This collection of 144 letters exchanged between American diplomats John Hay and Henry White between the years 1897 and 1905 constitutes a small but significant part of the Henry White Family Papers deposited at Hampton National Historic Site in Towson, Maryland, where White, son of Eliza Ridgely White, spent much of his childhood.
Collection Location: National Park Service/Hampton National Historic Site
Collection Overview: This collection of 144 letters exchanged between American diplomats John Hay and Henry White between the years 1897 and 1905 constitutes a small but significant part of the Henry White Family Papers deposited at Hampton National Historic Site in Towson, Maryland, where White, son of Eliza Ridgely White, spent much of his childhood. The correspondence began when both men were posted to the U.S. Embassy in London--Hay as the Ambassador to the United Kingdom and White as First Secretary--and continued through Hay’s tenure as Secretary of State under Presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt. The correspondents, colleagues and friends, discussed internal American politics and international diplomatic relations "off the record" as the United States assumed greater prominence on the world stage. The letters are divided into "Incoming Correspondence" (John Hay's 44 letters to Henry White) and "Outgoing Correspondence" (Henry White's 100 letters to John Hay). The descriptions provided list the most prominent subjects covered, but most letters touch on numerous topics and should be read in their entirety. Attachments are included with the letters whenever possible, although some attachments mentioned in the letters are missing; whether the attachments were removed by the letter recipient or became separated from the letters and lost over time as different persons reviewed the materials is not known.
Henry White (1850-1927) was the son of Eliza "Didy" Ridgely White Buckler (1828-1894) and her first husband, John Campbell White (1821-1853). Only 3 years old when his father died, White spent much of the first 15 years of his life at Hampton with his Ridgely relatives before his mother remarried and the family moved to Europe in 1866. Educated primarily by his mother, who emphasized classical learning and knowledge of the "major" European languages, White developed abilities that proved invaluable in his diplomatic career. Using the personal and social connections of his own family and that of his first wife, Margaret "Daisy" Stuyvesant Rutherfurd of New York, he obtained his first position at the U.S. Legation in Vienna in 1883. He transferred to the U.S. Legation in London (it was "upgraded" to an Embassy in 1893) the following year and spent most of the next twenty years in England. In 1905, President Theodore Roosevelt appointed him U.S. Ambassador to Italy, and in 1907, named him U.S. Ambassador to France. After his 1909 retirement, White continued to serve on special diplomatic missions, acting as head of the U.S. Delegation to the Pan-American Conference and as Special Ambassador to the Centennial Celebration of Chilean Independence, both in 1910, and as one of five American Commissioners to the Paris Peace Conference in 1918 at the end of World War I. White is widely considered to be one of the first career diplomats in the United States.
John Hay (1838-1905) began his government career as a 22-year old private secretary to President Abraham Lincoln, living with the Lincoln family in the White House through most of the Civil War. After brief and distinguished military service, he began a diplomatic career, serving the U.S. Legations in Paris, Madrid and Vienna. Upon his return to the U.S. in 1870, he left government employ for several years to work as an editor at the New York Tribune. He resumed his career in diplomacy in 1878 as an assistant secretary of state in the Hayes administration and in 1881 was a delegate to the International Sanitary Commission. President William McKinley appointed Hay Ambassador to the United Kingdom in 1897 but recalled him to Washington in 1898 to assume the position of Secretary of State. After McKinley's assassination in 1901, President Theodore Roosevelt urged Hay to remain in the post, which he held until his death in 1905. Hay is credited with several major diplomatic initiatives and achievements, including the Open Door Policy in China, the Hay-Pauncefote Treaty that cleared the way for U.S. construction of the Panama Canal, and the Treaty of Paris of 1898 that ended the Spanish-American War.
Hampton National Historic Site Archives
Henry White Papers at Columbia University Archives, ms 1334
Henry White Papers at Library of Congress, mm 78045328
Nevins, Allan. Henry White: Thirty Years of Diplomacy. New York, London: Harper & Brothers, 1930.
Collection overview prepared by Julia K. Lehnert, Henry White Family Papers Archivist, Hampton National Historic Site.