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White House - Secretaries To The Presidents

( Originally Published 1908 )

EVERY President had had a private secretary, but not until the McKinley administration did a President have a Secretary to the President. The office of Secretary to the President is now a regular Government office, and is held only by men of high ability.

All Presidents up to Buchanan, in 1857, paid the salaries of their private secretaries out of their own pockets. During Mr. Buchanan's term at the White House, however, Congress created a definite office to be called "Private Secretary at the White House," and voted its incumbent a salary. The first man to hold such office officially and to be paid by the Government instead of by the President, was Mr. J. B. Henry, private secretary to President Buchanan.

Many private secretaries to the Presidents have risen to positions of distinction and importance. John Hay, Secretary to Lincoln, became Secretary of State under McKinley. And Mr. McKinley's private secretary, Mr. George B. Cortelyou, became Secretary of the Treasury under President Roosevelt, a position he holds at the present time. Grant's secretary, Horace Porter (after General) became Ambassador to France. Cleveland's Secretary, Daniel Lamont, became a millionaire business man.

Two private secretaries who served in the White House married daughters of the Presidents they served. The first to gain a wife in this way was President Monroe's secretary, Mr. Samuel L. Gouverneur, who married the President's youngest daughter. The second, was the secretary to President Garfield, J. Stanley Brown, who later married Mr. Garfield's daughter.

In many instances the President's own son acted as private secretary at the White House. This was notably so in the case of John Quincy Adams, whose son, John Adams, acted as the President's amanuensis and messenger,as the post was referred to in those days. Van Buren's son, Major Abraham Van Buren, acted as secretary and married one who was a visitor at the White House, bringing the bride there later to act as one of the hostesses of the President's house. Andrew Jackson's adopted son, Andrew Jackson, Jr., also was one more secretary at the White House to bring his bride there for her first public appearance as a married woman. After the marriage of his son, President Jackson had as his secretary a young man whom he had befriended in earlier days.

Even after the creation of the office of private secretary with a salary paid by the Government, the President's secretaries were usually mere clerks or stenographers,until Lincoln made Major John Hay take the office against the latter's will. After that the office grew in importance until Congress elevated the position to the dignity of Secretary to the President, Mr. Cortelyou being the first to hold such position, under President McKinley.

President Roosevelt's Secretary

President Roosevelt, officially, is two men. He has two pairs of hands, feet, ears and eyes and a second voice. The President's alter ego is William Loeb, Jr., Secretary to the President.

Since the President entered the White House the only occasions on which he has been just his one self include the periods of Mr. Loeb's brief annual vacations and a single day when Mr. Loeb was ill for the first and only time. Otherwise, night and day, in Washington or in western wilds, the President's other self has been with him.

That Secretary Loeb knows the President and his characteristics better than any other man in the White House or in public life is certain, for daily and hourly Mr. Loeb is in effect President Roosevelt.

"Stonewall" Loeb he is called. He stands between the President and the busy bodies, the office-seekers and the cranks. He guards the President more closely than do the Secret Service men. He has all the tact essential for his position. "The way to have a friend is to be a friend," he said. And he practices this always, for whenever he saves the President's time, he is being a friend to the President.

Secretary Loeb has instinctive knowledge of matters which the President wants brought to his personal attention. That which he knows will be waste of time to tell the President about Mr. Loeb attends to himself. The superintendent of a great New York publishing house came to see the Executive about a hitch in the postal service that seriously affected the publishing house. Inside of two minutes Mr. Loeb saw that a misunderstanding existed in the post office department. "It won't be necessary to see the President," he said. And forthwith he rang up one of the assistant postmaster's general, and in ten telephonic words the matter was adjusted and the superintendent made happy. Thus Mr. Loeb disposes of most of the White House visitors without dusturbing the Executive.

According to newspaper statements of the present day, "Secretary Loeb has broken all records for length of service in the important position he now holds. He has served as Secretary to the President for five years, and it is safe to say that no man ever enjoyed the confidence of his Chief to a greater measure. The President announced to a party of friends at luncheon about two years ago that Mr. Loeb was `the best secretary that any President ever had', and as he has retained him in the place and was instrumental in securing for him an increase of salary, the indications are that he continues to hold him in the same high regard.

"That Mr. Loeb is just as loyal to his chief is proved by the fact that when a Washington Railway Company reorganized and elected the `Secretary as one of the directors, and the slate was all prepared to put him in as the President and Manager of the colossal concern, he refused to take the place until such time as President Roosevelt would no longer need his services at the White House."

