John Hay and John Nicolay were boyhood friends whose lives had first intersected in 1851. Just nine years later they were both fortunate enough to find themselves in Springfield, Illinois. Little did they know they would be witnesses to some of the most tumultuous events in American history when they became the private secretaries to Abraham Lincoln.
The two traveled to Washington with the newly elected president and both lived and worked on the second floor of the White House. Today their jobs would have come under the category of “chief of staff, press secretary, political director and presidential body man” – all rolled into one. They were in their twenties and in many ways had a closer relationship with Abraham Lincoln than did his own family members – Lincoln called them “The Boys”. When Willie Lincoln died in 1862, Lincoln turned to Nicolay and when Lincoln was shot, John Hay was at his bedside.
Hay and Nicolay faithfully served Abraham Lincoln and after his death they worked to ensure his legacy would not be tarnished. After Lincoln’s death biographers scrambled to write books, both favorable and highly critical, of his life. Hay and Nicolay, of course, had to find other careers following the assassination. They found work as diplomats abroad and Nicolay eventually worked as a marshal for the Supreme Court.
John Hay had the good fortune to fall in love and marry into a wealthy family, yet he continued to serve his country in various capacities. After they were granted exclusive access to Lincoln’s papers, Hay and Nicolay set out to painstakingly write the definitive biography of Lincoln. Even today the ten-volume biography is still considered the best account written of the sixteenth President of the United States.
The book, authored by Joshua Zeitz, is well written and researched. It did bog down a bit for me at times with historical minutia, so some of it I just skimmed through. Nevertheless, I enjoyed reading about the lives of these two men who worked so closely with Lincoln. If you’re interested in Abraham Lincoln and his legacy, then you would definitely enjoy this book.
Have a GREAT day . . . someday it will be HISTORY!
© Sharon Hall (Digging History), 2014.