Appointed by President Rutherford B. Hayes
William Maxwell Evarts served from March 1877 to March 1881 as secretary of state in the administration of President Rutherford B. Hayes. Evarts was born on February 6, 1818, in Boston, Massachusetts. His father, Jeremiah Evarts, was a leading Congregationalist layman, editor of the Congregationalists' Panoplist magazine, and a founder of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. His mother was Mehetabel Sherman, the daughter of one of the leading figures of the American Revolution, Roger Sherman of Connecticut. William graduated near the top of his class at Yale College in 1837. He read law for a year in Windsor, Vermont, attended Harvard Law School 1838-1839, and then read law in New York City. He was admitted to the New York bar in 1841, and the next year he formed what was to become one of the most prominent New York City law firms for the next 60 years. In 1843 he married Helen Minerva Wardner of Windsor, Vermont, and they had twelve children.
Evarts was one of the leading constitutional and appellate lawyers in the United States in the nineteenth century. His intellectually forceful arguments shaped many landmark decisions in the U.S. courts. As a Whig who supported Zachary Taylor and Daniel Webster, he argued on constitutional grounds in favor of the Compromise of 1850 and the Fugitive Slave Act. He was not an apologist for slavery, as some critics suggested, but rather a strong Unionist. In 1855 he donated a fourth of his savings to support Free-Soilers in Kansas, and in 1856 he became a founder and promoter of the Republican Party. His arguments in court in 1860 on behalf of the State of New York won the latter the Lemmons Slave Case, which established the freedom of slaves whose owners brought them into the port of New York City in transit from one slave state to another. He worked for William Henry Seward's nomination for president in 1860. After Abraham Lincoln named Seward secretary of state, Evarts was disappointed that the New York legislature did not elect him to fill Seward's place in the U.S. Senate.
During the Civil War, Evarts helped organize military regiments in New York as a member of the state's Union Defense Committee. The Lincoln administration