Friday, May 24, 2013

All the Great Prizes by John Taliaferro

John Hay is one of the most important individual to ever hold the office of Secretary of State. He spent a lifetime serving his nation. In All The Great Prizes John Taliaferro traces the life of this fascinating man. After finishing at Brown Hay went to work for his uncle’s law office in Springfield, Illinois. The office next door was occupied by Abraham Lincoln. Hay was hired as one of Lincoln’s secretary during the campaign. The other secretary, John Nicolay, was a friend from Hay’s teenage years.

After Lincoln’s election Hay and Nicolay accompanied Lincoln to Washington. They lived in the White House and served Lincoln until his death. Taliaferro gives a lot of time to this parr of Hay’s life. The stories about Lincoln are really great. Hay saw him as a person and so the intimate look at Lincoln was very moving. Taliaferro also mentions the troubles that the secretaries had with Mary Lincoln, who hated them both. Hay become friends with Robert Lincoln, the President’s oldest son, and they two of them were together when they were summoned to the dying president’s bedside.

Hay’s story continues after Lincoln’s He served as secretary to the legation in Paris for a year, then he was sent as a temporary head of the legation to Austria. While in Austria he saw the dangers inherent of crumbling empires bolstering themselves up with large armies.“The great calamity and danger of Europe today are those enormous armaments,” he observed. “No honest statesman can say that he sees in the present attitude of politics the necessity of war. No great Power is threatened.  .  .  . Why then is the awful waste of youth and treasure continued? I believe from no other motive than to sustain the waning prestige of Kings.” This would continue until it resulted in the First World War.

Taliaferro gives us a wonderful insight into the man. Hay was a gregarious person with an elitist personality. Among his friends were men such as Henry Adams and Henry James. Hay was an author of some note. He wrote a few novels and poems, not all good, but some were considered classics. Along with John Nicolay he published a ten volume biography of Abraham Lincoln. Hay’s personal life is quite interesting. He seemed to have several affairs of the heart, though they were unlikely consummated, with some intriguing women.

When it comes to the last decade of his life Taliaferro shows how Hay worked ceaselessly to avoid war. Hay’s nature was not aggressive but congenial. He preferred to work out deals that helped to keep the peace. Hay had spent the early days of his political career watching the Civil War and never wanted to see war on that scale again. We see the amazing work that Hay did for William McKinley and Teddy Roosevelt.

All the Great Prizes is a well written book. I was amazed at how much information is contained in these pages, yet the writing is never dry. Hay was truly one of the greatest statesmen ever to serve the United States of America. Taliaferro has given us an excellent book on a fascinating subject. Do yourself a favor and pick up this book.

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