Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Was Lincoln Gay?

I've heard the rumors for a long time, but dismissed them as pure speculation and gossip. But I never did must investigating.

Now there is a new book out that makes the case that he was. And from what I've heard from respectable sources, in all likelihood, he was. Or at least, in some way, he was.

Andrew Sullivan reviews the book and seems to be convinced. One could argue that Sullivan's position shouldn't surprise us because he has a personal bias. Also interesting about Sullivan's review is that, while there is no one "gay stereotype," there certainly are some true "gay stereotypes." And Lincoln's coming of age seems to parallel Sullivan's story as he laid out in his book Virtually Normal. As Sullivan writes, " I don't doubt that my own view that Lincoln was obviously homosexual is affected by my personal recognition of some aspects of the story, especially in his early years." You'll have to read the review for more detail. But Lincoln and Sullivan seem to fit the stereotype of the "gay intellectual," who sublimates his sexual and emotional desires in adolescence into "learning and bookishness" fitting the "best little boy in the world" stereotype.

For me, the oral history of Lincoln's stepmother, recounted in the book, was also enlightening. Not that she thought her stepson was gay; the word and category didn't exist. And I don't mean her assertion that he "was not very fond of girls." Rather, it was her account of his reclusiveness, emotional distance, and resorting to learning and bookishness, that was noteworthy. No, not definitive--many straight kids have similar experiences. But Lincoln was also the classic "best little boy in the world" type in childhood--one of the largest categories of gay male childhood there is.


And the Weekly Standard's trashing of this book is every bit as if not more so biased, on the other side, as Sullivan's. The author of the Standard's article worked with the late author of Lincoln book and had a nasty falling out with him. And what's with the cover? We know the Standard has contempt for gays; but the cover seems to be disrespectful of Lincoln as well. Is the Standard turning into lewrockwell.com?

For a book review that clearly has no axe to grind, and for that reason, this review ultimately convinces the most, is Richard Brookhiser's in the New York Times. Brookhiser is a National Review conservative, and while many of them are homophobic, he is not. Yet, he is a heterosexual conservative writer for the National Review -- meaning that he is not given to "homopropaganda" (a term John Derbyshire used in a personal email to me).

He sums up his position as follows: "In any case, on the evidence before us, Lincoln loved men, at least some of whom loved him back."

Update: Sandefur vehemently disagrees! He knows much more than I about Lincoln. And I don't have the expertise or the interest to defend the "Lincoln is gay" thesis. But let point out two things. First, I was basically appealing to authority: Richard Brookhiser's. And he is an eminent historian, who gets respect from all over the political spectrum but is on the Right, and unlike Sullivan and Nobile, has no axe to grind.

Second: Although I'm not interested in fighting this, Sullivan is. Sandefur might want to check out this multi-part long post of his.



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