December 16, 2004

If Lincoln was gay...

If Abraham Lincoln was gay, what would it change about the way we think about things today? The NYT has an article by Dinitia Smith about C.A. Tripp's book "The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln." The book, published next month, will stir debate about the evidence, and you can prepare to hear repeated assurances about how men slept together all the time back in Lincoln's day, the era of a dire bed shortage that forced all manner of heterosexual men to sleep together. And sure, afterwards they raved to other men that their bedmate's thighs "were as perfect as a human being Could be."

From what I've read so far, I assume Lincoln was gay. I assume Carl Sandburg believed Lincoln was gay when he 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."

So, assume Lincoln was gay. Now, what else do we think? Should we conclude gayness made him do the things he did as President?
[Mary Todd Lincoln biographer Jean H.] 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 behavior."

Will it -- should it -- change arguments about politics today?
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.

More important that the question whether Lincoln was gay is the question of what use we will make of that piece of information.

UPDATE: Betsy Newmark writes: "I would respond to Ann Althouse that such discussions say a lot more about people today than they do about Lincoln." I agree.

1 comment:

Your Pastor said...

Nah. It just says more about American society today. You know, if you travel in the third world, particularly in countries of Latin America like Mexico, it's common for men to have intimate, even sexual, relationships, whether they get married or not. We're so stupid in this country as to think our victorian values and behavior are the human norms. How ethnocentric!