Abe Lincoln and his sexuality
- From CNN
All the president's men
By Michele Orecklin
Monday, January 10, 2005 Posted: 3:02 PM EST (2002 GMT)
It's not something you see in John Ford movies, but in the 1800s it
was common for men -- frontier-taming, campfire-building,
heterosexual men--to share a bed.
Mattresses were an indulgence, central heating nonexistent and, for
travelers, private lodging scarce. Double bunking was so common that
it rarely aroused questions of one's sexual orientation.
But a book due out this week asserts that Abraham Lincoln engaged in
the practice rather too often and too enthusiastically to avoid the
conclusion that he was homosexual.
In "The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln" (Free Press; 295 pages)
sex researcher C.A. Tripp argues that the four years Lincoln slept in
the same bed with his friend Joshua Speed when the two lived in
Springfield, Illinois, as bachelors far surpassed what was common or
Tripp also cites accounts from Washington wags of that period who
noted that the 16th President regularly shared a bed with David
Derickson, one of his guards, whenever his wife Mary Todd was out of
town. Tripp throws in a handful of other bunkmates, Lincoln's bawdy
sense of humor and his stormy relationship with his wife to argue
that the Lincoln bedroom was the site of behavior surprising from the
founder of a party that wants to amend the Constitution to ban same-
sex marriage. (Have the Log Cabin Republicans known this all along?)
But in assembling his data, Tripp is more persuasive in highlighting
the rigidity of modern attitudes toward male friendships than in
proving anything about Lincoln's sexuality. Suggestions that Lincoln
was gay have existed for years. In his 1926 biography, the poet Carl
Sandburg wrote that the President and Speed possessed "a streak of
lavender and spots soft as May violets"--a lyrical though curious
phrase that seems to suggest something unmasculine.
Lincoln was by most accounts difficult to know; he struggled with
depression and appeared more comfortable around men than women. But
Tripp, who worked with Alfred Kinsey in the 1940s and died in 2003
two weeks after turning in his manuscript, sniffs out sexuality in
the most innocuous exchanges, such as an 1841 letter from Lincoln to
Speed after the latter moved to Kentucky.
"It begins without a single personal item," Tripp recounts, "but
drones on in a 1,575-word account of a local murder trial. Hard to
find anything less personal than that, yet it is precisely this kind
of impersonal recounting of some irrelevant bit of news that is often
resorted to by distraught lovers who are contending with some strain
and who thus choose to recount details from a neutral territory as
they wait out a storm that swirls about them."
Absent anything more incriminating, however, such as accounts by
someone who saw the two having sex or expressions of carnal desire
from Lincoln or Speed, it's hard to view the letter as anything other
than a description of a murder trial.
In another instance, Tripp uncovers an excerpt from the diary of
Virginia Woodbury Fox, a Washington socialite during Lincoln's day.
Writing of rumors that Lincoln and Derickson slumbered together in
the White House, Fox exclaims, "What Stuff!" To Tripp, the comment
denotes shock at Lincoln's behavior, but it could just as easily be
construed as disgust at hearsay.
Most of Tripp's evidence is of a similar standard. He does
demonstrate the fierce attachment between Lincoln and Speed, quoting
letters in which Lincoln wrote of his distress over their physical
separation, habitually signed with "Yours forever."
But Anthony Rotundo, author of "American Manhood: Transformations in
Masculinity from the Revolution to the Modern Era," says that such
intimate communication was not unusual for men at that time. Rotundo
says it was socially acceptable for men before marriage to
enjoy "romantic friendships" that involved sex only about as often as
do male friendships today.
"These were not relationships people had to hide," says Rotundo. He
also points out that 150 years ago, the notion that someone would
identify him- or herself as homosexual had not yet developed, making
it difficult to retroactively shoehorn a 19th century man into a 21st
"There was a spectrum of relationships," explains Rotundo. "You
didn't have to say, 'I'm on this side or that,' as you do today."
And what if Lincoln was gay? Does it illuminate anything about his
decisions as President?
Tripp admits that even if Lincoln did hide his sexuality, we cannot
assume it made him sympathetic to outsiders, thus that it was a
factor in his decision to free the slaves. But he argues that Lincoln
is "too central a figure in history to keep obscuring basic facts of
Unfortunately, Tripp's attempt to show Lincoln was gay does little to
set the record straight.
With reporting by Andrea Sachs in New York.
- A gay man from anywhere would have no chance thanks to the rabid
right-wing nuts. Our country has a lot of maturing to do.
--- In email@example.com, "Ram Lau" <ramlau@y...> wrote:
> A liberal gay guy from the North would never have a chance to become
> the US President in our time.