John Milton Hay, U.S. Secretary of State

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Colonel John Milton Hay

Birthplace: Salem, Washington County, Indiana, United States
Death: July 01, 1905 (66)
Newbury, Merrimack County, New Hampshire, United States (heart maladies)
Place of Burial: Cleveland Heights, Cuyahoga County, Ohio, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Dr Charles Hay and Helen Hay
Husband of Clara Louise Hay
Father of Helen Julia Whitney; Adelbert Stone Hay; Alice Evelyn Wadsworth Boyd (Hay) and Clarence Leonard Hay
Brother of Edward Leonard Hay; Captain Leonard Augustus Hay; Mary Pierce Woolfolk; Captain Charles Edward Hay and Helen J. Whitney

Occupation: United States Secretary of State (and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About John Milton Hay, U.S. Secretary of State

John Milton Hay (October 8, 1838 – July 1, 1905) was an American statesman, diplomat, author, journalist, and private secretary and assistant to Abraham Lincoln. In August 1898, Hay was named by President McKinley as Secretary of State and helped negotiate the Treaty of Paris of 1898, which ended the Spanish–American War.

Early life

Hay was born in Salem, Indiana, of Scottish ancestry, the third son of Dr. Charles Hay and Helen Leonard from Middleborough, Massachusetts, who had come to Salem to live with her sister. He was raised in Warsaw, Illinois, and educated first at the private school of the Reverend Stephen Childs, an Episcopal clergyman. In 1851 John went to an academy at Pittsfield in Pike County, where he met an older student, John G. Nicolay, with whom he would later work as private secretary to Abraham Lincoln. In 1852 John Hay went to the college at Springfield, and in 1855 was sent to Brown University, where he joined Theta Delta Chi. At Brown, he developed an interest in poetry, and Hay became a part of Providence's literary circle which included Sarah Helen Whitman and Nora Perry. When he graduated, he was named Class Poet. He left Brown in 1858 before receiving his diploma and went home to Warsaw to study law with his uncle, Milton Hay.

Lincoln's secretary

Abraham Lincoln's law office was next door to the law office of Milton Hay, John's uncle, and Lincoln thus became acquainted with John Hay. When Lincoln won election as president, his secretary, John G. Nicolay, recommended John Hay to Lincoln as assistant private secretary. Thus, at age 22 he began a lifelong career in government, except for a journalism stint from 1870-78. Though technically a clerk in the Interior Department, he served as Lincoln's secretary until 1864. He lived in the northeast corner bedroom on the second floor of the White House, which he shared with his fellow secretary and Pittsfield Academy schoolmate, Nicolay.

For a few months, he served in the Union army under Generals David Hunter and Quincy Adams Gillmore. He rose to the rank of major and was later brevetted lieutenant colonel and colonel. Hay's diary and writings during the Civil War are basic historical sources. Some have credited Hay with being the real author of Lincoln's Letter to Mrs. Bixby, consoling her for the loss of her sons in the war.

Hay was present when Lincoln died after being shot at Ford's Theatre. Hay and Nicolay wrote a formal 10-volume biography of Lincoln (Abraham Lincoln: A History, 1890) and prepared an edition of his collected works.

Portions of Hay's diaries and letters from 1861–1870, published in the book Lincoln and the Civil War, show Lincoln in a far more intimate light.

Legal career

In 1861, he was admitted to practice in the Supreme Court of Illinois.

Diplomatic career

Between 1865 and 1870, he was secretary of legation at Paris (1865-7) and Madrid (1867-8), and chargé d'affaires at Vienna (1868–70). In 1878 he became assistant secretary of state in the Hayes administration. Hay was named U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom in 1897 when William McKinley became President. Some of the recognition of the longstanding community of interests between that country and the United States was the result of Hay's stay there. Journalism career

In 1870 he left government and worked for 6 years as an editor for the New York Tribune under Whitelaw Reid.

Secretary of State

In August 1898, Hay was named by President McKinley as Secretary of State and helped negotiate the Treaty of Paris of 1898, which ended the Spanish–American War. Hay continued serving as Secretary of State after Theodore Roosevelt succeeded McKinley, serving until his own death in 1905. He established the Open Door policy in China.


