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Definition: Hay, John Milton from Philip's Encyclopedia

US secretary of state (1898-1905) under Presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt. His 'open-door policy' demanded equal trading status for foreign powers in China. He negotiated the Hay-Pauncefote Treaty ensuring US control of the Panama Canal.


Summary Article: Hay, John Milton
from American Civil War: The Definitive Encyclopedia and Document collection

Birth Date: October 12, 1838

Death Date: July 1, 1905

Secretary to President Abraham Lincoln, writer, diplomat, and secretary of state (1898–1905). Born in Salem, Indiana, on October 12, 1838, John Milton Hay grew up in Springfield, Illinois. He graduated from Brown University in 1858 and studied law while working in his uncle's Springfield office, which was adjacent to that of Abraham Lincoln. Hay soon became one of Lincoln's private secretaries and went with him to Washington in 1861.

Hay arranged the president's schedule, helped with correspondence, and attended to the Lincoln family's needs. He most often attended First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln, who prized Hay for his discretion and efficiency. Hay soon became a Lincoln confidant. In late 1863 Hay served on the staff of Major General Quincy Gillmore in South Carolina, and in 1864 the president arranged for Hay to receive a major's commission in the army, although he did not serve in a military capacity.

John Milton Hay was private secretary to and confidant of President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. He went on to become U.S. secretary of state under presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt. (Library of Congress)

In early 1865 Hay was brevetted colonel. In March 1865 he was appointed secretary to the U.S. legation in Paris. During 1867 and 1868, he was chargé d'affaires in Vienna, and in 1869 he became secretary of the legation in Madrid.

Hay returned to the United States in 1870 and embarked on a career as a journalist and writer of history, fiction, and poetry. In 1890, along with John C. Nicolay, Hay completed the 10-volume Abraham Lincoln: A History. Except for a brief period in 1878 as assistant secretary of state, Hay remained out of government circles.

In 1897 Hay accepted appointment as ambassador to Great Britain. President William McKinley appointed him secretary of state the next year. Hay took office on September 30 and helped negotiate the Treaty of Paris that ended the Spanish-American War, leading to the important acquisition of the Philippine Islands, which Hay favored, along with Puerto Rico. Diplomatic initiatives in the Far East and the pursuit of overseas economic markets ultimately resulted in what became known as Hay's Open Door Policy, an effort to keep China open for trade to all. Hay's notes did not insist on the territorial integrity of China but applied only to the “relatively small foreign leaseholds and spheres of influence” that had recently been established there. Hay's careful diplomacy also helped ease tensions in the 1900 Boxer Rebellion. He also supported U.S. participation in the First International Peace Conference at The Hague in 1899 in an effort to promote world peace through international arbitration and disarmament.

In 1901 Hay was successful in negotiating the Hay-Pauncefote Treaty with Great Britain, which opened the way for U.S. control of a Central American canal linking the Caribbean to the Pacific Ocean. Hay died in office in Falls, New Hampshire, on July 1, 1905.

See also

Lincoln, Abraham; Lincoln, Mary Ann Todd

Further Reading
  • Clymer, Kenton Jr. John Hay: The Gentleman as Diplomat. University of Michigan Press Ann Arbor, 1975.
  • Gale, Robert. John Hay. Twayne Boston, 1978.
  • Charles F. Howlett
    Copyright 2013 by Spencer C. Tucker

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