Men of Mark in America/Volume 1/John Hay


Hay, John, author, soldier, diplomat, statesman, was born October 8, 1838, at Salem, Indiana. His parents were Dr. Charles and Helen (Leonard) Hay. They were plain, substantial American people, who took a leading place in the community where they lived. Helen Hay was a daughter of the Reverend David A. Leonard, of Rhode Island. She was a woman of refinement and education, gentle but firm in disposition, and a fit companion for her worthy husband.

The ancestry of the family is traced back to John Hay, who came from Germany in 1750 and settled in Virginia. His ancestors had gone from Scotland to Germany several generations before. Adam, son of the Virginia John, was a soldier of the Revolution, an officer in the Continental army, and a friend of Washington. When independence was achieved, he joined the tide which has flowed steadily westward, and emigrating beyond the Alleghanies, settled in the "blue grass region." When it became evident that Kentucky was to be a slave state, John, a son of the Revolutionary Adam, entertaining principles that were irreconcilable with "the peculiar institution," removed to Illinois, a territory largely settled by pioneers of faith similar to his own.

On his mother's side John Hay's American ancestry is traced from Thomas Rogers, who came over in the Mayflower in 1620. It will be seen, therefore, that in this stock blend two strong strains: Scotch, and Puritan English.

The present John Hay, third of that name in America, was a hardy and adventurous youth, who grew up with a fondness for "reading and play." His early life was passed in a village on the upper Mississippi (Warsaw, Illinois), where he attended the public schools the greater part of the year and occupied the remainder of his time with such amusements and tasks as fall to the lot of the average village youth.

He studied at Brown university, Providence, Rhode Island, from which institution he was graduated with high honors in 1858.

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As later academic distinctions he has received the degree of LL.D. from Brown, Western Reserve, Dartmouth, Princeton, Yale and Harvard.

After his graduation he entered the law office of Hay and Cullom, at Springfield, Illinois. The senior member of the firm was his uncle, and through him he became acquainted with Abraham Lincoln, with whom he formed an intimate friendship which continued until it was broken by death. He also made friends of many of the other distinguished men of the state. He gave diligent attention to his law studies, in which he made good progress, and was admitted to the bar early in 1861. He learned much regarding politics, too, and laid the foundations for his later success in the management of political affairs. Both as a writer for the press and as a speaker at public meetings he was prominent in the presidential campaign of 1860, and he made his influence felt to such an extent that, when the president-elect set out on his memorable inaugural trip to Washington, he invited the young lawyer to become his private secretary. This brought him into close relationship with many of the distinguished men of those stirring times, and gave him an acquaintance that proved of incalculable benefit in after life.

In addition to his duties as private secretary to the president, Mr. Hay served for some time in the field as major and assistant adjutant-general. He acted mainly as a medium of communication between Mr. Lincoln and the general commanding the armies. For his faithful performance of the duties of these positions he was promoted to the rank of colonel by brevet.

The relations between the president and his secretary were so close and cordial as almost to resemble those of father and son, and, quite naturally, after the assassination of Mr. Lincoln, Colonel Hay no longer cared to continue his connection with the office of the chief executive. He therefore accepted an appointment as secretary of legation at Paris, where he remained from 1865 to 1867, having for a portion of the time full charge of the legation. In 1867-68 he was charge d'affaires at Vienna, and from 1869 to 1870, secretary of legation at Madrid. Returning home near the close of the latter year, he became an editorial writer on the New York Tribune, and continued in that position until 1875. This embraced one of the most exciting periods of our after-war history, including Horace Greeley's candidacy for the presidency and his melancholy death. The great editor entertained a high appreciation of the talents of his younger associate, and referred to him as the most brilliant writer who had ever been connected with the Tribune staff.

During a portion of President Hayes' administration, from November 1, 1879, to May 3, 1881, Mr. Hay was first assistant secretary of state under Mr. Evarts, and during the last-named year he also acted as president of the International Sanitary Congress, which held its sessions in Washington. For about seven months in this year he served as editor-in-chief of the New York Tribune.

