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John Hay Letters

An inventory of his letters at Syracuse University

Finding aid created by: KM
Date: Jun 1990

Biographical History

John Milton Hay (1838-1905) was an American politician and poet who served as Secretary of State from 1838-1905 and who made substantial contributions to American foreign policy.

John Milton Hay was born October 8, 1838 in Salem, Indiana, although his parents, Dr. Charles and Helen (Leonard) Hay, relocated the family to Warsaw, Illinois during Hay's early childhood. He graduated from Brown University in 1858, being named "Class Poet" and then returned briefly to Warsaw. Shortly after, Hay was granted the opportunity to serve as a private secretary to President Abraham Lincoln. In May 1865, he was appointed as secretary to the American Legation in Paris, France. Over the next years, Hay held various diplomatic posts. However, it was not until 1897 that Hay gained an appointment to Ambassador to Great Britain. This was followed by President William McKinley naming Hay as Secretary of State in 1898. While in this office, Hay constructed the Open Door Policy, allowing for open trade with China. Hay maintained his post during President Theodore Roosevelt's presidency and was influential in the Panama Canal negotiations. He remained at this post until his death on July 1, 1905.

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The John Hay Letters are a bound collection of 35 items written between 1886 and 1905 to financier and philanthropist Samuel Mather (1851-1931). The collection of letters of the American journalist, historian, and diplomat is preceded by a letter from William Roscoe Thayer, Hay's biographer, requesting Mather's permission to inspect Hay's correspondence. The letter also contains a series of questions about Hay's personal and political life, including an inquiry into his "being a man subject to fits of depression."

The Hay letters are of both a personal and business nature, many of which focus on Hay's diplomatic career as President McKinley's ambassador to Great Britain, and later his Secretary of State. Writing of his negotiations with artist John Singer Sargent, Hay explains (7 Feb 1903):

...through Henry White Carter, I had partly arranged to have him do my portrait, if he could find the time during his visit to Washington, but, as it was not certain, I did not say anything about it. He succeeded in finding a few hours for me, and has completed my portrait. I suppose, of course, that Clara has first claim upon it, but, bearing in view your most flattering request, I asked him if he could do another. At first, he said it would be impossible, but afterwards seemed to be in a more compliant mood, and now says that one of these days, if he can find the time, he will be glad to do it. If when it is done you and Flora still think you want one of them, I will put it at your disposition.


Access Restrictions:

The majority of our archival and manuscript collections are housed offsite and require advanced notice for retrieval. Researchers are encouraged to contact us in advance concerning the collection material they wish to access for their research.

Use Restrictions:

Written permission must be obtained from SCRC and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

Subject Headings


Hay, John, 1838-1905 -- Correspondence.
Mather, Samuel, 1851-1931.
Thayer, William Roscoe, 1859-1923.


Biographers -- United States.
Diplomats -- United States.
Historians -- United States.
Statesmen -- United States.


United States -- Foreign relations -- 1897-1901.
United States -- Foreign relations -- 1901-1909.
United States -- History -- 1865-1921.

Genres and Forms

Letters (correspondence)



Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

John Hay Letters
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Acquisition Information

Gift of Robert C. Hosmer.

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