John Hay

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John Milton Hay (October 8, 1838 – July 1, 1905) was an American statesman, diplomat, author, journalist, and private secretary and assistant to Abraham Lincoln.

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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.[1]

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 brief period 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.[2]

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