Evarts, William M.


Uncommon signed photograph of the renowned lawyer and statesman while US counsel before the 1872 Alabama Claims arbitration tribunal


Type: Photograph
Description: (1818-1901) Esteemed New York lawyer and statesman, served as Secretary of State, Attorney General and NY US Senator. Renowned for his skills as a litigator, he was involved in 3 of the most important causes of US political jurisprudence in his day: the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson, the Geneva arbitration, and the contests before the electoral commission to settle the 1876 presidential election.

Grandson of Connecticut Signer Roger Sherman, his Yale classmates incl. future Chief Justice Morrison Waite and future NY Governor Samuel J. Tilden (a contestant in the electoral commissions controversy in which Evarts was GOP counsel), and future Attorney General Edwards Pierrepont. Admitted to the NY bar in 1841, Evarts was a founding member of the New York City Bar Association and its 1st president 1870-79.

He was Asst. US Attorney for the District of New York 1849-53. He was chairman of the NY delegation to the 1860 Republican Convention in Chicago, and placed William Seward’s name in nomination; when it was apparent that Seward would not attain it, Evarts, on behalf of Seward, moved Lincoln’s unanimous nomination.

In 1862, he was one of the lawyers who argued the Prize Cases for the government before the. Supreme Court and was a delegate to the New York state constitutional convention of 1867. Evarts was on the team of lawyers prosecuting Jefferson Davis for treason 1865-68. In 1868, he became chief counsel for President Andrew Johnson during his impeachment trial and delivered the closing argument for Johnson who was acquitted, an event seemingly unlikely when the trial began.

Evarts was appointed Attorney General after the Senate refused to reconfirm Henry Stanberry to the office, from which Stanberry had resigned in order to participate in Johnson’s defense. Evarts served as US Attorney General July 1868- March 1869.

In 1872 he was counsel for the United States before the Alabama Claims arbitration tribunal in Geneva, Switzerland. His oral argument helped the US recover on its claims for the destruction of Union military and commercial ships, and commercial cargo by the CSS Alabama and other CSA ships built in and sailed from British ports during the Civil War.

One of his most famous cases came in 1875 when he represented nationally famed clergyman Henry Ward Beecher in a suit for “unlawful conversation” (unlawful sexual intercourse) by Beecher with the wife of plaintiff Theodore Tilton and the alienation of her affections. The case was a national sensation, but despite what appeared to be clear evidence, Evarts obtained a hung jury for his client.

Evarts served as counsel for President-elect R. B. Hayes before the Electoral Commission that resolved the disputed 1876 presidential election and he served as Hayes ’Secretary of State. In 1881, Evarts was a delegate to the International Monetary Conference at Paris.

Evarts was US Senator from New York 1885-91 and a sponsor of the Judiciary Act of 1891, the “Evarts Act”, which created the US courts of appeals.

Evarts led US fund-raising efforts for the pedestal for the Statue of Liberty, serving as chairman of the American Committee and spoke at its unveiling on October 28, 1886.

He retired from public life in 1891 due to ill health, a partner in the NYC law practice Evarts, Southmoyd and Choate.

His 1st cousins included US Attorney General Ebenezer R. Hoar, Conn. Senator & Governor Roger Sherman Baldwin, and Mass. Senator George F. Hoar. Grandson Maxwell Perkins became editor of Charles Scribner’s Sons and dealt with authors F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Wolfe, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, and James Jones. Great-grandson Archibald Cox was Solicitor General and special prosecutor during President Nixon’s Watergate scandal.

Uncommon SP, J. Temporel of Geneva studio 4 1/8 x 2 ¾ carte-de-visite bust photograph likely taken during the 1872 Alabama Claims tribunal proceedings, signed by Evarts at the bottom in dark ink.

The Alabama Claims were a series of demands for damages sought by the US government from the UK in 1869, for the attacks upon Union merchant ships by CSA navy ships built in British shipyards during the Civil War. The claims focused chiefly on the most famous of these raiders, CSS Alabama, which took 60+ prizes before she was sunk off the French coast in 1864.

After international arbitration endorsed the US position in 1872, Britain paid the US $15.5M, ending the dispute and leading to a treaty that restored friendly relations between the US & UK. That international arbitration established a precedent, and the case aroused interest in codifying public international law.

In what was called the Alabama Claims, in 1869 the United States claimed direct and collateral damage against Great Britain. In the particular case of the Alabama, the US claimed that Britain violated neutrality by allowing 5 warships to be constructed, especially the Alabama, knowing it would eventually enter into the CSA naval service.

In 1871, Grant Secretary of State Hamilton Fish worked out an agreement with British representative Sir John Rose to create a commission in Washington to resolve the Alabama claims, refinancing, and other international disputes between Canada and the US by treaty. On March 8, 1871, the Treaty of Washington was signed at the State Department and the US Senate ratified it on May 24, 1871. In accord with the Treaty, an international arbitration tribunal met in Geneva. The Treaty included the settlement process for the Alabama Claims, settled disputed Atlantic fisheries and the San Juan Boundary (concerning the Oregon boundary line).

Evarts was counsel to US representative Charles Francis Adams. The tribunal session was held in a reception room of the Town Hall in Geneva, Switzerland , later named salle de l’Alabama.

The final award of $15.5M was paid by Britain in 1872, balanced against damages of $1.9+M paid by the US to the UK for illegal Union blockade practices and ceded fishing privileges.

This established the principle of international arbitration and launched a movement to codify public international law with hopes for finding peaceful solutions to international disputes. The arbitration of the Alabama claims was a precursor to the Hague Convention, the League of Nations, the World Court, and the United Nations.

Condition: Very good

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