Historical Connections: Lincoln-Hay-Roosevelt

Today in History, March 4: 1861 (Lincoln Inauguration) / 1905 (Theodore Roosevelt Inauguration) – A very special connection between two Presidents, 40 years apart. As a young man in Illinois, John Hay got the chance of a lifetime. His friend John Nicolay was working at the law firm of Abraham Lincoln, Presidential candidate. When Lincoln was elected, Hay and Nicolay became his private secretaries in the Executive Mansion and became his confidants…he would stay up nights sharing stories with them and came to trust them; they helped to keep him balanced through the trials and tragedies of the Civil War. They, in turn nearly idolized him, referring to him as the Ancient One. When Lincoln was assassinated it devastated Hay. He recovered and went on to serve in numerous posts within the government, including the Ambassador to the Court of St. James (England); he was a successful author and journalist (remarkably understated..but I must keep this somewhat brief). He served several other presidents, becoming Secretary of State for President William McKinley. When McKinley was assassinated, Hay stayed on to serve in Theodore Roosevelt’s administration. He was largely responsible for the Open Door Policy in China and negotiated the Hay–Bunau-Varilla Treaty to build the Panama Canal. He initially thought TR a rogue cowboy, but as he grew to respect the President, they became fast friends. TR came to respect Hay’s experience and wisdom, and came to depend upon him. The night before TR was to be inaugurated for his second term, his first in which he was elected, John Hay sent TR a gift. A ring containing a strand of President Lincoln’s hair under glass, taken during his autopsy. Hay included a note:
“Dear Theodore:

The hair in this ring is from the head of Abraham Lincoln. Dr. Taft cut it off the night of the assassination, and I got it from his son-a brief pedigress.

Please wear it tomorrow; you are one of the men who most thoroughly understand and appreciate Lincoln.

I have had your mongram and Lincoln’s engraved on the ring.

Longas, O utiman, bone dux, ferias, Praestes Hesperia.

(Mayest thou, Good Captain, give long holiday to Hesperia!)

Yours affectionately, John Hay”
TR replied:

“Dear John, Surely no other President, on the eve of his inauguration, has ever received such a gift from such a friend. I am wearing the ring now; I shall think of it and you as I take the oath tomorrow. I wonder if you have any idea what your strength and wisdom and sympathy, what the guidance you have given me and the mere delight in your companionship, have meant to me these three and a half years?  

With love and gratitude, Ever yours….”
What a life! A integral part of the story of two of our best presidents, and a key player in numerous historic decisions and events. Aside from the photos of the ring, there are photos of Hay in his youth, as an older man (he would die later in 1905), and even the photo of Lincoln’s funeral procession through New York City is important…in a window of one of the buildings to the left are two small boys watching the procession go by…young Theodore Roosevelt, Jr and his brother Elliott.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s