The Gay Lincoln Theory

I was listening to the Dave Glover Show on KSTK 97.1 talk FM earlier this evening. They had this “gentleman” (sorry, I tuned in too late to catch his name) on their show. The topic was C. A. Tripp’s book The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln, which continues an argument originally set forth by Carl Sandburg in 1924 of Lincoln being gay. Trying to learn more about the segment that I missed part of, I examined a review of the book from The Weekly Standard, which was noted in the segment and can be viewed here. I have several problems with the “Lincoln was gay” theory.First, the author (Tripp) is not a historian, but a “well-known sex researcher” who worked under the controversial Alfred Kinsey. This hurts his credibility with this budding historian.

Second, is how Tripp comes to his conclusion. He notes Lincoln sharing a bed with his friend Joshua Speed as well as his bodyguard while in the White House. Now there are MAJOR problems with Tripp’s assertion. First, Tripp, especially considering his lack of training in history, does not understand how 19th century American society worked. It was quite common for people of the same sex to share a bed in that time. Unlike today’s society, families were larger, which resulted in siblings sharing a bed during childhood. In addition, the Army at the time had men sharing bunks for sleeping. Does this mean that the men in question were gay? No. It was quite common when staying at an inn to rent only a sleeping space, not a whole room, or even bed. It was not uncommon for a person to awaken the next morning with two or three other people in the same bed. That was how society was back then.

Now, another problem with Tripp’s book is of a more serious nature with respect to the historical community. The author of the article in The Weekly Standard was also originally the coauthor of the book with Tripp. Philip Nobile claims that Tripp plagiarized much of the work, citing the original collaboration where both men would submit competing chapters to a Lincoln expert, who would act as “referee” to the book to make sure it was accurate. According to Nobile, Tripp stole much of his [Nobile's] own written material from the chapters that he [Nobile] wrote and incorporated it into the final book. Plagiarism is a very serious allegation and has very serious consequences for those caught.

The “gentleman” in the Dave Glover segment today also noted supposed love letters written by Lincoln to a close friend in addition to to mentioning the examples noted above. The man mentioned how these letters had the air of love letters. This just proves then that Lincoln was gay. This is yet another example of an individual unfamiliar with 19th century society. Having read many letters written by men to both women and other men at the time, I can testify to the fact that many were eloquent, rich in passionate, flowery language, and have the air of love letters to our modern eyes. This was the style of the 19th century, which is even more amazing considering the overall lack of education amongst persons at that time. People conveyed deep personal thoughts, which possessed an almost romantic quality to them because of two possible reasons. First, the cost of postage was very high at the time, with it costing the equivalent of several dollars to mail one page (front and back) over 25 miles. Second, the distance that separated some people and the higher mortality rate of the time mean that people may go years without seeing the person and may never see them again in certain instances. This could create a deep sense of caring and concern for that person bordering on a romantic feeling for that person. This does not mean that the person is sexually attracted or infatuated with the person, but that they care deeply about them.

Overall, both Tripp and the gentleman who appeared on the Dave Glover Show are placing their biases on 19th century society. In fact, Philip Nobile notes how Tripp “would never give up his homosexual bias.” Their placing 21st century views onto the 19th century is a bad practice that must be avoided. Furthermore, both men show a clear lack of understanding of the society of the time, taking common practices of that society way out of context. Was Lincoln gay? Probably not, as the physical evidence does not exist for sexual relations between Lincoln and men, as well as most written evidence does not support the gay Lincoln theory. One thing is certain, this is a clear example of one man attempting to rewrite history from the grave (Tripp died in 2003) to suit an agenda. It is interesting to note that more than half of the 36 customer review on Amazon.com rate the book at one or two stars and are very critical of the book. I invite you to read the reviews and the article cited above and come to your own conclusion about whether or not you want to buy this book and consider this theory, but for my money, I will not buy the book and wait for something more conclusive before I even consider the remote possibility of a homosexual Lincoln.

7 thoughts on “The Gay Lincoln Theory

  1. This reminds me of when I was in grade school when I had a black music teacher make the assertion that Beethoven was half-black!
    Abraham Lincoln was truly a great man in many respects. It is no wonder that folks that have felt disenfranchised for so long wish to claim them as their own. If Lincoln the ultimate great American was gay then consequently gays are good too.
    The darker side of this is that others have tried to claim Lincoln as their own. Even neo-Nazis and the KKK have found particular quotes in Lincoln speeches and policies to make them claim Lincoln was the original “brown shirt.” The communists also have misappropriated the Lincoln myth with the so-called “Abraham Lincoln brigade” during the Spanish Civil War in an attempt to make red mercenaries palatable to middle-America.
    The Lincoln gay myth no-doubt is not the last attempt by some group to make Lincoln their own.

    By the way few know today that Lincoln was a Washington Redskins fan and hated the Dallas Cowboys. Proof of this is that Lincoln once had indians in the white house but was never seen wearing a cowboy hat.

  2. I think you are overstating the cost of postage. By the CW you had a major reduction in the reform of 1847, which introduced the 5 & 10 cent stamps for the required pre-paid postage, and then rates fell again to 3 cents in the 1850s. Most soldiers in the war were so young they would have had no memory of the earlier rates and, in any event, high rates would encourage brief, non-flowery language.

  3. Dk,

    Thanks for your comment, as I may be off in terms of the cost of postage, but the letters in question (not sure of the dates right now) could have been written before the reform. In any event, even with a reduction of postage to the levels you mention, it would still be expensive for that time. As for your comment about soldiers, this issue seems unrelated to them.

    High rates encouraging brief letters? I do not agree with that claim, as the higher rates I mentioned were for one page, so if the rate was higher, you would only send letters every so often and would try to fit as much onto that page as possible to provide the recipient as much information as you want to convey to them. In any event, thank you again for your comment.

  4. A ‘gay’ lincoln, wow.
    I have never read of any evidence, nor rumor of such; I am not surprised it came up, as one man pointed out. It seems to an attempt to legitimize a current agenda, that of gays are everywhere.
    Sadly, especially with the brutal ‘outings’ I have read about, gays are inviting comparison to the SS of the Nazis; much historical writing points to a huge preponderance of homosexuality among the most vicious of men. This demeaning of Lincoln seems to prove that point.
    I guess I should not have used the word ‘demeaning’ for I suspect that gays are trying to prove that because so many notable people were gay, that being gay isn’t demeaning at all.
    The problem is that privacy is at stake; and why target Lincoln? Has he a history of assailing homosexuality? Is it in his writings?
    We are sick of gays accusing every one who is not gay of being gay because it smacks of meanspiritedness and spite.
    I haven’t added much here, I know; and I really don’t want to say gay people are bad…I don’t think they are, but some people use homosexuality, particularly outing, as a weapon, and I think that is reprehensible.
    I remember a man goosing me and loudly saying I liked it, until I floored him with a straight right. Does that mean I’m not gay or bisexual? No, and whatever I am is no one’s business, though I think I’m heterosexual. What it means is I don’t like people using sex to embarrass others. Were Lincoln around, I think he would floor the man who said he was gay for just the reason I floored a man so long ago. It’s mean and ugly…and very hard to defend against I might add; a pity violence had to be used because violence is often the means used to assert one is not gay….while on the other hand many say it’s a sgn of suppressed homosexuality.
    That being said, we can see why it’s unfair to bring one’s sexuality…unless it is the person himself making the assertion…into the public arena.

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