Appointed by President William McKinley
Continued in office under President Theodore Roosevelt
John Hay, the son of a country physician, Charles Hay, and his wife, Helen Leonard Hay, was born in Salem, Indiana, on October 8, 1838, but moved to the Mississippi River town of Warsaw, Illinois, in 1841. Growing up before the advent of public schools in Warsaw, Hay received a classical education at home and later in a private academy in nearby Pittsfield, a more cosmopolitan town. Pittsfield was important, for Hay's uncle, Milton Hay, lived there and later introduced him to Abraham Lincoln. In Pittsfield he also met John G. Nicolay, who became his close friend and with whom he later worked in the Lincoln White House and subsequently on a 10-volume “History” of Abraham Lincoln. In 1852 Hay moved to Springfield, where he enrolled in Illinois State College (later Concordia College). He received a sufficiently good education there that in 1855 he was able to enter Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, as an upperclassman.
In Providence, Hay's literary abilities flourished, and he soon became active in various literary circles. Increasingly attracted by the culture of the east, Hay anticipated with dread his return to the barren wastelands (as he had come to view them) of central Illinois, and he composed morose poems debating the advantages of death over life. In this “slough of barbarism, ” there was no hope of literary accomplishment, he felt. After graduation from Brown in 1858, Hay read law with his uncle Milton, whose office was next to Lincoln and Herndon. Initially uninterested in politics, he took a small part in Lincoln's campaign for the presidency in 1860. Lincoln asked him to serve in the White House as one of his secretaries, although technically he was a clerk in the Pension Office at the Department of the Interior and then a military officer. Although Hay did not initially have a high opinion of the new president, by August 1863 Hay had become convinced that “the good of the country absolutely demands that he should be kept where he is till this thing is over … I believe the hand of God placed him where he is.”
Hay's admiration for Lincoln deeply affected his thought in later years. Particularly in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, Hay became an outspoken advo-cate of democratic reform. At least one of his poems attacked racism. A considerable