Was Polk's Secretary of State also the first gay president?
- James Buchanan was, of course, the 15th President of the United
States. He preceded Abraham Lincoln. Before that he was a Senator
from Pennsylvania and later was Secretary of State in the cabinet of
Jimmy Knox Polk. Buchanan was the only bachelor President, and this,
along with other historical clues have caused some to speculate about
whether Buchannan was actually the homosexual partner of Alabama
Senator (and later Vice President) William Rufus King.
According to historians John Seigenthaler (Polk's biographer),
Phillip Schreiver Klein (Buchanan's biographer), Michael J. Birkner
(another Buchanan biographer) and James Lowen, there is more to the
theory than just speculation. In 1819, Buchanan was engaged to Anne
Coleman, the daughter of a Philadelphia millionaire. The woman broke
off the engagement after an "outburst of hysterics" according to
Seigenthaler, and died shortly thereafter, quite possibly a suicide
according to Klein. (Her attending physician said that this was the
first instance he had heard of where "hysteria produced death.")
Wikipedia lists her cause of death as an overdose of laudanum, an
opiate. Seigenthaler writes: "her parents would not allow Buchanan to
attend the funeral and his letter of sympathy was returned unopened
by her father. Buchanan swore never to marry in honour of her memory."
While in Washington, Buchanan's "room mate" was Alabama Senator Rufus
King (who later became Vice-President under Franklin Pierce).
Buchanan and King were rumoured to be lovers. For example, Tennessee
Governor Aaron Brown was sent to Washington as an advance man for
President-Elect Polk, and wrote Polk back, describing King as
Buchanan's "better half" and as "Aunt Nancy." Although Buchanan was
unmarried, Brown writes to Polk: "General Saunders, in the presence
of Mr. Buchanan and his wife and some others, advanced the opinion
that neither Mr. Calhoun nor Mr. Van Buren had any chance to be
elected...and being asked by someone, who then can be, he forgot
himself and said that Colonel Polk could run better than any man in
the nation. This of course was highly indecorous toward Mrs. B."
Wikipedia reports that Buchanan himself once referred to King
as "Aunt Nancy", Nancy being a derogatory term for homosexual men in
the 19th century.
Historian Robert Remini writes that Henry Clay "rarely missed an
opportunity to mock Senator Buchanan" when the two were in the
senate. He writes of an occasion when Clay tells Buchanan, "in a soft
feminine voice": "I wish I had a more lady-like manner of expressing
In 1844, Polk appointed King as Ambassador to France. King wrote
Buchanan telling him "I hope you will find no one to replace me in
affection." Buchanan wrote to a female friend "I am now solitary and
alone having no companion in the house with me. I have gone wooing to
several gentlemen but have not succeeded with any of them."
Buchanan biographer Michael J. Birkner writes "what we know would not
give even the most adventurous psycho-biographer much to go on." It
makes for interesting gossip.