Monday, February 12, 2018

Abraham Lincoln Born Today in 1809; But Was He Gay?

Lincoln was not a stranger to having a man in his bed, but was he gay?
Abraham Lincoln, was born today February 12, in 1809, and was the 16th President of the United States. Lincoln's sexuality has been a topic of debate among some scholars for years even though Lincoln was married to Mary Todd from November 4, 1842, until his death on April 15, 1865, and fathered four children with her. But obviously being married with children does not mean someone is straight.

Speculation on Lincoln's sexuality has existed since at least the early 20th century. In his 1926 biography of Lincoln, Carl Sandburg alluded to the early relationship of Lincoln and his friend Joshua Speed as having "a streak of lavender, and spots soft as May violets." "Streak of lavender" was slang in the period for an effeminate man, and later connoted homosexuality. Sandburg did not elaborate on this comment.

Lincoln met Joshua Speed in Springfield, Illinois, in 1837, when Lincoln was a successful attorney and member of Illinois' House of Representatives. They lived together for 4 years, during which time they occupied the same bed during the night and developed a friendship that would last until their deaths.

Historians point out it was not unusual at that time for two men to share even a small bed due to financial or other circumstances, without anything sexual being implied, for a night or two when nothing else was available. But for a wealthy man to share a single bed with the same man over a long period of time shows a sustained relationship. A tabulation of historical sources shows that Lincoln slept in the same bed with at least 11 boys and men during his youth and adulthood.

According to the book, Lincoln the Unknown, Lincoln chose to spend several months of the year practicing law on a circuit that kept him living separately from his wife. In 1928, a prominent writer had pointed to a close male friend of the young Lincoln as a possible lover that was denounced as absurd at the time.

In 1999, Larry Kramer claimed that he had uncovered previously unknown documents while performing research for his work-in-progress, The American People: A History, including some allegedly found hidden in the floorboards of the old store once shared by Lincoln and Joshua Speed. The documents reportedly provide explicit details of a relationship between Lincoln and Speed, and currently reside in a private collection in Davenport, Iowa. Their authenticity, however, has been called into question by historians such as Gabor Boritt, who wrote, "Almost certainly this is a hoax." C. A. Tripp also expressed his skepticism over Kramer's discovery, writing, "Seeing is believing, should that diary ever show up; the passages claimed for it have not the slightest Lincolnian ring."

The topic of whether Lincoln was gay or bisexual came to greater attention due to a 2005 book The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln by psychologist C. A. Tripp, which described Lincoln as allegedly having a detached relationship with women, in contrast with a close male friend he allegedly shared a bed with.

Tripp was a sex researcher, protégé of Alfred Kinsey, and himself gay. He began writing this book with Philip Nobile, but they had a falling out and Nobile later accused Tripp's book of being fradulent and distorted.

Time magazine addressed the book as part of a cover article by Joshua Wolf Shenk, author of Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness. Shenk dismissed Tripp's conclusions, stating that arguments for Lincoln's homosexuality were "based on a tortured misreading of conventional 19th century sleeping arrangements." However, the historian Michael B. Chesson welcomed the historical significance of Tripp's work, and commented that -- though not conclusive -- "any open-minded reader who has reached this point may well have a reasonable doubt about the nature of Lincoln's sexuality." In contrast, the historian and Lincoln biographer Michael Burlingame has argued that it is "possible but highly unlikely that Abraham Lincoln was 'predominantly homosexual.'"

Lincoln's stepmother, Sarah Bush Lincoln, commented that he "never took much interest in the girls." However some accounts of Lincoln's contemporaries suggest a strong but controlled passion for women.

In her book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, historian Doris Kearns Goodwin argues:
Their intimacy is more an index to an era when close male friendships, accompanied by open expressions of affection and passion, were familiar and socially acceptable. Nor can sharing a bed be considered evidence for an erotic involvement. It was a common practice in an era when private quarters were a rare luxury... The attorneys of the Eighth circuit in Illinois where Lincoln would travel regularly shared beds.
 Lincoln wrote a poem that described a marriage-like relation between two men, which included the lines:
For Reuben and Charles have married two girls,
But Billy has married a boy.
The girls he had tried on every side,But none he could get to agree;All was in vain, he went home again,
And since that he's married to Natty.
This poem was included in the first edition of the 1889 biography of Lincoln by his friend and colleague William Herndon. It was expurgated from subsequent editions until 1942, when the editor Paul Angle restored it. This is an example of what Mark Blechner calls "the closeting of history," in which evidence that suggests a degree of homosexuality or bisexuality in a major historical figure is suppressed or hidden.

Another of Lincoln's bedmates was Captain David Derickson. He was Lincoln's bodyguard and companion between September 1862 and April 1863. They shared a bed during the absences of Lincoln's wife, until Derickson was promoted in 1863. Derickson was twice married and fathered 10 children. Tripp recounts that, whatever the level of intimacy of the relationship, it was the subject of gossip. Elizabeth Woodbury Fox, the wife of Lincoln's naval aide, wrote in her diary for November 16, 1862, "Tish says, 'Oh, 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!" 

Jean H. Baker, historian and biographer of Mary Todd Lincoln, describes the relationship between Lincoln and his wife as "bound together by three strong bonds—sex, parenting and politics." In addition to the anti–Mary Todd bias of many historians, engendered by William Herndon's (Lincoln's law partner and early biographer) personal hatred of Mrs. Lincoln, Baker discounts the criticism of the marriage. She says that contemporary historians have a basic misunderstanding of the changing nature of marriage and courtship in the mid-19th century, and attempt to judge the Lincoln marriage by modern standards.

Herndon, Lincoln's law partner, in his biography of Lincoln, also attests to the depth of Lincoln's love for Ann Rutledge who died during their courtship. An anonymous poem about suicide published locally exactly 3 years after her death is widely attributed to Lincoln. 

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