“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 was away.
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.
Not everyone agrees with Tripp’s findings:
“…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. ”
What evidence does Tripp have?
* “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.”
* “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 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!”
And evidence to the contrary?
- “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.
- 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.”
- “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 Gannett.”
I have no idea whether Lincoln was gay. The thought never occurred to me. Presidents are human beings, believe it or not, and if he was gay, then good for him. I doubt there will be any definitive proof, but the idea is sure to be controversial for years. They’ll be whispering about it in school classrooms from Springfield to Juneau.
“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. “