His contributions included the adoption of an Open Door Policy in China (announced on January 2, 1900) which may have been a contributing factor in the Boxer Rebellion, and the preparations for the Panama Canal. He negotiated the Hay–Pauncefote Treaty (1901), the Hay–Herran Treaty (1903), and the Hay–Bunau Varilla Treaty (1903), all of which were instrumental in clearing the way for the construction and use of the Canal. In all, he brought about more than 50 treaties, including the settlement of the Samoan dispute, as a result of which the United States secured Tutuila, with a harbor in the Pacific; a definitive Alaskan boundary treaty in 1903; the negotiation of reciprocity treaties with Argentina, France, Germany, Cuba, and the British West Indies; the negotiation of new treaties with Spain; and the negotiation of a treaty with Denmark for the cession of the Danish West India Islands.

In 1904, Hay was one of the first seven chosen for membership in the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Hay is also known for his comment, written in a letter to President Theodore Roosevelt, describing the Spanish–American War as a "splendid little war".

Hay appears as a prominent character in Gore Vidal's historical novels Lincoln and Empire and in William Safire's historical novel Freedom. He appears, portrayed by John Huston, in the 1975 film The Wind and the Lion, a fictionalization of the Perdicaris Affair in Morocco in 1904. He is portrayed in the 1997 miniseries Rough Riders by actor and legendary United States Marine R. Lee Ermey.

After Roosevelt signed an executive order setting aside land in the Benguet region of the Philippines for a military reservation under the United States Army, Camp John Hay of Baguio City was established on October 25, 1903 and named in his honor. It was re-designated John Hay Air Base in 1955. The base was used for rest and recreation for U.S. military personnel and the dependents of U.S. military personnel in the Philippines as well as Department of Defense employees and their dependents. The 690-hectare property was finally turned over to the Philippines 1991 upon the expiration of the R.P.-U.S. Bases Agreement. Since 1997 it has been in the hands of a private developer, on a long term lease, which has transformed the property into a world class resort.

Hay was a close friend of Henry Brooks Adams, American historian and author. In 1884, architect Henry Hobson Richardson designed adjoining townhouses for Hay and Adams on Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C.. The houses were demolished in 1927 and the site is now occupied by the Hay–Adams Hotel.

Brown University's John Hay Library housed the entire library collection from its construction in 1910 until the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Library was built in 1964. In 1971, when physical science materials were transferred to the new Sciences Library, the John Hay Library became exclusively a repository for the library's Special Collections.

Hay's New Hampshire estate has been conserved as part of the John Hay National Wildlife Refuge, the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests' John Hay Land Studies Center, and the Garden Conservancy's Fells Reservation. The Fells, a local nonprofit organization that has maintained and managed the John Hay Estate on Lake Sunapee for over a decade, acquired the northern half of the property from the US Fish and Wildlife Service on March 25, 2008.

Hay and Abraham Lincoln are depicted in a larger-than-life bronze sculpture by Mark Martino, entitled A Learning Moment, in the Sesquicentennial Plaza at Carthage College. Hay was an alumnus of the Illinois State University in Springfield (previously Hillsboro College), which later became Carthage College when it moved to Carthage, IL in 1870.

Hay was a correspondent member of the Brazilian Academy of Letters from 1900 until his death.

Personal life

Hay married Clara Stone, a daughter of Amassa Stone of Cleveland, Ohio. They are buried together in Lake View Cemetery in Cleveland, Ohio. Their daughter Helen Julia Hay, a writer and poet, married Payne Whitney of the influential Whitney family; their children were U.S. ambassador John Hay Whitney and Joan Whitney Payson.

Books by Hay

Abraham Lincoln: A History (with John G. Nicolay, 1890)

The Bread-winners (1883)

Castilian Days (1875)

Pike County Ballads and Other Poems (1871)

Poems (1890)

Presidential Cabinet Secretary. He served during the Civil War as a private secretary to President Abraham Lincoln.. He later served as United States Secretary of State in the administration of President William McKinley.


From Wikipedia,

John Milton Hay (October 8, 1838 – July 1, 1905) was an American statesman and official whose career in government stretched over almost half a century. Beginning as a private secretary and assistant to Abraham Lincoln, Hay's highest office was United States Secretary of State under Presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt. Hay was also an author and biographer and wrote poetry and other literature throughout much of his life.