In 1897 President McKinley, at the beginning of his first term, expressed a preference for Colonel Hay as secretary of state, but for various political reasons which seemed to be of importance to his party and to the country at large, he decided to offer this position to Senator Sherman, by whom it was accepted. Mr. Hay was thereupon appointed ambassador to Great Britain, a position for which his talents and his varied accomplishments peculiarly fitted him. He won recognition at once, and is generally regarded as one of the world's famous diplomats and statesmen. During the eighteen months of his residence at the Court of St. James he succeeded in establishing and maintaining the most friendly relations between England and the United States. There is no doubt that to his skillful and far-seeing diplomacy the neutrality of the English during our war with Spain was principally due. He won great personal as well as social and official popularity during his stay in England, and it is doubtful if any American minister has made a more favorable or lasting impression on the British mind.

Mr. Hay assumed the duties of secretary of state on September 30, 1898, succeeding Honorable William R. Day. This was the stormy period of our troubles with Spain over the settlement of the Cuban question, and our relations with several of the leading nations of the world were such as to demand the wisest statesmanship. One of Secretary Hay's first prominent acts was the securing of a modus Vivendi wdth England, providing for a temporary boundary line through disputed territory in Alaska without the surrender of a single contention on the part of the United States. The wisdom and justice of this measure were subsequently recognized in the findings of the Canadian Boundary Commission, which assembled in London in 1904, its decision being practically a confirmation of our claims as set forth by Mr. Hay. This was a victory of unusual significance for the American secretary and is by no means one of the least of his titles to fame.

A treaty relating to an interoceanic canal was drafted by Secretary Hay and forwarded to the senate February 5, 1900. This was known as the Hay-Pauncefote treaty and specified the relations which England and the United States should hold regarding the projected canal. The tenor of this treaty was quite generally misunderstood at the time and led to attacks on Mr. Hay for what was termed his excessive friendship for England. But the history and purpose of the proposed treaty were grievously misinterpreted. Instead of being an unfair concession to Great Britain it was a distinct surrender on her part of undue advantage conceded to her by the impracticable Clayton-Bulwer treaty of 1850, which for half a century had steadily blocked the way to the building of a canal. The measure, with some amendments, was ratified by the senate on December 20, 1900, by the decisive vote of fifty-five to eighteen. It failed to become operative, however, through the neglect of the British Government to respond within the time specified.

Not discouraged by this bit of ill fortune Mr. Hay at once began negotiations with Lord Pauncefote for a new treaty on the same lines, which was signed November 18, 1901, and ratified by the senate on the sixteenth of December of the same year by an almost unanimous vote.

A treaty was then made by Mr. Hay with the Colombian Legation in Washington which the Bogota Government refused to ratify. The consequence of this action was a revolution in Panama by which that state gained its independence. The final treaty, by virtue of which the United States acquired the right to build a canal across the Isthmus, was negotiated by Mr. Hay with the Minister of Panama, Mr. Bunau-Varilla, signed on November 18,1903, and ratified by the senate February 23,1904.

Meanwhile the "open-door" policy with China had been announced by Secretary Hay in a letter to the powers maintaining spheres of influence in that country, bearing date September 6, 1899, and inviting expressions as to their intentions and views concerning the desirability of measures to secure equal facilities for all nations in foreign trade throughout the empire. This formal announcement of a common policy, which could not be legitimately denied by the powers, since it demanded nothing but simple justice for all, brought the United States into immediate prominence in the council of nations and proclaimed a new order of diplomacy. The successful termination of the negotiations was formally announced by President McKinley on the twentieth of March, 1900, thus placing another wreath of fame on the brow of the secretary who had been the means of introducing so large a measure of justice and common sense into the world's diplomacy.

It soon became evident, however, that the Government of China would be unable to carry out its agreement with the powers, and the memorable "Boxer War" resulted. For a brief period the United States was forced into concurrent action with the other powers in a common effort to protect the lives and rights of all foreigners within the limits of the Empire, but the idea of making war on China was not entertained for a moment by our Government. On the third of July, 1900, Mr. Hay addressed a note to the powers, declaring that the United States did not propose to make war against the Chinese nation, but was determined to rescue our legation from the perils by which it was menaced at Peking, to secure the safety of American life and property, and to prevent the spread or recurrence of the disorders. As a result of this declaration and a strict adherence to the policy which it outlined, the imperial Government disavowed all responsibility for the outrages of the Boxer uprising and solicited the good offices of President McKinley in restoring peace. The final result is a part of the history of our country and need not be repeated here; but the course of the secretary in planning and executing the policy of our Government has elicited the warmest praise from all sources.

