Thursday, August 23, 2012

Abe Lincoln, Gay President of The United States?

After reading Larry Kramer's speech that I posted the other day, I started to research the rumors about Abe Lincoln being a "man's man."  After reading lot of the evidence, It's pretty obvious to me that Abe liked men. Did he have sex with them? That's impossible to prove, but do you have to have gay sex to be considered gay, you be the judge?

It all began when Abe was still a teenager living in Kentucky, he caused a minor scandal with a poem about gay marriage. I can't imagine what the folks at church social had to say about this! Here's an excerpt:

"I will tell you a joke about Jewel and Mary
It is neither a Joke nor a Story
For Rubin and Charles has married two girls
But Billy has married a boy
The girlies had tried on every side
But none could he get to agree
All was in vain he went home again
And since that is married to Natty
So Billy and Natty agreed very well
And mama's please at the match"

Carl Sandburg was the first to put anything in writing that alluded to Lincoln's sexual preference.
Sandburg wrote of Lincoln's relationship with Joshua Fry Speed that it had "A streak of Lavender, and spots as May violets."  Sanburg used such flowery language when outing and Lincoln and Speed!

Looking at this portrait of the young Joshua Fry Speed, all I have to say is, "You go Abe!"
I could go on and on about all of this, but I'm lazy and the author Keith Stern says it all so much more eloquently. This is a great read!

  Keith Stern, author of Queer History: The Comprehensive Encylopedia of Historical Gays, Lesbians and Bisexuals writes about Abraham Lincoln.

On April 15, 1837, an impoverished Abraham Lincoln, twenty-eight years old, arrived in Springfield, Illinois to set up his first law practice.  One of his first stops was at the general store, where he thought he might buy a bed. Standing behind the counter was a twenty-two-year-old man, the shopkeeper Joshua Fry Speed.  Speed totaled up the cost of the bed, mattress, blankets, pillows etcetera to be a whopping seventeen dollars.  Well, that was a lot of money back then and Abe simply didn’t have it.  As Speed later recalled, when he looked across the counter, "I never saw a sadder face."  Lincoln asked if he might buy the bed on credit.

But Joshua had a better idea.  Taking Lincoln by the hand, he led him up the steps to his living quarters above the store, showed him the small room with a bed in the corner and said, “Why don’t you just sleep here with me.”  And the two men continued to live and sleep together for nearly four years in that bed in that room.

Some historians note that it was common for men to share beds in those days, there was a shortage of beds.  But they fail to recognize that many of those men were also lovers.
It’s true, there was a shortage of beds, and as men traveled around they might arrive at a roadside inn where there was lack of space, so they might be forced to share a room or even a bed with one or two other men.  There were many jokes about what went on in those shared beds too.

But it was unusual for two adult men to happily sleep together at home for so long the way that Abe and Josh did.  And it’s not like Joshua Speed couldn’t afford an extra bed--after all, he was a bed salesman!  He was practically the Sealy Posturepedic of Springfield, Illinois.
Nearly four years later, on January 1, 1841, Abe learned that Josh was leaving him and going back to his native Kentucky.  Abe was devastated and suffered symptoms of what today we would call a nervous breakdown, an episode known to historians as Lincoln’s "fatal first."  January 1, 1841.  Well, New Year’s Day is not one of my favorites either.   By the way, there is not a shred of evidence to support the contention of some historians that Lincoln also broke off an engagement with Mary Todd or suffered any of the other myriad setbacks that some have postulated to explain what upset him on that fateful day, other than the well-documented impending separation from Speed.

Lincoln was depressed, perhaps even suicidal, and wrote,
"I am now the most miserable man living. Whether I shall ever be better I can not tell; I awfully forbode I shall not. To remain as I am is impossible; I must die or be better, it appears to me.”
At that time, Lincoln was 31 and Speed was 25, so this was no childhood phase.  As Abe grew older he continued to have intimate relationships with men.

Even as president, Lincoln formed a close attachment to a soldier, Captain David V. Derickson, who was the commander of his guards.  In 1862 and 1863, they shared a bed in the White House and a getaway cottage at the outskirts of town.  Believe me, there were plenty of extra beds in the White House.

Lincoln's same-sex relationships did not go unnoticed by contemporaries and early biographers. Virginia Woodbury Fox, a well-connected Washingtonian, wrote in an 1862 diary entry:
"Tish says, 'there is a Bucktail Soldier here devoted to the President, drives with him, and when Mrs L. is not home, sleeps with him.' What stuff!"
Even thirty-three years later, Thomas Chamberlain, one of Lincoln’s bodyguards, remembered the relationship of the two men when he wrote a history of the regiment:
"Captain Derickson, in particular, advanced so far in the President's confidence and esteem that, in Mrs. Lincoln's absence, he frequently spent the night at his cottage, sleeping in the same bed with him, and -- it is said -- making use of His Excellency's night-shirt!” 

Scandalous stuff.  Some historians like to say these observers were not implying a sexual relationship, only that the two men were good friends, and it was perhaps slightly improper for a common soldier to become so close to the President.  But the fact that people of the time invariably noted the men slept together only when Mrs. Lincoln was not around, indicates to me that they had an inkling what was going on -- they were aware that the relationship was somehow hidden from and perhaps a substitute for Lincoln’s terrible marriage to Mary Todd.

One of the more notable aspects of Lincoln's personality was his discretion.  He maintained an air of mystery, even secrecy, such that no one ever claimed to know what he was really thinking.  On the other hand, he felt compelled to know every detail about the circumstances surrounding him.  These traits, which may have been related to his need to hide his sexual orientation, served him well as the hands-on commander-in-chief during the Civil War.
We will likely never know for sure if Abraham Lincoln had sexual relations with those men.  But it seems clear he had a passionate desire for intimacy with men to an extent that attracted notice among the people who knew him.

For more about Abe Lincoln or other Gay Americans of note, check out Keith Stern’s book on  

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