Born in Indiana to an anti-slavery family that moved to Illinois when he was young, Hay showed great potential, and his family sent him to Brown University. After graduation in 1858, Hay read law in his uncle's office in Springfield, Illinois, adjacent to that of Lincoln. Hay worked for Lincoln's successful presidential campaign and became one of his private secretaries at the White House. Throughout the American Civil War, Hay was close to Lincoln and stood by his deathbed after the President was shot at Ford's Theatre. In addition to his other literary works, Hay co-authored with John George Nicolay a multi-volume biography of Lincoln that helped shape the assassinated president's historical image.

After Lincoln's death, Hay spent several years at diplomatic posts in Europe, then worked for the New-York Tribune under Horace Greeley and Whitelaw Reid. Yet, Hay remained active in politics, and from 1879 to 1881 served as Assistant Secretary of State. Afterward, he remained in the private sector, until President McKinley, for whom he had been a major backer, made him Ambassador to the United Kingdom in 1897. Hay became Secretary of State the following year.

Hay served for almost seven years as Secretary of State under President McKinley, and after his assassination, under Theodore Roosevelt. Hay was responsible for negotiating the Open Door Policy, which kept China open to trade with all countries on an equal basis, with international powers. By negotiating the Hay–Pauncefote Treaty with the United Kingdom, the (ultimately unratified) Hay–Herrán Treaty with Colombia, and finally the Hay–Bunau-Varilla Treaty with the newly-independent Republic of Panama, Hay also cleared the way for the building of the Panama Canal.

                                                            ---------------------------------------------------------------- John Milton Hay (1838–1905) 


John Milton Hay was appointed Secretary of State in President William McKinley’s Cabinet on September 30, 1898, and entered into duty the same day. He continued in office under President Theodore Roosevelt following McKinley’s assassination in 1901 and served until his death in office on July 1, 1905.

John Milton Hay, 37th Secretary of State

Rise to Prominence

Hay was born in Salem, Indiana in 1838 to a physician who had moved westward from Virginia, living for a time in Kentucky and eventually settling in Indiana. Educated first at home and then at a private academy, Hay attended Illinois State College in 1852. Three years later, he enrolled in Brown University and graduated in 1858. Hay studied law in the office of his uncle and was admitted to the Illinois bar in 1861. During this time, he met Abraham Lincoln and played a small part in his presidential campaign. After Lincoln’s election, the new President selected Hay as his private secretary.

Following the U.S. Civil War, Hay served in multiple diplomatic posts, including those of Paris, Vienna, and Madrid. In 1870, he left the diplomatic service to write. He would eventually publish a ten-volume study of Lincoln, co-written with John Nicolay.

Hay returned to public service in 1896 when newly elected President McKinley appointed him Ambassador to Great Britain. He was offered the position as Secretary of State while the United States negotiated the peace treaty with Spain after winning the Spanish-American War. He accepted the offer and entered into duty in September of 1898.

Influence on American Diplomacy

Hay had a significant influence on the direction of U.S. foreign policy while serving in President McKinley’s Cabinet. He faced the aftermath of the Spanish-American War and the annexation of the Philippine Islands, which amplified U.S. interest in Asia.

As Secretary of State, Hay was a proponent of increased trade through the "Open Door" policy. He worked to encourage stability in China and to counteract the rising nationalism that threatened foreign interests in China, which included the challenge of the Boxer Rebellion of 1900.

As Secretary, Hay also secured the settlement of the Alaska-Canada boundary controversy. When President McKinley was assassinated, Hay stayed on as Secretary of State to serve under President Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt and Hay had few policy differences, although the new President wielded greater influence over foreign policy than his predecessor.

Hay helped secure, by treaty, the right for the United States to construct and defend the Panama Canal in 1903.

Although he suffered from deteriorating health, Hay played an active role in the Roosevelt administration during the last two years of his tenure.

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John Milton Hay, U.S. Secretary of State's Timeline

October 8, 1838
Salem, Washington County, Indiana, United States
March 26, 1876
New York, New York County, New York, United States
November 1, 1877
Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, Ohio, United States
January 6, 1880
Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, Ohio, United States
December 19, 1884
Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, Ohio, United States
July 1, 1905
Age 66
Newbury, Merrimack County, New Hampshire, United States
Lake View Cemetery Flood Control Reservoir, Cleveland Heights, Cuyahoga County, Ohio, United States