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Poetry

Lincoln and Nicolay shared Hay’s admiration for poetry, which became a topic of mutual enjoyment in the White House. Although neither Lincoln nor Nicolay approached the writing of it with Hay’s seriousness of purpose, all three relied on poetry for the expression of sorrow, loyalty, devotion and amusement.

Hay wrote constantly, sending his work to the newspapers for publication, and compiling a scrapbook of his published efforts. Nicolay had only one poem published, in a volume devoted to the Union cause during the Civil War, of which Hay kept a copy with him in the Executive Mansion.

As for Lincoln, after the Union victory at Gettysburg, Lincoln penned the bit of doggerel shown below, about Lee’s failed effort to take Philadelphia. Just for fun, Hay submitted this to the newspapers, likely including Greeley’s New York Tribune, one of which printed it with an introduction that presented the poem as if written by General Lee himself.

Click on the objects below for additional views or pages, when available.


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John Hay’s Poetry Scrapbook, 1861-1865. Gift of John Hay Whitney.

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John Hay’s copy of Lyrics of Loyalty, edited by Frank Moore (New York: George P. Putnam, 1864),
including Nicolay's poem "On Guard" at pages 26 through 28. Gift of W. Easton Louttit, Jr., Class of 1925.

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Abraham Lincoln, Verses on General Lee’s Invasion of the North, Written by Himself,
as attested by John Hay, July 19, 1863. Gift of Clara Stone Hay.

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