Amid the uproar surrounding the removal of Confederate monuments— including one that now stands boxed up on Boston’s George’s Island— it may be time for us to consider the future of Dorchester’s most prominent statue, one that depicts a figure from the Civil War era.
One of the most celebrated statesmen and orators of his time, Edward Everett served as governor of Massachusetts,, ambassador to Great Britain, US Senator, and Secretary of State, among other positions.
The bronze statue — which stood in the Public Garden for decades before moving “home” to Dorchester— is now situated in the state-owned Richardson Square, a green space that overlooks the intersection of East Cottage Street, Massachusetts Avenue, Columbia Road, and Boston Street.
The crossroads is well known to locals by its longtime name, Edward Everett Square, so named because he was born in a house— long since demolished— that stood at the corner of what is now Columbia Road and Boston Street.
If you’ve never seen the Everett statue with your own eyes, you have a good excuse: It is surrounded by a copse of tall trees and is largely obscured from motorists and passersby, especially in the summer months.
Which is too bad. The Everett statue is the only one of its kind in Dorchester situated on public land and it should be more accessible. (A more generic stone statue to Civil War hero Capt. Benjamin Stone is located in the privately owned Cedar Grove Cemetery.)
How does Edward Everett factor into the current discussion about Civil War era figures? For one, he played a notable role in the run-up to the War of the Rebellion and the precipitating event that led directly to southern secession conventions in 1860-61. Everett was the vice-presidential nominee of the Constitutional Union Convention, a coalition group that sought to stave off civil war by offering a conservative alternative to the more stark Democrat vs. Republican platforms. The party barely made a dent electorally, but it did further split southern votes and made Abraham Lincoln’s overall win more convincing.
Everett became a staunch Unionist once the South actually formed its own government. He was a loyal ally to Lincoln— campaigning for his re-election in 1864. But, it was Everett’s address at the dedication of the National Cemetery at Gettysburg in Nov. 1863 that history remembers most often.
He was the main speaker at the memorial ceremony. His oration clocked in at roughly two hours, a real stemwinder compared to Lincoln’s punchier, but far more heralded Gettysburg Address. But Everett’s words— delivered as the war still raged, with its outcome far from certain — were powerful in their own right. Unlike later Gettysburg “reunion” events, which sought to honor both sides without judgment or triumphalism, Everett painted a stark contrast between the Union men who were interred before him in the new Soldier’s cemetery and the treasonous southern secessionists who brought such carnage and upheaval upon the land.
Everett noted that the war was not one of southern “self-defence. It is in reality a war originally levied by ambitious men in the cotton-growing States, for the purpose of drawing the slaveholding Border States into the vortex of the conspiracy… I call the war which the Confederates are waging against the Union a ‘rebellion,’ because it is one, and in grave matters it is best to call things by their right names. I speak of it as a crime, because the Constitution of the United States so regards it, and puts ‘rebellion’ on a par with ‘invasion.’”
Everett died at age 71 in January 1865 — before he could hear of Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse or the death of the man whose words came to outshine his own at Gettysburg.
It speaks volumes about the importance of Everett to his fellow Bostonians that just a little over two years after his death, the city dedicated a statue in his honor in the Public Garden. The monument stood there until — at the urging of Dorchester civic leaders— it was set up in the middle of Edward Everett Square on a traffic circle in the middle of the intersection. After one-too-many run-ins with Model T’s, the statue was moved to Franklin Park, where it was stored for safe-keeping, according to the Dorchester Historical Society.
As the nation ponders the fate of statues set up to lionize the traitors whom Everett spoke of at Gettysburg, it’s an opportune time to consider our own homegrown monument— and how it relates to our modern city. At the very least, the statue should be approachable and — ideally— a wayside sign should be added to explain who this person was to new waves of Dorchester people.