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Was Abe Lincoln Gay? 

The blockbuster book that will change America’s history

Thursday, Nov 4 2004
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If the loving heart of the Great Emancipator found its natural amorous passions overwhelmingly directed toward those of his own sex, it would certainly be a stunning rebuke to the Republican Party’s scapegoating of same-sex love for electoral purposes. And a forthcoming book by the late Dr. C.A. Tripp — The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln, to be published in the new year by Free Press — makes a powerful case that Lincoln was a lover of men.

Tripp, who worked closely in the 1940s and 1950s with the groundbreaking sexologist Alfred Kinsey, was a clinical psychologist, university professor and author of the 1975 best-seller The Homosexual Matrix, which helped transcend outdated Freudian clichés and establish that a same-sex affectional and sexual orientation is a normal and natural occurrence.

In his book on Lincoln, Tripp draws on his years with Kinsey, who, he wrote, "confronted the problem of classifying mixed sex patterns by devising his 0-to-6 scale, which allows the ranking of any homosexual component in a person’s life from none to entirely homosexual. By this measure Lincoln qualifies as a classical 5 — predominantly homosexual, but incidentally heterosexual."

Tripp also found, based on multiple historical accounts, that Lincoln attained puberty unusually early, by the age of 9 or 10 — early sexualization being a prime Kinsey indicator for same-sex proclivities. Even Lincoln’s stepmother admitted in a post-assassination interview that young Abe "never took much interest in the girls." And Tripp buttresses his findings that Lincoln was a same-sex lover with important new historical contributions.

Others, preceding Tripp, have proclaimed in print that Lincoln was gay. The first, some four decades ago, was the pioneer Los Angeles gay activist Jim Kepner, editor of ONE, the early gay magazine (the ONE Institute National Gay and Lesbian Archives at the University of Southern California [http://www.oneinstitute.org/] is the largest collection of gay historical material in the world). Kepner focused on Lincoln’s long-acknowledged intimate friendship with Joshua Speed — with whom Lincoln slept in the same bed for four years when both men were in their 20s — as did later writers, like the historian of gay America Jonathan Ned Katz and University of Massachusetts professor Charles Shively. Gore Vidal has said in interviews that, in researching his historical novel on Lincoln, he began to suspect that the 16th president was a same-sexer. But all this has been little noticed or circulated outside the gay community.

In 1990, the American Historical Association presented a panel on "Gay American Presidents? — Washington, Buchanan, Lincoln, Garfield." Tripp was in the audience, and was seized with the desire to explore Lincoln’s sexuality and emotional complexity with the same brand of scrupulous methodology he’d learned from Kinsey. Tripp devoted the next decade to this research, and created an electronic database and index cross-referencing for more than 600 books of Lincolnalia, a historical tool now available at the Lincoln Institute in Springfield, Illinois.

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 tome titled The Prairie Years (1926), 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 again, "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 to his wife. Speed himself acknowledged that "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.

In the preface to his massive biography, Sandburg wrote that "month by month in stacks and bundles of facts and legend, I found invisible companionships that surprised me. Perhaps a few of these presences lurk and murmur in this book." Tripp’s book is 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; the young Billy Greene, a Salem contemporary of Lincoln’s and another bedmate (who admired Lincoln’s thighs); Nat Grigsby; and A.Y. Ellis.

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