During the war between England and the Boer Republics of South Africa, the United States, by proclamation of the President, assumed a strictly neutral position. The policy of the Government in this episode was severely criticized by many of our people, irrespective of party affiliations, for the sympathies of the nation were practically unanimous in behalf of the struggling republics; but the wisdom and patriotism of the secretary in maintaining a neutral policy have been amply vindicated by events.

The Samoan question, which had caused a great deal of friction, was brought to a satisfactory settlement by Mr. Hay in 1899. Under the agreement then made. Great Britain withdrew from the islands, leaving Germany and the United States in possession. Without the loss of any of our commercial rights and privileges in the islands we secured the finest harbor in the South Seas.

During the same period Mr. Hay was actively engaged in efforts to induce the various powers to adopt the commercial policy of reciprocity. His influence upon the Universal Peace Congress at the Hague in 1899, through the delegates from this country, was so pronounced as to secure in its permanent records an emphatic statement of the Monroe Doctrine as it is held in the United States.

Among other creditable achievements of Mr. Hay was the settlement, in 1901, of the troubles with Turkey which had grown out of the Armenian riots. He secured a payment by the Turkish Government of $95,000 for injuries received and losses sustained by the American missionaries and citizens, together with the restoration of the devastated mission and the enlargement of Robert college at Constantinople.

At the outbreak of war between Russia and Japan, in the early part of 1904, the American secretary again manifested his genius for high diplomacy by securing an agreement from the powers to confine the area of hostilities to the territory of the belligerents, thus preventing what threatened to be a general European war, which might have involved the United States.

Mr. Hay was married February 4, 1874, to Clara L., daughter of Amasa and Julia A. (Gleason) Stone. They have had two sons and two daughters. The elder son, Adelbert Stone, born in 1876, was graduated from Yale in 1898. He became secretary of legation under his father in London, and continued to act as his father's secretary for some time after their return to America. Subsequently he made a trip around the world in an official capacity, and afterward participated in the Philippine campaign, displaying great courage in several hotly-contested engagements. In December, 1899, he became United States Consul at Pretoria, South Africa, which position he held until the spring of 1901, and in which, although the youngest of the resident consuls, he manifested so high an order of diplomatic talent as to make him practically their leader and to justify the confident expectation of a distinguished career. When he returned to this country he became the private secretary of President McKinley. In June, 1901, while attending a reunion of his class at Yale he lost his life as the result of an accidental fall. Helen, the elder of the two daughters, has manifested poetic talent, her published works being "Verses" (1898); "The Little Boy Book" (1899), and the "Rose of Dawn," a poem of the South Seas (1901).

Aside from his fame as a diplomat, Mr. Hay is well known as an author. His first published work was "Castilian Days," studies of Spanish life and character (1871); this was followed the same year by "Pike County Ballads and Other Pieces"; and in 1875 he published a translation of Emilio Castelar's treatise on "The Republican Movement in Europe." His greatest literary work was a "Life of Abraham Lincoln," written in collaboration with John G. Nicolay. It appeared first as a serial in the "Century Magazine" (1887-89), and was afterward republished in book form, in ten volumes, immediately taking its place as one of the masterpieces of biography. In 1890 Mr. Hay published a volume of poems. He has been credited with the authorship of a remarkably strong novel entitled "The Bread Winners," dealing with the problem of labor, capital and strikes. Some of the "Ballads " which appeared in his second published work were written during his college days and attained great popularity. The best known among the collection are "Jim Bludso" and "Little Breeches," which, owing to their pathos and their local color, must long retain their place in the affections of the American people.

As may be inferred from the mark that he has made in our national history, Mr. Hay is a man of strong and earnest convictions. He is also deeply religious, exemplifying his faith by his daily life, though he never makes a display of his sentiments or attempts to impose upon others his own standard of faith and code of morals. He is a member of the American Institute of Arts and Letters, is a Republican in politics, and he finds his chief recreation in walking and riding and in shooting wild fowl. In referring to his own life he declares that he has succeeded beyond his hopes and enjoyed more happiness than he deserved, for which he " thanks Providence and his family."

On account of impaired health Secretary Hay went abroad in the spring of 1905. On July 1, of the same year, he died at his summer residence, Lake Sunapee, New Hampshire. The expressions of appreciation for the man, his work and his character, which came from statesmen, rulers and diplomats of all lands were most noteworthy, and are hardly to be paralleled.