New Biography of John Milton Hay

Unlike several Scottish clans (the Grants, Munros and Buchanans, for example), the Hays have never produced a President of the United States – yet.  We have, however, provided our American cousins with a celebrated diplomat, statesman and poet in John Milton Hay (1838-1905.)

John Hay, Secretary of State

Thanks to the magnificent work of biographer John Taliaferro, John Hay is finally the subject of a major biography that truly reflects his political and diplomatic significance.

This is, by any standards, a definitive and demanding work of political biography - extending to more than 600 pages - but it is also the human story of a very sympathetic character, brought to life by Taliaferro's lively and descriptive prose and by the detail he includes of the man himself.

John Hay was a journalist and historian who served as secretary to President Lincoln during the Civil War and was with the president when he was assassinated in 1865.  He went on to become American ambassador in London in 1897 and was recalled by President McKinley the following year to become Secretary of State, in which office he continued to serve under McKinley’s successor, Theodore Roosevelt, until his death in 1905.

Research by our American member Shirley Scott has shed new light on John Hay’s origins.  Many sources contend that he was a descendant of Simon Hay the pioneer, whose family originated, not in Scotland, but in the German duchy of Zweibruecken.  Their family name was originally Hoh and was changed to Hay on settling in English speaking America.  Consequently, says this thesis, they are unconnected to the Scottish Hays.

It seems, however, that this is not the case and that John M. Hay’s family is of Scottish origin after all.  That is certainly the view of the John Hay Museum in Indiana, where he was born, and Hay himself seems to have believed his family came from Scotland.  Shirley’s research traces him to the Hays of Smithfield, near Peebles, a branch of the Tweeddale Hays.  We look forward to hearing more of Shirley’s research into this interesting and distinguished kinsman.

Coincidentally, John Hay’s grandson Jock Whitney was appointed U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom exactly 60 years after his grandfather.  During his tenure, Whitney’s great achievement was to repair American British relations which had been so gravely damaged by the Suez crisis of the previous year.

In any event, we commend John Taliaferro's biography of John Milton Hay to all.