John Hay

Quick Facts

Private secretary to Abraham Lincoln, U.S. Secretary of State under Presidents McKinley & Roosevelt
Place Of Birth:
Salem, IN
Date Of Birth:
October 8, 1838
Place Of Death:
Newbury, NH
Date Of Death:
July 1, 1905
Place Of Burial:
Cleveland, OH
Cemetery Name:
Lake View Cemetery

One of the most multi-talented figures of the Civil War era was undoubtedly John Milton Hay, whose many roles included secretary, assistant, diplomat, writer, journalist, and 37th U.S. Secretary of State.

An Indiana native and graduate of Brown University with a law degree, his long government career began at the young age of 22 when, upon Lincoln's election to the presidency, his secretary, John G. Nicolay, recommended Hay for a job in Washington as assistant private secretary.

Hay served the president faithfully from 1861 until 1865, also serving briefly in the Union army before when Lincoln appointed him to the U.S. Embassy in France, an assignment followed by secretary of legation in Spain and charge d'affaires in Austria.

Besides politics, Hay's other love was the written word. He was a poet at Brown and, always an avid writer, became a published author after the war, even co-writing with Nicolay a 10-volume Lincoln biography. In 1870, he took a six-year break from politics to work as a journalist for the New York Tribune.

His respite from government did not last long, though. Upon his return, he became the Assistant Secretary of State under Presidents Rutherford B. Hayes and James A. Garfield. In 1897, he was appointed Ambassador to Great Britain, and a year later, John Hay was named Secretary of State, a position he held under both Presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt.

A skilled diplomat, Hay's accomplishments as Secretary of State included the Open Door Policy toward China, negotiation of more than 50 treaties, and preparations for construction of the Panama Canal. Hay was serving as Secretary of State at the time of his death in 1905.

Last updated: June 18, 2015