HAY, JOHN (1838–1905), American statesman and author, was born at Salem, Indiana, on the 8th of October 1838. He graduated from Brown University in 1858, studied law in the office of Abraham Lincoln, was admitted to the bar in Springfield, Illinois, in 1861, and soon afterwards was selected by President Lincoln as assistant private secretary, in which capacity he served till the president’s death, being associated with John George Nicolay (1832–1901). Hay was secretary of the U.S. legation at Paris in 1865–1867, at Vienna in 1867–1869 and at Madrid in 1869–1870. After his return he was for five years an editorial writer on the New York Tribune; in 1879–1881 he was first assistant secretary of state to W. M. Evarts; and in 1881 was a delegate to the International Sanitary Conference, which met in Washington, D.C., and of which he was chosen president. Upon the inauguration of President McKinley in 1897 Hay was appointed ambassador to Great Britain, from which post he was transferred in 1898 to that of secretary of state, succeeding W. R. Day, who was sent to Paris as a member of the Peace Conference. He remained in this office until his death at Newburg, New Hampshire, on the 1st of July 1905. He directed the peace negotiations with Spain after the war of 1898, and not only secured American interests in the imbroglio caused by the Boxers in China, but grasped the opportunity to insist on “the administrative entity” of China; influenced the powers to declare publicly for the “open door” in China; challenged Russia as to her intentions in Manchuria, securing a promise to evacuate the country on the 8th of October 1903; and in 1904 again urged “the administrative entity” of China and took the initiative in inducing Russia and Japan to “localize and limit” the area of hostilities. It was largely due to his tact and good management, in concert with Lord Pauncefote, the British ambassador, that negotiations for abrogating the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty and for making a new treaty with Great Britain regarding the Isthmian Canal were successfully concluded at the end of 1901; subsequently he negotiated treaties with Colombia and with Panama, looking towards the construction by the United States of a trans-isthmian canal. He also arranged the settlement of difficulties with Germany over Samoa in December 1899, and the settlement, by joint commission, of the question concerning the disputed Alaskan boundary in 1903. John Hay was a man of quiet and unassuming disposition, whose training in diplomacy gave a cool and judicious character to his statesmanship. As secretary of state under Presidents McKinley and Roosevelt his guidance was invaluable during a rather critical period in foreign affairs, and no man of his time did more to create confidence in the increased interest taken by the United States in international matters. He also represented, in another capacity, the best American traditions—namely in literature. He published Pike County Ballads (1871)—the most famous being “Little Breeches”—a volume worthy to rank with Bret Harte, if not with the Lowell of the Biglow Papers; Castilian Days (1871), recording his observations in Spain; and a volume of Poems (1890); with John G. Nicolay he wrote Abraham Lincoln: A History (10 vols., 1890), a monumental work indispensable to the student of the Civil War period in America, and published an edition of Lincoln’s Complete Works (2 vols., 1894). The authorship of the brilliant novel The Breadwinners (1883) is now certainly attributed to him. Hay was an excellent public speaker: some of his best addresses are In Praise of Omar; On the Unveiling of the Bust of Sir Walter Scott in Westminster Abbey, May 21, 1897; and a memorial address in honour of President McKinley.
The best of his previously unpublished speeches appeared in Addresses of John Hay (1906).