The first full-scale biography of John Hay since 1934: From secretary to Abraham Lincoln to secretary of state for Theodore Roosevelt, Hay was an essential American figure for more than half a century.
John Taliaferro’s brilliant biography captures the extraordinary life of Hay, one of the most amazing figures in American history, and restores him to his rightful place. Private secretary to Lincoln and secretary of state to Theodore Roosevelt, Hay was both witness and author of many of the most significant chapters in American history—from the birth of the Republican Party, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, to the prelude to World War I. As an ambassador and statesman, he guided many of the country’s major diplomatic initiatives at the turn of the twentieth century: the Open Door with China, the creation of the Panama Canal, and the establishment of America as a world leader.
Hay’s friends are a who’s who of the era: Mark Twain, Horace Greeley, Henry Adams, Henry James, and virtually every president, sovereign, author, artist, power broker, and robber baron of the Gilded Age. His peers esteemed him as “a perfectly cut stone” and “the greatest prime minister this republic has ever known.” But for all his poise and polish, he had his secrets. His marriage to one of the wealthiest women in the country did not prevent him from pursuing the Madame X of Washington society, whose other secret suitor was Hay’s best friend, Henry Adams.
All the Great Prizes, the first authoritative biography of Hay in eighty years, renders a rich and fascinating portrait of this brilliant American and his many worlds.
John Hay (1838-1905) ranks among the nation's great secretaries of state. A native of Illinois, he became acquainted with Abraham Lincoln in Springfield, served as the president's White House secretary, cowrote Lincoln's biography (with John Nicolay), then became ambassador to Britain, before joining both William McKinley's and Theodore Roosevelt's cabinets as secretary of state. He did in fact win "all the great prizes." Taliaferro's skillful, admiring biography (the first since 1934) brings Hay vividly to life by setting him among family, friends (many of them well-known figures in their own right), and the well-heeled political circles in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere, in which Hay moved with ease. The author also does his best to see into his subject's emotional life especially his deep, unrequited affection for another man's wife. It is, however, too often in the nature of biographies even a fine one like this to let interpretation yield to narrative. Thus Taliaferro raises few of the issues that characterized U.S. foreign affairs in the seven years (1898-1905) of Hay's secretaryship under Roosevelt, and which historians of American diplomacy have long debated. This book will inform its readers but, alas, not affect or advance those debates. 16-page b&w photo insert.