John Milton Hay was born in Salem, Indiana, the son of a physician who schooled him Greek and Latin. Hay spent most of his youth in Warsaw, Illinois, attended Illinois State University (later Concordia College) and received a master's degree from Brown University, in 1858. John Hay began the practice of law with an uncle in Springfield, Illinois, where he became acquainted with Abraham Lincoln. In 1861, he was appointed a private secretary of Lincoln, along with John Nicolay; both assiduously collected items of historical merit that would later serve as the basis of a biography of the president. Following the Civil War, John Hay served in a variety of diplomatic posts in France, Austria, and Spain. In 1870, he turned his attention to journalism and served on the editorial board of the New York Tribune. The following year, he published the highly popular Pike County Ballads, a series of poems written in backcountry dialect. After marrying a wealthy woman, Hay was free to write, travel widely, and accept government positions that appealed to him. He served as an assistant secretary of state during the Hayes administration and became an intimate of Henry Adams during these years. In 1890, the first of 10 volumes of Abraham Lincoln: A History was published in conjunction with Nicolay, a work highly regarded to this day. During the Spanish-American War, John Hay served the McKinley administration as ambassador to Britain; he continued his service under Teddy Roosevelt. In his early years, he made major contributions by forging an "Open Door" policy with China, advancing American interests during the Boxer Rebellion, and negotiating the Hay-Pauncefote Treaty.