Nicolay, John George

John Nicolay was a young journalist who became Abraham Lincoln's top White House aide and later one of his official biographers. Nicolay was born in Germany and came to the United States in 1838 as young child. He came to Lincoln's attention while editing the Pike County Free Press in the 1850s and traveled with the President-Elect in 1861. Nicolay served in the White House with John Hay. The two became close friends and share a deep mutual admiration for Lincoln, whom they dubbed "The Tycoon." Nico, as Hay called him, was the senior aide, though both men were young --Nicolay was in his early thirties and Hay was in his mid-twenties during the war. The president praised his senior assistant as "entirely trustworthy" but other figures in wartime Washington found Nicolay difficult to engage. Journalist Noah Brooks once described Nicolay in public as a "grim Cerberus of Teutonic descent," a reference to the three-headed guard-dog at the gates of Hell from Greek mythology. After Lincoln's assassination, Nicolay served as a diplomat and then as marshal for the U.S. Supreme Court. Nicolay co-wrote a ten volume biography of Lincoln with John Hay that was published in 1890. (By Matthew Pinsker)
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    John George Nicolay
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    John George Nicolay, Lincoln's Biography (American National Biography)

    The Nicolay-[John] Hay biography has had lasting historical significance. Both Hay and Nicolay were partisan Republicans, writing under the watchful eye of the martyred president's son in a period when the ideal of historical objectivity had yet to be fully established. In delivering the manuscript to Robert Todd Lincoln, Hay and Nicolay assured him that "every line has been written in the spirit of reverence and regard." Nevertheless, the biography is useful, because while the authors' conclusions are predictable, they are generally grounded in documentary sources and historical records. Additionally, they provide important eyewitness evidence of Lincoln's shifting moods and anxieties, particularly his gloom over the uncertain outcome of the 1864 election. There is no question that the Nicolay-Hay biography reflected the partisanship of the period and has a strong pro-Lincoln bias. It contains intense criticism of General George B. McClellan, the Copperheads, and the Radical Republicans, and it depicts Lincoln as a grand, almost mythical figure. Nevertheless, the biography made an important contribution to Lincoln scholarship. While far too admiring, Nicolay and Hay were the only biographers to have access to Lincoln's papers for more than fifty years. The biography also played an important role in the Civil War historiography of the late nineteenth century, shaping interpretations and prompting attacks by other biographers, such as William Herndon and Jesse W. Weik. Together Nicolay and Hay also edited Lincoln's writings, which were published in two volumes in 1894 and later enlarged to twelve volumes.
    Daniel Hamilton, "Nicolay, John George," American National Biography Online, February 2000,
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    Burlingame, Michael, ed. An Oral History of Abraham Lincoln: John G. Nicolay’s Interviews and Essays. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1996. view record
    Burlingame, Michael, ed. With Lincoln in the White House: Letters, Memoranda, and Other Writings of John G. Nicolay, 1860-1865. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2000. view record
    Burlingame, Michael. Abraham Lincoln: The Observations of John G. Nicolay and John Hay. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2007. view record
    Donald, David Herbert. "We Are Lincoln Men:" Abraham Lincoln and His Friends. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2003. view record
    Nicolay, John G., and John Hay. Abraham Lincoln: A History. New York: Century Co., 1890. view record
    How to Cite This Page: "Nicolay, John George," House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College,