr. Daniel Lord, a Yale
alumnus whom Evarts had met at
New Haven. Two years later he was
admitted to the New York bar, and
two years later still, in 1843, at the age
of twenty-five, he was married to a
daughter of Governor Wardner of
Vermont. His own father, Jeremiah
Evarts, had been born in "Vermont,
and. circumstances had. early attached
him to the neighborhood of Windsor,
on the Connecticut river'. With' his
slight frame and his intense' and ard
uous professional life, it is not unlike
ly that the maintaining of his beauti
ful homo at Windsor as a summer
residence had not a little to do with
the conservation of his forces to a
Mr. Evarts' advancement in public
life was due in no sense to he prac
tice of the arts of the politician. He
was. even less the politician, if possi
ble) than the late President' Harrison.
Like this distinguished son of Ind
iana, Mr. Evarts made his way by
sheer force of profess'onal and intel
lectual superiority. It was evident
almost from the beginning of his ca
reer that he was destined to become a
great leader of the American bar. He
had no occasion to use the smaller
arts and devices of the legal profes
sion, because he handled with such
unerring skill the higher and greater
means or success. He had the gift
of incessant application, the habit of
deep study, a grasp of first principles,
the power of analysis, and a retentive
memory that gave him ready use of a
largo fund of classical, literary and
historical knowledge and allusion, as
woll as the lore of a technical and pro-
fessional nature. All this equipment
was made available by remarkable
gifts of public speech and a flow of
dry wit and quaint humor that never
failed on any occasion. Mr. Evarts
utterances were elaborate and com
plex, but never either heavy or dull.
If,, like certain machinery, they were
intricate, there was system rather
than confusion in it alii ;and every
word or qualifying phras'o Wd Its use
and meaning. Thus, iiiUi Evarts'
.arguments and pubiic a&esses, quite
as;; in ;hose of Mr. Gladstone, there
was rare dignity and stateliness, and.
no lack of lucidity. Such a style, how
ever, serves better its primary pur
posethat of impressing the listening
audience than any subsequent pur
pose of print.
Without knowing anything about
the facts, one could have reasoned in
fallibly to the conclusion that Evarts
must have been a supporter and friend
of William II. Seward. Mr. Seward's
talents were of a kind that Mr. Evarts
would naturally have appreciated. A
great lawyer and scholar, a statesman
of lofty ideals and bold imagination,
the foremost figure in the republican
party, and the leader of the anti-slavery
forces in the United States Senate,
Mr. Seward was worthy of the admira
tion and support of the republican
lawyers of New York. In the conven
tion at Chicago that nominated Abra
ham Lincoln, William M. Evarts led
the New York delegation, worked
faithfully for the nomination of Sew
ard, and made the nominating speech.
But the honorable duty fell to his lot
of moving to make the nomination of
Abraham Lincoln unanimous.
Probably, however, the very greatest
personal, service that William Maxwell
Evarts rendered to the people of the
United States was that which he per
formed as principal counsel for Presi
dent Johnson in the great impeach
ment trial in 1868. Whatever policy
Mr. Lincoln In his second term might
have chosen to pursue in uealihg with,
the south, after tne termination of the
war, it is likely enough that he could
have carried with him the public opin
ion of the country and th support of
Congress. But his assassination re
sulted in elevating to the presidency
an ill-qualified and stubborn man be
tween whom the great' republican ma
jority in Congress there was an ever
widening breach. This reached its
climax when Johnson summarily re
moved Mr. Stanton frdra the office of
secretary of war. Congress had prev
iously passed- a tennre-of-office act, re
quiring the consent df tho Senate i
the dismissal of any such high official
as a cabinet officer. The l ouse of Rep
resentatives immediately . . .olved
upon impeachment, and, as provided
by the Constitution, the Senate pre
pared to hear1 the charges under the
presidency of Chief Justice Chase.
Nearly all the members of the Senate
were republican, ana the sentiment in
favor of sustaining the charges was
overwhelming. There followed the
greatest impeachment trial in all his
tory. Congress was impelled in its action
against Johnson by sincere conviction,
and its leaders were men of such unity
and force of purpose as we havd not
seen In Congress at any time since
then. A two-thirds vote of the Senate
was required to convict. This out
come failed by a single vdte. It is
reasonable to say that to Mr. Evarts
was due a result that all Republicans
have since learned to regard as most
wise and fortunate. Andrew John
son's behavior was unbecoming and
vexatious, but he was not guilty of
"high crimes;" and to have removed
him from office would have been a
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