Inside Lincoln's White House: The Complete Civil War Diary of John Hay

Inside Lincoln's White House: The Complete Civil War Diary of John Hay

Inside Lincoln's White House: The Complete Civil War Diary of John Hay

Inside Lincoln's White House: The Complete Civil War Diary of John Hay

Synopsis

Covers the crucial years 1861-64 as remembered by Lincoln's secretary.

Excerpt

The diary of Assistant Presidential Secretary John Hay has been aptly described as "the most intimate record we have or ever can have of Abraham Lincoln in the White House." It is one the richest deposits of high-grade ore for the smelters of Lincoln biographers and Civil War historians, especially for the years 1863 and 1864, when Hay was a more conscientious diarist than he had been earlier. the diaries of cabinet members and other political associates of the president--like Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase, Attorney General Edward Bates, Navy Secretary Gideon Welles, and Senator Orville Hickman Browning--also shed much light on Lincoln's presidency, but none of those has the literary flair of Hay's journal, which is, as Lincoln's friend Horace White noted, as "breezy and sparkling as champagne." An aspiring poet, Hay recorded events in a scintillating style that the lawyer-politician diarists conspicuously lacked.

Living in the White House, Hay enjoyed easy access to Lincoln, who, according to one observer, "loved him as a son." Galusha Grow, the Speaker of the House during the first half of the Civil War, recalled that "Lincoln was very much attached" to Hay "and often spoke to me in high terms of his ability and trustworthiness." Grow knew "of no person in whom the great President reposed more confidence and to whom he confided secrets of State as well as his own personal affairs with such great freedom." Hay and the chief presidential secretary, John G. Nicolay, were (as they later put it) "daily and nightly witnesses of the incidents, the anxieties, the fears, and the hopes, which pervaded the Executive Mansion and the National Capital." Lincoln, they claimed, "gave them his unlimited confidence."

Born in Salem, Indiana, in 1838, Hay was raised in Warsaw, Illinois, where his father practiced medicine. a precocious boy, Hay had mastered much Latin by the age of twelve, when he was shipped off to live with his uncle, Milton Hay, in Pittsfield, where the schools were superior to those in Warsaw. There the youngster befriended an older lad, John G. Nicolay. Hay attended Brown University, from which he graduated in 1858. Leaving Providence, he returned to Illinois and once again stayed with his . . .

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