Edward Everett and Neoclassical Oratory in Genteel America
Ronald F Reid
Contemporary admirers often compared Edward Everett ( 1794- 1865) to Cicero. "Fortunate it is," declared one critic of his ceremonial oratory, "that Everett has trod in the paths of Cicero" ( Loring 1853, 525). Another said his oft-repeated lecture on Washington "suggests a comparison with the great Roman, not only as an orator, but also as a finished scholar, and a consummate master of style" (clipping in Everett diary, April 18, 1856, Everett papers). 1 When Everett was supporting Lincoln's war policy by touring the Union with a speech on "The Causes and Conduct of the Civil War," the president's supporters praised "the Cicero of America" ( Buffalo Morning Express 1861, 3).
In contrast to the enthusiasm expressed by his contemporaries, Everett is scarcely remembered today. When he is, it is in a paradoxical way that illustrates the nation's changing oratorical culture. On one hand, Everett is remembered chiefly for his oratory. For example, the longest biography on Everett is subtitled Orator and Statesman ( Frothingham 1925); and a student of his diplomatic career acknowledges that Everett is remembered not because of his diplomacy but because he was "primarily the great orator" ( Stearns 1928, 6:137). On the other hand, Everett's speech making is usually scorned. A leading historian calls it "nickel-plated eloquence" ( Commager 1936, 59), and a prominent literary critic dismisses it as "grandiloquent" ( Buell 1986, 137-65).
Admittedly, the decline of Everett's reputation was not due entirely to the nation's changing attitudes toward oratory. Another reason was his habit of changing careers before he could make a lasting impression in any one of them. Still another reason can be expressed