“. . . A little after midnight as I was writing . . . , the President came into the office laughing, with a volume of Hood’s works in his hand to show Nico[lay] & me the little Caricature ‘An unfortunate Bee-ing,’ seemingly utterly unconscious that he with his short shirt hanging about his long legs & setting out behind like the tail feathers of an enormous ostrich was infinitely funnier than anything in the book he was laughing at. What a man it is. Occupied all day with matters of vast moment, deeply anxious about the fate of the greatest army of the world, with his own fame & future hanging on the events of the passing hour, he yet has such a wealth of simple bonhomie & good fellow ship that he gets out of bed & perambulates the house in his shirt to find us that we may share with him the fun. . . . ”
The short young man whose 1862 cabinet card showed him to be even younger was foremost a writer. His diary entries, like the one above, and poems attest to it. A long biography of our most revered president which he co-authored quickly sold 5,000 copies. After becoming a top government official in later life, he must have thought himself a bad luck charm, because four chief executives whom he worked for were assassinated. He was John Hay.
Hay was Secretary of State under William McKinley and was asked to remain when Roosevelt inherited the top position. He famously referred to the Spanish-American conflict as “a splendid little war,” owing to its brief length. The achievement he is remembered for is the Open Door Policy for all nations to trade with China.
At dinners at the Soldiers’ Home during the Civil War, Lincoln liked to read from Shakespeare’s Richard II. Hay remembered that the terrible outbreak of grief and despair had a particular fascination for him:
All murdered from within the hollow crown that rounds the mortal temples…”
(The site of the H. H. Richardson mansions close to the White House is now occupied by the posh Hay-Adams Hotel, in which original paneling from Hay’s home may be seen in a meeting room. Theodore Roosevelt’s gold ring is on display at the Sagamore Hill Historic Site in Oyster Bay, Long Island.)