Last night, Brown hosted “John Hay Night,” a celebration of the life and scholarship of one of its most famous alumni. The event showcased the impressive set of resources that the university has collected about Hay, who served as a diplomat for three U.S. presidents. Professor Michael Vorenberg introduced separate talks by John Taliaferro, author of All the Great Prizes: The Life of John Hay, from Lincoln to Roosevelt, and Joshua Zeitz AM’98 PhD’02, author of Lincoln’s Boys: John Hay, John Nicolay, and the War for Lincoln’s Image. Taliaferro’s book is the first biography of Hay in over 80 years, and Zeitz’s work puts a new spin on a portion of Hay’s life that is often overlooked. As he puts it, Lincoln buffs know little about the Roosevelt-era Hay, and vice versa.
John Hay, the man for whom the beautiful, renovated library you’re too lazy to set foot in is named, has a résumé that would make our template blush. He spent almost 60 years in public life, from his time as Abraham Lincoln’s personal secretary—see, not everyone goes into finance or consulting—to his death while serving as Secretary of State under Theodore Roosevelt. He was instrumental in key moments in U.S. history like the forging of the Open Door policy with China and the construction of the Panama Canal. Along with John Nicolay, the second of “Lincoln’s Boys,” he wrote a truly massive biography of the late President that brought to light many of the qualities that we now take for granted when we think about Honest Abe. He even ghost-wrote the famous Bixby letter, which you might know as that voice-over that makes you cry at the end of Saving Private Ryan.