Sorry I have been gone so long, but the realities of the 21st century have forced my attention away from the 19th century.
One of the more unusual and strange debates in Civil War scholarship deals with the sexuality of Abraham Lincoln. Over the last several decades many Gay activists and writers have argued that Lincoln was a homosexual. Their evidence is circumstantial at best but is it still interesting since it shows some insights into how the man lived.
Many such claimants cite a comment made by Sarah Lincoln, the president’s adored step-mother who said Abe “never took much interest in girls.” They also refer to a poem supposedly written by Lincoln that alludes to a gay marriage:
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 first published in William Herndon’s 1892 two-volume biography of Lincoln. This poem was removed from the second edition and all further editions until 1942. Herndon was Lincoln’s law partner for 16 years. In 2012 Rev. Cindi Love, a descendent of Herndon, told a documentary filmmaker that family lore held that Herndon and Lincoln were lovers.
“Gay Lincoln” theorists also point out that Lincoln often shared his bed with other men, most notably Joshua Speed. Speed was a merchant in Springfield, Ill. who took in a young, broke Lincoln when the future president moved there to set up his law practice. Lincoln literally shared a bed with Speed for four years.
The two men became very close. Lincoln wanted to name his first born child after Speed, but Mary Todd Lincoln said no. Supposedly it took Lincoln ten hours to get over the news that Speed had gotten married. In his 1926 biography of Lincoln, Carl Sandburg wrote that Lincoln and Speed’s relationship had “a streak of lavender, and spots soft as May violets.” (“Streak of lavebder” was a period slang term for an effeminate man, and homosexuality.) Sandburg did not elaborate on this comment.
President Lincoln would give Speed’s brother James a job in the Attorney General’s office. When several cabinet members objected, Lincoln told them he could trust the man since he had slept with his brother for four years. Further adding fuel to this line of speculation is that Speed gave a job to the poet Walt Whitman, who is generally believed by historians to have been Gay.
Theorists also cite Lincoln’s relationship with Captain David Derickson, the president’s bodyguard and companion between September 1862 and April 1863. When Mary was away, the two men would share a bed until Derickson was promoted in 1863. This arrangement was allegedly the subject of popular Washington, D.C. gossip at the time.
Speaking of Mary Todd Lincoln, many argue that their relationship was devoid of intimacy during the White House years. Those some claim that this was due to the difficult delivery of her third child. Regardless, the White House years did put a major strain on the Lincoln’s marriage.
So does any of this that means that Lincoln was Gay?
First, one must remember that beds were not as common in the 19th century as they are today. Only a wealthy bachelor, which Lincoln never was, could have afforded his own bed, or pay for a room all to himself in a boarding house, even if he could find one. This would be especially true in the rural areas that Lincoln lived and practiced law in. Also it was not uncommon for merchants like Speed to share their bed to make extra cash. By all accounts, Lincoln never shied away from the fact that he shared rooms and beds with other men.
Second, Lincoln had several passionate relationships, and his marriage to Mary Todd was extremely passionate at first, producing three children. Furthermore, Lincoln always defended his wife from viscous attacks and gossip. Lincoln’s alleged lover, Derickson was twice married and fathered ten children
Further weakening the arguments that Lincoln was gay is that Herndon wrote this work from memory and from interviews with others. Given that it was published more than 25 years after Lincoln’s death and some of the “memories” were fifty years old, some have question the accuracy of the book.. Nor is it totally objective. Herndon’s hatred towards Mrs. Lincoln shows.
Consequently, most historians dismiss the claims of Lincoln being homosexual or bi-sexual as nothing more than idle speculation based on circumstantial evidence, though some have suggested the far more plausible theory that Lincoln was “undersexed” or had no libido.
Dr. Thomas Lowry in his 1994 book The Story the Soldiers Wouldn’t Tell-Sex in the Civil War points out that almost every group, many contradictory, has tried to claim Lincoln as their own and that “Arguments can be made, and facts found, to support all of the contradictory views.” While he concurs that Lincoln seems to be drawn more to men than women, he does not believe that Lincoln ever had a romantic homosexual relationship.
A number of Gay authors and activists have claimed over the last decade to be writing books about Lincoln’s sexuality or have previously unknown “proof” that Lincoln was Gay. So far, none of them have revealed their findings.
Whether the story is true or not, its legacy lives on in the “Log Cabin Republicans,” an organization consisting of openly Gay members of the Republican Party.