“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.”The rest of the article is the predictable Bush-bashing using former Republican National Committee chair Ken Mehlman as punch-bag.
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.”
In his groundbreaking 2005 book “The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln,” the late C.W. Tripp meticulously assembled the considerable body of historical evidence for Lincoln’s same-sex affinities, including his love affair with Speed.
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.
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 Herndon as 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.
“A significant number of Lincoln’s contemporaries,” Hanchett writes, “must have known of or strongly suspected his secret. The existence of Herndon’s Memo books proves it. His rowdy friends in New Salem must have wondered why [Lincoln] declined to participate with them in their revels, and almost certainly some of them must have figured it out. They knew about homosexuality, only the word was unknown to them.”
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.
Tripp’s book was remarkable and precedent-shattering because, for the first time, he restores names and faces (more than just Speed’s) to a number of those previously invisible homosexual companions and love objects of the most venerated of America’s presidents, among them: Henry C. Whitney, another of Lincoln’s law colleagues; the young Billy Greene, a New Salem contemporary of Lincoln’s and another bedmate (who admired Lincoln’s thighs); Nat Grigsby; and A.Y. Ellis. Another was the handsome David Derickson, by nine years the president’s junior, captain of President Lincoln’s bodyguard. Tripp describes in great detail how Derickson was the object of “the kinds of gentle and concentrated high-focus attention from Lincoln that Henry C. Whitney, from having himself once been on the receiving end, well described: ‘[It was] as if he wooed me to close intimacy and friendship, a kind of courtship, as indeed it was.’”
Lincoln and Speed: