John George Nicolay

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John George Nicolay, a German-born American, was Abraham Lincoln’s private secretary during his time as President of the United States of America. He was adopted by his neighbors after migrating with his family from Germany to the United States when he was just five years old. He lost his father while he was in his teens. Starting as a printer’s apprentice at the ‘Pike County Free Press,’ he quickly rose through the ranks and eventually held the roles of proprietor, editor, and publisher during his eight years with the paper. Through the paper, he soon met key political and social figures in the region, including Abraham Lincoln. Nearly thirty years after President Lincoln’s death, Nicolay and John Hay, who also worked as his private secretary, published a ten-volume biography of him. ‘Abraham Lincoln: A History’ was the title of the biography. His character has appeared in numerous documentaries, television miniseries, and films centered on President Abraham Lincoln.

Childhood and Adolescence

Johann Jakob Nicolay I and Helena Nicolay had him on February 26, 1832, in Bavaria, Germany. When he was just five years old, his family moved from Germany to the United States. They lived in Indiana and Ohio before moving in Illinois’ Pike County. Before relocating to Illinois, he attended a school in Cincinnati for a while.

A flour mill was run by the family. He lost his father while he was a teenager in 1846, and was later adopted by his next-door neighbors Zachariah N. Garbutt and his wife after they realized Nicolay being neglected by his mother. Garbutt was the editor of the ‘Pike County Free Press.’
He attended a Pittsfield academy, where he met John Hay, who would later become one of Lincoln’s private secretaries.

A Career of John George Nicolay

Starting as a printer’s apprentice at the ‘Pike County Free Press,’ he worked for the publication for eight years and quickly rose through the ranks, eventually becoming proprietor, editor, and publisher. He soon became familiar with key political and social people of the region, including Abraham Lincoln, through the paper, which became a political nerve center. In 1856, he sold the journal.

After two years away from the ‘Pike County Free Press,’ he worked as a clerk for the Secretary of State in Springfield. Here, he frequently encountered Abraham Lincoln, who was enthralled by his personal characteristics, abilities, and professional responsibilities. Nicolay, a Republican, on the other hand, became a fervent supporter of Lincoln.

In 1861, Abraham Lincoln appointed Nicolay as his private secretary, a position he held until President Lincoln’s death in 1865. Lincoln hired Nicolay’s friend John Hay as assistant secretary after being persuaded by him. As the president’s private secretary, Nicolay not only had the responsibility but also the chance to deal with both business and the president’s most personal life.

As the president’s secretary during the American Civil War, he was responsible for screening and accepting visitors, composing and reading correspondence, sorting mail, and carrying messages to the president, among other things. He eventually rose to become one of the president’s closest aides.

Lincoln appointed Nicolay to a diplomatic post in France shortly before his assassination. Nicolay served as the United States Consul in Paris, France, from 1865 until 1869.

He returned to the United States and worked as an editor for the ‘Chicago Republican.’ He served as ‘Marshal of the United States Supreme Court’ from 1872 until 1887. Due to deteriorating health, he was forced to resign from the position. He wrote ‘The Outbreak of the Rebellion’ in 1881.
He was a founding member of the “Literary Society of Washington,” which was founded in 1874.

Major Projects of John George Nicolay

He collaborated on a biography of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, with his friend and colleague John Hay. From 1886 until 1890, the official biography was serialized in ‘The Century Magazine.’ In 1890, it was reissued as a ten-volume biography titled ‘Abraham Lincoln: A History,’ which details the president’s life and times.

Nicolay and Hay also compiled the two-volume “Complete Works of Abraham Lincoln,” which contains a compilation of Lincoln’s most important letters, speeches, papers, manuscripts, and correspondences. It was originally published in 1894 and reissued in 1905.

Personal History and Legacy

In Pittsfield, Illinois, he married Therena Bates, and their daughter Helen Nicolay was born in 1866.
He died on September 26, 1901, after suffering from a variety of diseases. He was laid to rest at the ‘Oak Hill Cemetery’ in Washington.

Estimated Net Worth

Estimated net worth of John George Nicolay is unknown.