How Mr. Loeb Handles the White House Business

The labor at the White House is immense, and a great part of that labor falls upon Secretary Loeb. For the President there is ceaseless worry and harassing anxiety. It is the duty of the President's second self to minimize that worry and anxiety. To accomplish this Mr. Loeb shoulders all details. He is the President's memory, and his timekeeper, his files, his records and his workshop. No papers go to the President's desk except the papers Mr. Loeb himself puts there.

Secretary Loeb is the personification of the business system of the White House. He is the President's taskmaster.

There never was a Secretary to a President of the United States who had as much work to do as Mr. Loeb. There are few men who could keep tip with President Roosevelt as Mr. Loeb does, for he has a capacity for work second only to that of Mr. Roosevelt, even when the latter is strained to his utmost strenuous pitch.

McKinley's Secretary, George B. Cortelyou

The first man to hold the office of "Secretary to the President" was the late John Addison Porter. President McKinley created the office for him and he held it until his failing health caused his resignation. Mr. George B. Cortelyou succeeded him and continued in the office until President Roosevelt made him Secretary of Commerce and Labor when that Department was established in 1903. At the beginning of President Roosevelt's administration in 1905 Mr. Cortelyou was made Postmaster-General, and in 1907 was appointed Secretary of the Treasury.

In the first McKinley administration Mr. Cortelyou was called more or less officially, an "Executive clerk." As such, we are informed by one of his biographers, that in addition to having charge of the correspondence, Mr. Cortelyou had the supervision of the clerical force. He was also the confidential clerk to President McKinley, and to him the President dictated his addresses, messages and other State papers. He also had charge of Mrs. McKinley's correspondence, the arrangement of her receptions and duties relating to the making of appointments to meet the Secretary and the President and other details connected with the transaction of public business in the Executive office. During the weeks preceding the date of the opening of hostilities between this country and Spain, and after that eventful day Mr. Cortelyou's duties were of the most confidential and exacting character. He was in fact as well as in name, an Executive officer, and was made responsible for the carrying into effect of many of the orders of the President.

While they were children in school, in the Hempstead, L. I., Institute, says a Christian Herald article, both Mr. and Mrs. Cortelyou joined the Methodist Church, and for many years continued their membership there. When they came to Washington it chanced that their residence was near an Episcopalian Church and the children were sent there to Sunday School. Young Bruce, who inherits his father's gift of music, was soon singing in the choir, and the other members of the family began taking up church duties. Mrs. Cortelyou, notwithstanding many domestic and social duties, manages to carry on a great deal of church and charitable work. She is a director of the Young Women's Christian Association of Washington; a member of the Rector's Aid Society of St. Margaret's, and president of a circle of ten for helping the poor.

Lincoln's Private Secretary, John Hay just how the late John Hay became private secretary to President Lincoln, and of the relations between the two men, is told by Brooks Adams as follows :

"Milton Hay, John's uncle, though younger than Abraham Lincoln, had been a student with him, and in 1858 the offices of Lincoln and Logan and Hay adjoined each other. Logan and Hay were in full practice, but Lincoln was too absorbed in politics to care for clients, and so it happened that Lincoln had many idle hours on his hands, which he spent in the rooms of Logan and Hay. As the heads of the firm were often occupied, Lincoln talked with the student, and soon learned to know him and to love him. On his side John venerated the future President. When the Republicans nominated Lincoln in 1860, John threw himself into the campaign with all the ardor of his nature, both as a writer and speaker, and in 1861 Lincoln took John with him to Washington as his assistant secretary.

"Perhaps in all American public life nothing is more charming than the story of the relations which existed between these two men, the one in the bloom of youth, the other hastening toward his tragic end. Lincoln treated Hay with the affection of a father, only with more than a father's freedom. If he waked at night he roused Hay, and they read together; in summer they rode in the afternoons, and dined in the evenings at the Soldiers' Home. In public matters the older man reposed in the younger unlimited confidence.

"During the war the President frequently did not care to trust to letters. Then he would give Hay a verbal message and send him t0 Generals in command ; and, in all his service, Hay never forgot, and never committed an indiscretion. More noteworthy still, he never failed to obtain credence from those to whom he was sent, although he carried no credentials. Finally, on Stanton's suggestion, Lincoln appointed Hay an assistant adjutant-general, and Hay served in the field."

