Character Analysis John Hay


It is not surprising that John Hay becomes one of Henry Adams's closest friends. They share political and personal interests as well as similar life experiences; their lives complement each other so well that they build homes next door to each other.

Born in Salem, Indiana, October 8, 1838, and educated at Brown University, Hay gets to know Adams well while serving as assistant secretary of state in 1879-1880. Hay devotes the next seventeen years to writing and shares, with Adams, a passion for history. During the American Civil War (1861-1865), Hay was assistant to John Nicolay, Abraham Lincoln's private secretary. Hay had practiced law next door to Lincoln in Springfield, Illinois, and accompanied the president-elect to Washington. From material collected during this period, Hay and Nicolay write Abraham Lincoln: a History in ten volumes (1890). They also publish Abraham Lincoln: Collected Works (1894) in two volumes. Hay has also published his own Pike County Ballads (1871), a popular collection of poems in frontier dialect. In the mid-1880s, Hay and Adams, and their spouses, build houses next to each other on Lafayette Square in Washington.

Hay returns to public service near the turn of the century and distinguishes himself in the realm of international politics. After serving a year or so as ambassador to Great Britain, Hay is secretary of state for McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt until his death (1898-1905). This is a period of dramatically increasing influence by the United States in international affairs. Hay is in charge of peace negotiations after the Spanish-American War and is instrumental in securing Cuba's independence while annexing the Philippines for the United States, which assures the U. S. of some influence in the Pacific. He is responsible for the "Open Door" policy with China (1899), an attempt to provide trade opportunities for the benefit of the West as well as Japan, Russia, and China. During the Boxer Rebellion (1900), Hay assures Western diplomats that the Legations in Peking are safe. As part of the peace terms, he assures the territorial and administrative integrity of China. When China is forced to pay damages, Hay makes sure that the United States uses its share to provide scholarships to Chinese students who want to study in America. Hay also negotiates the Hay-Pauncefote Treaty (1901), opening the way for the construction of the Panama Canal.

Personally, Adams and Hay are the best of friends. Hay, Adams, their wives, and Clarence King socialize frequently; they call this inner circle "The Five of Hearts." When Hay dies, Adams, in Paris, writes Clara Stone Hay, Hay's widow, touchingly if not altogether accurately, "My last hold on the world is lost with him."