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Thursday, October 28, 2004

Was Abraham Lincoln Gay?

A fascinating, though heavily biased, review of a forthcoming book, making the case that Lincoln was actually a homosexual. A couple of thoughts:

First of all, It wouldn't surprise me, nor would it lower in any way my esteem for Abraham Lincoln. I believe he would have much to say about our current election. He too faced reelection in the midst of war, and he too faced a weak, media hyped candidate in MacClellan. He was by no means certain to win, but thank God he did. His courage during that awful period of time stands as one of the great triumphs of human will in history. But there is danger in viewing history through the prism of our own cultural battles. History in the end is immutable and unchangeable, despite numerous Star Trek episodes to the contrary. It must be seen through the prism of its time, not our own.

The review makes much of Lincoln's style of writing, and his close friendship with Joshua Speed, among others. The main arguments appear to be that they shared a bed, and Lincoln ended his letters to Speed with "Forever Yours." Sharing rooms and beds was not at all uncommon in that day and age. To make the leap to homosexual affairs says more about agendas than it does about history.

At another point, much is made of a close friendship between his bodyguard, Captain Dickerson and Lincoln, even quoting some Washington gossip of the time:

The Dickerson-Lincoln affair was common gossip in Washington’s high society, as Tripp notes with a citation from the diary of the wife of Assistant Navy Secretary Gustavus Fox: "Tish says, Oh, 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!"

What is missed here is historical context. Lincoln would have been quite content if the worst name he was called was homosexual! Tyrant, great ape, buffoon, and worse were hurled at Lincoln from the beginning of his administration right to the end, with John Wilkes Booth shouting "Sic Temper Tyrannus!" as he vaulted from the Presidential box with Lincoln's blood on his hands.

It is easy to see the past through our own filters of the present, and a bad study of history to do so. Lincoln's letters are filled with intimacy. I would refer you to a wonderful compilation of his letters The Living Lincoln, by Paul M. Angle and Earl Schenck Miers. Time after time, Lincoln ends his letters with variations of "Forever Yours." To pounce on this one phrase seems forced to me.

There appears to be a tendency within the gay community to confuse male bonding and intimate relationships between men with sex. I would include references to David and Jonathan as an example. It reveals the same chauvinism as seeing women as only sex objects, and being unable to see that a man can have a relationship with a woman without sexual behavior being a part of it. It appears to be a part of our 21st century culture. It would be tragic to place our society's view of sexual behavior on our reading of the history of the 19th century.

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