Historians defend controversial Lincoln biography
April 19 2005 12:00 AM ET
It must have been
the first conference in the history of Abraham Lincoln
scholarship to call the Great Emancipator "a terrifically
sexual guy." Addressing the nation's top Lincoln scholars on
Sunday, two historians defended a new book that claims
Lincoln was gay and called for more research into his
sexuality. "I could build a Lincoln Log cabin of homophobic
denial," said Civil War historian Michael Chesson. "There's
been a cover-up, a conspiracy of silence for experts to hide
what they regard as dirty linen in Abe's faded carpetbag."
The reason for the discussion--part of a conference
held in conjunction with the opening of the Abraham Lincoln
Presidential Library and Museum--is a new book called The
Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln. Author and
sociologist C.A. Tripp, who died before the book was
published, examined Lincoln's poetry, the recollections of
those who knew him, and his relationships with other men and
concluded Lincoln was "predominantly homosexual." Tripp goes
into more detail, but he was not the first person to
speculate on the subject. Scholars have long wondered about
the relationship between Lincoln and Joshua Speed. The two
men slept in the same bed for four years in Springfield and
developed a deep friendship.
Seeking to save money and stay warm in crude
buildings, men of the day often shared beds. But Lincoln and
Speed lived together long after they could afford separate
quarters. Though both men married and Lincoln had four
children, Tripp concluded they were lovers. He reached the
same conclusion about Lincoln and David Derickson, a soldier
assigned to guard the president during the Civil War.
Lincoln and Derickson sometimes shared a bed when Mary Todd
Lincoln was out of town.
Jean Baker, author of a major biography of Mrs.
Lincoln, has concluded that Lincoln was bisexual. "[Lincoln]
loved men, and they loved him, at whatever level," Baker
said. She also rejected the contention that Lincoln married
only to further his political career, saying Abraham and
Mary "loved each other and could not be happy apart." "It
does seem to me that Lincoln is a terrifically sexual guy.
He seems to exude testosterone from every pore," she added.
Many historians have questioned the theory that
Lincoln was gay, arguing that if there were anything
suspicious about the president's relationships with Speed
and Derickson, his enemies would have used it against him.
They say Tripp relied on discredited sources and read too
much into conversations that were recalled decades later.
Douglas Wilson, codirector of the Lincoln Studies Center at
Knox College, called the book's evidence "very, very
shabby." But Illinois state historian Thomas Schwartz
suggested skeptics should keep an open mind. "I have found
that the traditional assumptions about Lincoln, when
carefully tested, fall apart," he said. (Christopher Wills,