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NYT: Was Lincoln Gay? New Controversy

Dinitia Smith, in the NYT (12-16-04):

Was Abraham Lincoln a gay American?

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.

But his book has not stopped the debate. During the 10 years of his research, Mr. Tripp shared his findings with other scholars. Many, including the 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.

Mr. Tripp was the author of"The Homosexual Matrix," a 1975 book that disputed the Freudian notion of homosexuality as a personality disorder. In this new book, he says that early biographers of Lincoln, including Carl Sandburg, sensed Lincoln's homosexuality. In the preface to the original multi-volume edition of his acclaimed 1926 biography, Sandburg 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." Mr. Tripp said that references to Lincoln's possible homosexuality were cut in the 1954 abridged version of the biography. Mr. Tripp maintains that other writers, including Ida Tarbell and Margaret Leech, also found evidence of Lincoln's homosexuality but shied away from defining it as such or omitted crucial details.

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.

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. And the correspondence between Lincoln and Speed was not that of lovers, he maintained. 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.

Mr. Tripp charts Lincoln's relationships with other men, including Billy Greene, with whom Lincoln supposedly shared a bed in New Salem, Ill. Herndon said Greene told him that Lincoln's thighs"were as perfect as a human being Could be."

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 tries to debunk the popular opinion among scholars that Lincoln's lifelong depressions were caused by the death of his first love, Ann Rutledge. He writes that at the time she was supposedly involved with Lincoln, she was engaged to John McNamar and that her name appears nowhere in Lincoln's letters.

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