Lincoln's Boys: John Hay, John Nicolay, and the War for Lincoln's Image
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A timely and intimate look into Abraham Lincoln’s White House through the lives of his two closest aides and confidants
Lincoln’s official secretaries John Hay and John Nicolay enjoyed more access, witnessed more history, and knew Lincoln better than anyone outside of the president’s immediate family. Hay and Nicolay were the gatekeepers of the Lincoln legacy. They read poetry and attendeded the theater with the president, commiserated with him over Union army setbacks, and plotted electoral strategy. They were present at every seminal event, from the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation to Lincoln’s delivery of the Gettysburg Address—and they wrote about it after his death.
In their biography of Lincoln, Hay and Nicolay fought to establish Lincoln’s heroic legacy and to preserve a narrative that saw slavery—not states’ rights—as the sole cause of the Civil War. As Joshua Zeitz shows, the image of a humble man with uncommon intellect who rose from obscurity to become a storied wartime leader and emancipator is very much their creation.
Drawing on letters, diaries, and memoirs, Lincoln’s Boys is part political drama and part coming-of-age tale—a fascinating story of friendship, politics, war, and the contest over history and remembrance.
adequately thank you.” Two years later, Hanna called on Hay to line up delegates in advance of the 1896 Republican convention, particularly in delegate-rich Pennsylvania, where Hay enjoyed a longtime relationship with Senator Don Cameron, his neighbor on Lafayette Square (and the son of Lincoln’s first war secretary, Simon Cameron). “I think you are as good at the game as either of the Penna Senators,” Hanna told Hay, “and I am perfectly willing to leave them in your hands.” Hay also
Union, 5:223–24, 227–29, 291. elaborate reviews: Ibid., 293. “Went out to-day”: JGN, Memorandum, Nov. 20, 1861, box 7, JGN-LC. “I had tired myself out”: JGN to TB, Nov. 21, 1861, box 7, JGN-LC. “We could hear the explosion”: JGN to TB, May 10, June 2, 1861, box 7, JGN-LC. “The battle is lost”: JGN to TB, July 21, 1861, box 7, JGN-LC. “with the ushering in of daylight”: New York World, July 22, 1861, in LJOUR, 75–79. In Missouri: Foner, Fiery Trial, 176–79;
federal government buildings, which stood out in these rough environs for their aspirational grandeur. The Capitol, where workmen had recently completed north and south wings to house the new Senate and House chambers, was surrounded by unsightly scaffolding and toolsheds, as engineers and laborers awaited the new cast-iron dome that would soon replace the decades-old wood roof. In the vast spaces between buildings, city residents let their pigs and cattle graze freely. “To make a Washington
wandered over to the White House. The president was not in, though Hay experienced an eerie sense of déjà vu upon being ushered into his secretary’s office to leave his card. Two days later, Evarts announced that he was leaving town on personal business and that Hay would serve as acting “Secretary of State in his absence.” “Think of that and hold up your head,” Hay gushed to Clara. “Today was an important one in our history,” he reported the following day. “I sat for the first time in Cabinet
detriment. Better educated and more widely read than his famous partner, he prided himself on being Lincoln’s intellectual mentor but deferred to the elder man on almost every matter concerning business and politics. Less distracted and more workmanlike than the slain president, he kept their partnership afloat during Lincoln’s long absences on the campaign trail but proved inept at earning a living after his death. Yet for all of his faults and inconsistencies, Herndon understood Lincoln