"Until Mr. Lincoln died," according to an account written by Grandon Nevins, in an American magazine, "Mr. Hay was the constant companion of that famous executive, even standing beside the bed as the martyred President breathed his last. Undoubtedly one of the most trusted of all the men surrounding President Lincoln in the dark days of the great strife was John Hay. He it was who was entrusted with the private bearing of messages that were too momentous to commit to paper. And he it was who went to the front as the personal representative of Mr. Lincoln, wherefore he was made an assistant adjutant-general with the rank of major. No man in the President's official household was more overworked than the young Major. He slept when he could and ate when he had the chance, and when he was not at the front he lived at the White House, always at call of the President."

President Grant's Secretary, Horace Porter

A man who made his mark at the White House during Grant's first term there, was Horace Porter, private secretary to the President. He afterward became better known as General Porter, and subsequently was appointed Ambassador to Prance. General Porter tells many interesting stories of Grant. For example, on one occasion Porter was sitting with Grant one night around a camp fire. Suddenly General Porter said: "General, it seems singular that you have gone through all the rough and tumble of army service, and have never been provoked into swearing. I have never heard you utter an oath or use an imprecation."

"Well, somehow or other, I never learned to swear," Grant replied. "When a boy I seemed to have an aversion to it, and when I became a man I saw the folly of it. I have always noticed, too, that swearing helps to rouse a man's anger ; and when a man flies into a passion his adversary who keeps cool always gets the better of him. In fact, I could never see the use of swearing. To say the least, it is a great waste of time."

Other Notable White House Secretaries

Among other private secretaries who came more or less prominently, into notice while in office at the White House, are mentioned in a biographical sketch in a Munsey publication as follows :

"President Johnson's private secretary, William A. Browning, played no very important part in the events of his time.

Johnson wrote most of his political papers with his own hand, or had them written for him by important persons outside of the White House.

"President Hayes appointed his son, Webb C. Hayes, as his secretary.

"President Arthur kept the affairs of his official household somewhat remote from public notice, and in this he was greatly aided by his private secretary, F. J. Phillips, of New York."

"President Cleveland's secretary, Colonel `Dan' Lamont, was a very important figure in public life during Mr. Cleveland's first administration. He had some valuable qualities which Cleveland lacked, and they did much to make the latter popular.

"Lamont knew everybody ; he possessed abundant tact, and knew the political game from beginning to end. When he was made Secretary of War, during Mr. Cleveland's second term, every one was pleased that the whilom newspaper-man had climbed up into the seat of the mighty. On leaving the Cabinet, his abilities were at once utilized in the business world. He made a fortune in street-railways, and when he died he was vice-president of the Northern Pacific Railroad. President Cleveland's later secretary, Mr. Thurber, was efficient, but did not become a figure of national importance.

"President Harrison's private secretary, Mr. Elijah W. Halford, was appointed to be a major in the pay department of the army, and was later retired with the rank of lieutenant-colonel."

The Social Secretary at the White House

Not only the President, but Mrs. Roosevelt as well, has a private secretary. Acting in this capacity to Mrs. Roosevelt, and known as the Social Secretary, is Miss Isabelle Hagner, who is sometimes named as "the real hostess of the White House."

In all social ceremonies at the White House, Miss Hagner is the censor who says who shall attend and who shall not.

Only a few years ago Miss Hagner was a clerk in the War Department, receiving a salary Of $750 a year. To-day she receives a salary of $I,400, and is the most powerful factor in the White House in all matters relating to the social life of the official home of the President. From a newspaper record of Miss Hagner's rise to a position of great importance, we learn :

"When fate gave the reins of the Executive Office into the hands of Mr. Roosevelt his wife was in much the same predicament as was the wife of Secretary Alger, and Miss Hagner was detailed for duty at the White House. This detail caused comment, and by way of avoiding further talk Mrs. Roosevelt made Miss Hagner her social secretary.

"At the White House receptions she has merely to raise her finger to `Charles,' the footman, and he is at her elbow; to Stone, the head usher, formerly a Pullman car conductor, she has only to impart an order and it is obeyed.

"Miss Hagner is of a striking type. She is large, has pretty dark, eyes, a good complexion and fair hair. When not driving down town in the President's carriage to do her morning shopping she takes a brisk walk through the shopping district, and is pointed out as the one woman in all Washington who has absolute freedom of the White House."

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