[Paleopsych] NYT: Finding Homosexual Threads in Lincoln's Legend
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Thu Jan 27 15:44:42 UTC 2005
Finding Homosexual Threads in Lincoln's Legend
NYT December 16, 2004
By DINITIA SMITH
[A later article by Richard Brookheiser (?sp) said the issue did not
matter, since Lincoln was such a great man. Tell that to Mr. Mencken!]
Was Abraham Lincoln a gay American?
The subject of the 16th president's sexuality has been
debated among scholars for years. They cite his troubled
marriage to Mary Todd and his youthful friendship with
Joshua Speed, who shared his bed for four years. Now, in a
new book, C. A. Tripp also asserts that Lincoln had a
homosexual relationship with the captain of his bodyguards,
David V. Derickson, who shared his bed whenever Mary Todd
In "The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln," to be published
next month by Free Press, Mr. Tripp, a psychologist,
influential gay writer and former sex researcher for Dr.
Alfred C. Kinsey, tries to resolve the issue of Lincoln's
sexuality once and for all. The author, who died in 2003,
two weeks after finishing the book, subjected almost every
word ever written by and about Lincoln to minute analysis.
His conclusion is that America's greatest president, the
beacon of the Republican Party, was a gay man.
But his book has not stopped the debate. During the 10
years of his research, Mr. Tripp shared his findings with
other scholars. Many, including the Harvard professor
emeritus David Herbert Donald, who is considered the
definitive biographer of Lincoln, disagreed with him. Last
year, in his book "We Are Lincoln Men," Mr. Donald
mentioned Mr. Tripp's research and disputed his findings.
Mr. Tripp was the author of "The Homosexual Matrix," a 1975
book that disputed the Freudian notion of homosexuality as
a personality disorder. In this new book, he says that
early biographers of Lincoln, including Carl Sandburg,
sensed Lincoln's homosexuality. In the preface to the
original multi-volume edition of his acclaimed 1926
biography, Sandburg wrote: "Month by month in stacks and
bundles of fact and legend, I found invisible
companionships that surprised me. Perhaps a few of these
presences lurk and murmur in this book."
Sandburg also wrote that Lincoln and Joshua Speed had
"streaks of lavender, spots soft as May violets." Mr. Tripp
said that references to Lincoln's possible homosexuality
were cut in the 1954 abridged version of the biography. Mr.
Tripp maintains that other writers, including Ida Tarbell
and Margaret Leech, also found evidence of Lincoln's
homosexuality but shied away from defining it as such or
omitted crucial details.
Mr. Tripp cites Lincoln's extreme privacy and accounts by
those who knew him well. "He was not very fond of girls, as
he seemed to me," his stepmother, Sarah Bush Lincoln, told
Lincoln's law partner William Herndon. In addition, Lincoln
was terrified of marriage to Mary Todd and once broke off
their relationship. They eventually had four children.
But in "We Are Lincoln Men" Mr. Donald wrote that no one at
the time ever suggested that he and Speed were sexual
partners. Herndon, who sometimes slept in the room with
them, never mentioned a sexual relationship. In frontier
times, Mr. Donald wrote, space was tight and men shared
beds. And the correspondence between Lincoln and Speed was
not that of lovers, he maintained. Moreover, Lincoln
alluded openly to their relationship, saying, "I slept with
Joshua for four years. " If they were lovers, Mr. Donald
wrote, Lincoln wouldn't have spoken so freely.
Mr. Tripp charts Lincoln's relationships with other men,
including Billy Greene, with whom Lincoln supposedly shared
a bed in New Salem, Ill. Herndon said Greene told him that
Lincoln's thighs "were as perfect as a human being Could
Lincoln's fellow lawyer Henry C. Whitney observed once that
Lincoln "wooed me to close intimacy and familiarity."
Then there is Lincoln's youthful humorous ballad from 1829,
"First Chronicles of Reuben," in which he refers to a man
named Biley marrying another man named Natty: "but biley
has married a boy/ the girles he had tried on every Side/
but none could he get to agree/ all was in vain he went
home again/and sens that he is married to natty."
Mr. Tripp tries to debunk the popular opinion among
scholars that Lincoln's lifelong depressions were caused by
the death of his first love, Ann Rutledge. He writes that
at the time she was supposedly involved with Lincoln, she
was engaged to John McNamar and that her name appears
nowhere in Lincoln's letters.
