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Edward Everett’s arrival opened a 23-year span of five presidencies and one acting presidency in which death and resignation left no one in office much longer than seven years.
With his many years of experience in high-level state, national, and international affairs, Everett (1794-1865) did not relish the prospect of running a university. (Perhaps his experience as a tutor, Overseer, and the first Eliot Professor of Greek Literature factored in as well.) By shrewdly appealing to Everett’s reputation as a prominent public speaker (who could keep his oratorical skills in tune by lecturing on international law and diplomacy at the Law School), U.S. Sen. Daniel Webster (Whig-Mass.) persuaded Everett to take the job. He lived to regret it.
Students rained down a storm of clever pranks that swamped his patience - and Everett was not one to suffer in silence. “When I was asked to come to this university, I supposed I was to be at the head of the largest and most famous institution of learning in America,” he declared one day at Morning Prayers. “I have been disappointed. I find myself the sub-master of an ill-disciplined school.”
At Everett’s behest, the institution officially became the “University at Cambridge,” with nary a breath of “Harvard.” Everett also lost no time in getting the Harvard Corporation to abolish the recently adopted VERITAS motto and reinstate CHRISTO ET ECCLESIAE. (Alumni raged over this until 1885, when VERITAS prevailed.) When the City of Cambridge incorporated in 1846, Everett designed the municipal seal, featuring the image of Gore Hall (1841-1913), home of the College Library and a local landmark.
Despite its brevity, Everett’s term brought a major research component to the University: the Lawrence Scientific School, funded in 1847 by merchant-manufacturer Abbott Lawrence and opened in 1850. The School awarded its last degrees in 1910. The building itself survived until May 7, 1970, when fire claimed it on a site now occupied by the Science Center.
Everett began talking about resigning in 1847. In the following year, he wrote a letter of resignation, which was accepted on Feb. 1, 1849. Everett departed as the ninth and final President to live in Wadsworth House. In 1852, he became U.S. secretary of state in the Fillmore administration. He later ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. vice presidency.
At the dedication of Gettysburg National Cemetery on Nov. 19, 1863, Everett delivered a two-hour principal address, remembered now, if at all, as the upbeat to a two-minute speech by the 16th president of the United States.
President of Harvard University 1846-1849