Some Republicans have been distressed in recent years to hear that the icon of their party, Abraham Lincoln, may have been playing for the other team. It had been whispered for years that Lincoln was gay, and there is no doubt that some of his behavior would point that way today — most notably, for four years he shared a bed with his friend Joshua Speed. The intense relationship began in 1837, when a 28-year-old Lincoln — then a tall, calloused-hand frontiersman with mournful eyes — turned up at Speed’s general store in Springfield, Illinois, hoping to make it as a lawyer. Lincoln couldn’t afford the bed on sale, so Speed immediately offered to share his own mattress upstairs. From that day on, the pair became passionate and all-but-inseparable friends. When Speed finally did move out of the mattress to be married, Lincoln was shattered, sinking into such a black depression that friends removed all sharp objects from his room. For years afterward, he wrote Joshua long and tender letters signed wistfully “Yours forever.” As one biographer put it in 1926, the friendship had “streaks of lavender, and spots as soft as May violets.” At the same time, biographers had long noticed that Lincoln as a young man seemed indifferent to women: Although he eventually fathered four children, his marriage to Mary Todd Lincoln was a tortured, almost masochistic affair.
Then, in 2005, The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln by gay activist and former Kinsey researcher C.A. Tripp brought the whispers into the open by revealing a broader pattern of male bonding. Before Josh Speed, Lincoln had another close bedmate in New Salem: his 18-year-old cousin Billy Greene, who drooled over Abe’s muscular physique, writing, “His thighs were as perfect as a human being Could be.” Later, as president, Lincoln developed a crush on Elmer Ellsworth, a debonair assistant to his election campaign, and arranged a high military position for him. When Ellsworth was killed by a sharpshooter while removing a Confederate flag from a hotel in Alexandria, Virginia, the disconsolate Lincoln began spending his nights with a studly young bodyguard at the presidential retreat outside Washington, D.C. Thirty years later, the regiment’s official historian proudly recalled that this new favorite, the young Captain David Derickson, “advanced so far in the president's confidence and esteem that in Mrs. Lincoln's absence he frequently spent the night at his cottage, sleeping in the same bed with him, and — it is said — making use of his Excellency’s night shirt!'' The pressures of hiding his homosexual urges, Tripp argues, help to explain Lincoln’s recurring depressions.
Saturday, November 13, 2010
From Is That a Stovepipe Hat or Are You Just Happy to See Me?