Mr. Donald also takes issue with the conclusion that
Lincoln had a sexual relationship with Derickson, his
bodyguard at his presidential retreat, the Soldiers' Home,
outside Washington. Mr. Tripp writes that their closeness
stirred comment in Washington, and cites a diary entry from
Nov. 16, 1862, by Virginia Woodbury Fox, wife of Gustavus
Fox, assistant secretary of the Navy. She recounted a
friend's report: " 'There is a Bucktail soldier here
devoted to the president, drives with him, and when Mrs. L.
is not home, sleeps with him.' What stuff!" But Mr. Donald
writes that "What stuff!" meant she was dismissing the
Mr. Tripp cites a second description of the relationship in
an 1895 history of Derickson's regiment, the 150th
Pennsylvania Volunteers, by Thomas Chamberlain, Derickson's
commanding officer: "Captain Derickson, in particular,
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-shirts!"When Derickson was to be transferred, Lincoln
pulled strings to keep him. But Mr. Donald wrote that if
their relationship was romantic, they would not have
separated so casually when Derickson finally left
Washington in 1863.
Despite Mr. Donald's criticism, Mr. Tripp has won support
from other scholars. Jean H. Baker, a former student of Mr.
Donald's and the author of "Mary Todd Lincoln: a Biography"
(W. W Norton, 1987), wrote the introduction to the book.
She said that Lincoln's homosexuality would explain his
tempestuous relationship with Mary Todd, and "some of her
agonies and anxieties over their relationship."
"Some of the tempers emerged because Lincoln was so
detached," Ms. Baker said in a telephone interview. "But I
previously thought he was detached because he was thinking
great things about his court cases, his debates with
Douglas. Now I see there is another explanation."
"The length of time when these men continued to sleep in
the same bed and didn't have to was sort of an
impropriety," Ms. Baker said.
The question of Lincoln's sexuality is complicated by the
fact that the word homosexual did not find its way into
print in English until 1892 and that "gayness" is very much
a modern concept.
Ms. Baker said the focus of 19th-century moral opprobrium
was masturbation, not homosexuality. "Masturbation was
considered more dangerous," she said. "For homosexuals,
there was a cloud over them, but it seldom rained." People,
she noted, "were accustomed to these friendships between
In researching Lincoln, Mr. Tripp created a vast database
of cross-indexed material, now available at the Lincoln
Library in Springfield, Ill. He began the book working with
the writer Philip Nobile, but they fell out. Mr. Nobile has
charged that Mr. Tripp plagiarized material written by him
and fabricated evidence of Lincoln's homosexuality.
"Tripp's book is a fraud," Mr. Nobile said in an interview.
He declined to say what was fraudulent, however, because he
said he was writing his own article about it.
After Mr. Nobile made his charges, Free Press delayed
publication. "We made some slight changes," said Adam
Rothberg, a spokesman for the publishing house, "and we are
satisfied that we are publishing a book that reflects Mr.
Tripp's ideas and is supported by his research and belief."
The manuscript was edited by Mr. Tripp's friend Lewis
Larry Kramer, the author and AIDS activist, said that Mr.
Tripp's book "will change history."
"It's a revolutionary book because the most important
president in the history of the United States was gay," he
said. "Now maybe they'll leave us alone, all those people
in the party he founded."
Michael B. Chesson, a professor at the University of
Massachusetts at Boston and another former student of Mr.
Donald's, wrote an afterword to Mr. Tripp's book supporting
his thesis. The book is "enormously important to
understanding the whole person," he said in an interview.
He likened the criticism to early objections to Fawn
Brodie's 1974 biography of Thomas Jefferson in which she
claimed that Jefferson had children with his slave Sally
Hemings; later genetic studies suggested that they had at
least one child together.
Finding the truth is a sacred principal for historians, Mr.
Chesson said, adding, "It's incumbent on us as scholars to
present to readers material if historians have ignored it
or swept it under the rug because they don't agree with
Still, if Lincoln was gay, how did it affect his
presidency? Ms. Baker said that his outsider status would
explain his independence and his ability to take
anti-Establishment positions like the issuing of the
Emancipation Proclamation. As a homosexual, she said, "he
would be on the margins of tradition."
"He is willing to be independent, to do what is right," she
said. "It is invested in his soul, in his psyche and in his
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