In 2005, the late C.W. Tripp posited that Abraham Lincoln was secretly a homosexual in his book, "The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln." Not surprisingly, many historians and those on the far right were aghast - as if somehow being same-sex attracted makes one incapable of being a great leader and a wartime president. Never mind the many figures from history that were what we would nowadays call gay: Alexander the Great, Roman Emperor Hadrian, Michelangelo, Leonardo Di Vinci to name just a few.
Some might question why 145 years after Lincoln's death the issue even matters. In my view, it is an very important question given the far right's never ceasing efforts to depict LGBT individuals as sick, perverted, mentally ill, alcoholics, drug addicts and many other derogatory things. That a major figure like Lincoln was one of us - albeit perhaps more or less in the closet - turns the agenda of our enemies upside down.
It also will cause no small amount of angst amongst far right Republicans if their party's principal founder on the national level loved another man and slept with him for years. Indeed, if Joshua Speed (pictured at right, above) was in fact the "love of his life" for Lincoln, many anti-gay stereotypes are destroyed or at least seriously undermined.
Both Change.org and Gay City News have stories on this still debated topic and the growing number of top flight historians who are beginning to admit that Lincoln was likely gay.
Living out and proud changes many minds in our favor on a daily basis. And while younger generations are rapidly changing their attitudes about and levels of acceptance of LGBT citizens, by bringing out the real stories of gay figures from the past, may further accelerate the the ultimate defeat of anti-bigots. Plus, it's down right fun to imagine the conniption fits among the Bible beaters. Here are highlights, first from Gay City News:
...[T]he LGBT press has been ignoring an infinitely more significant development under way with vastly more important implications for the Republican Party: the increasing acceptance by historians that the loving heart of Abraham Lincoln, the Great Emancipator and the first GOP president, found its natural amorous passions overwhelmingly directed toward those of his own sex.
This shifting consensus about Lincoln's sexual orientation is certainly the most stunning and effective rebuke to the Republican Party's scapegoating of same-sex love for electoral purposes, which came to fever pitch during the 2004 race that [Ken] Mehlman spearheaded for George W. Bush.
"We are getting closer to the day that a majority of younger, less homophobic historians will at long last accept the evidence of Lincoln's same-sex component," John Stauffer, chair of Harvard University's Department of American Civilization, told Gay City News, adding, " We're already seeing the beginnings of a trend that will amount to a major paradigm shift."
Stauffer is one of the nation's leading experts on the Civil War era, and in his latest -- and best-selling -- book, "Giants: The Parallel Lives of Frederick Douglas and Abraham Lincoln," he supports the thesis that Joshua Speed was, as he put it, "Lincoln's soulmate and the love of his life."
And in the latest issue of the scholarly journal Reviews of American History, Stauffer hammers home this point, writing, "In light of what we know about romantic friendship at the time, coupled with the facts surrounding Speed's and Lincoln's friendship, there is no reason to suppose they weren't physically intimate at some point during their four years of sleeping together in the same small bed, long after Lincoln could afford a bed of his own. To ignore this, as most scholars do, is to pretend that same-sex carnal relationships were abnormal. It thus presumes a dislike or fear about such relationships, reflecting a presentist and homophobic perspective."
A majority of Lincoln scholars dumped on Tripp's book when it was published five years ago, but the "paradigm shift" on Lincoln of which Stauffer speaks is not only being led by younger historians like himself (Stauffer received his Ph.D. from Yale University in 1999, began teaching at Harvard that year, and was tenured in 2004).
In a lengthy article entitled "Abraham Lincoln and the Tripp Thesis" in a recent issue of one of the oldest scholarly journals devoted to the iconic president, the Lincoln Herald, a senior Lincoln historian and author of numerous Lincoln books, the octogenarian William Hanchett, professor of history emeritus at the University of California/ San Diego, "challenges historians to either refute the Tripp thesis or to rewrite Lincoln's biography. Hanchett believes that Tripp is correct at least in the broad outline of his work and finds it frustrating that most historians, rather than confronting this pioneering study, choose to ignore it," as the Lincoln Herald's editors put it in introducing Hanchett's revealing, carefully footnoted essay on Lincoln's same-sex affinities.
Hanchett in particular breaks new ground when he deconstructs what we know of the much-ignored secret Memo books kept by Lincoln's law partner William Herndonas he spent a quarter century intensively researching his massive "Lincoln: The True Story of a Great Life," published in 1889. The UC/ San Diego scholar details how he believes that the otherwise thorough Tripp missed the evidence there that backs up Hanchett's view that "Lincoln's secret" was homosexuality.
One of the few traditional Lincolnists to describe -- however obliquely -- the lifelong Lincoln-Speed relationship as homosexual was the Illinois poet Carl Sandburg, in his masterful, six-volume Lincoln biography. In the 1926 tome titled "The Prairie Years," Sandburg wrote that both Lincoln and Speed had "a streak of lavender, and spots soft as May violets."
"I do not feel my own sorrows more keenly than I do yours," Lincoln wrote Speed in one letter. And elsewhere: "You know my desire to befriend you is everlasting." In a detailed retelling of the Lincoln-Speed love story -- including the "lust at first sight" encounter between the two young men, when Lincoln readily accepted Speed's eager invitation to share his narrow bed -- Tripp notes that Speed was the only human being to whom the president ever signed his letters with the unusually tender (for Lincoln) "yours forever" -- a salutation Lincoln never even used with his wife.
Speed himself acknowledged, "No two men were ever so intimate." And Tripp credibly describes Lincoln's near nervous breakdown following Speed's decision to end their four-year affair by returning to his native Kentucky.
"Why [have] scholars [been] so willfully blind to the host of historical evidence that Lincoln had a strong homosexual component?," Harvard's Stauffer wrote to this reporter in an email, explaining, "The answer stems from the intense homophobia throughout 20th century America, which has profoundly shaped Lincoln scholarship. Every scholar needs to read previous scholarship on Lincoln; and even comparatively open-minded scholars, after reading the mass of Lincoln scholarship, can easily be persuaded into perpetuating the blindness about Lincoln's relationship with Speed."
Stauffer, however, underscored in his email, "These explanations don't account for the fact that most scholars today can agree that other well-known and beloved figures, such as Walt Whitman and Herman Melville, had strong homosexual tendencies but deny that Lincoln did, despite similar evidence. The reason for this paradox, and perhaps the central reason why scholars have been willfully blind to the evidence on Lincoln, is because most view him as the 'redeemer president'-- essentially 'America's Christ' -- and don't want America's Christ having strong homosexual tendencies."
Change.org follows a similar analysis and also adds these salient points that underscore why having the truth about Lincoln ultimately told is important:
Abraham Lincoln is one of the most revered figures in American history. Students around the country are required to memorize his Gettysburg Address. His debates are seen as some of the penultimate political rhetoric in U.S. electoral history. His mug is on the penny, the five-dollar bill, and on Mt. Rushmore. Scores of Republicans proudly boast that they're "the party of Lincoln." And his Emancipation Proclamation makes up one of the foundational documents in the U.S. civil rights narrative.
Stauffer's comments in the piece are pretty interesting, if not for the fact that they suggest that within historian circles, folks who dismiss claims about Lincoln's homosexuality might be doing so because of internalized, or not so internalized, homophobia.
Today, we're making a big deal out of people like GOP strategist Ken Mehlman coming out of the closet, or conservative straight allies like Ted Olson, Margaret Hoover, Steve Schmidt, and Christine Todd Whitman, who willingly point their name down to support marriage equality. But what if it turns out that one of America's foremost historical figures, and someone dubbed one of the greatest Presidents our country has ever seen, "had a streak of lavender?"
(Picture courtesy of Gay City News)