Full Name: Abraham Lincoln
Birth: 12th February 1809
Place of Birth: Kentucky, USA
Nationality: American
Job Title: Flatboat Crew, General Store Clerk, Postmaster, Lawyer, Politician, President
Partners: Joshua Fry Speed, Mary Owens, Mary Todd, Cpt. David Derickson
Died: 15th April 1865, Washington DC


Some of the Gay Greats we feature in Fyne Times are rather contentious, but few are as controversial as this month’s historical figure. Held as one of the founders of the world’s most powerful nation, rumours that he may have favoured ‘male company’ certainly don’t go down well. But are such suggestions just pro-gay wishful thinking?

Abraham Lincoln’s background is often exaggerated and described as extremely poor. Although a poor family, the Lincolns were reasonably comfortable. His father –Thomas Lincoln- was a farmer and the family lived in a log cabin on a piece of land called Sinking Spring near Hodgenville, Kentucky. Although the family were not destitute, Lincoln’s early years were quite unsettled for a multitude of reasons. The problems started when he was only 2 and a land dispute forced the family to move ten miles away to another plot. A year later, another son was born, but died early in his infancy leaving the family distraught for some time.

And it didn’t stop there. The next few years continued to be traumatic for the whole family. Only a few years after moving, yet another land dispute arose. This time Lincoln’s father moved the family to more secure but less fertile land in the back-woods of Indiana. The final stroke of bad-luck came when the mother of the family – Nancy Lincoln- suddenly died. She had drink milk infected with the deadly plant White Snakeroot and fell ill right away. Lincoln was deeply affected by her death but tried to follow his father’s exmple and move on. When his father re-married only a year later to a local widow, the rest of the family made an effort to get on with her. Lincoln himself admired his stepmother greatly and it wasn’t long before he developed a true and lasting affection for her.

Despite the disruptions, the young Lincoln continued to thrive and attended school for a short time. Physically, he was a tall boy and was rumoured to have gone through puberty by the early age of 9, giving him a head-start when it came to manual work. Although Lincoln found hunting too emotionally difficult, he proved his worth by ploughing and planting for local farms. During this time, Lincoln also borrowed all the books from the neighbours he could and spent many hours educating himself as best he could. When it came to making money though, Lincoln was keen to prove himself. Now aged 19, he and a friend decided to take a flatboat of local farm produce all the way down-river to New Orleans where it was more valuable. The experience was to change his life in more ways than one as it is almost certain the impressionable Lincoln witnessed a slave auction. It was around this time that he began to voice his objection to the slave trade.

Lincoln’s political career started when he stood for election to the Illinois General election in 1832. He lost the election, but two years later had another go and was successfully elected as a member of the Whig party. In 1836, Lincoln was again voted into the Assembly and his sharp mind had also meant a promotion to become the head of the Whig party. But politics didn’t pay the bills and Lincoln needed a good paying job. Realising his ability to reason and articulate his ideas, he started to train in law.

It was also around this time that Lincoln decided to move away from the family home and settled in the frontier town of New Salem, from where he makes a further boat trip to New Orleans. Six years later, he moved to Springfield where he met Joshua Fry Speed, the son of a local judge. The two men formed a close bond very quickly and it is clear from the most basic evidence that there was great affection between the two men. But their relationship seemed to go beyond that of ‘mates’. Speed assisted in the running of a general store as well as having interests in a few other local businesses. Lincoln moved in and lived with Speed at the store. It is well known that the two men also shared a double bed for four years, although many historians argue many men shared beds at the time if it was a necessity. What is clear from Lincoln’s letters and writings is that for a man who would later display a distinct lack of emotion in relationships, there was a huge amount of tenderness for Speed. The concept of a homosexual relationship was not on their horizon and certainly the men also courted women, but there was a distinct exclusivity to the love they felt for each other.

But cracks started to show. Speed’s father died in 1840 and soon after, Speed announced his plans to sell his father’s land and move away to Kentucky. Lincoln was devastated and as the date of Speed’s departure grew closer, he final cracked. Lincoln called out his imminent marriage to a girl called Mary Todd and falls into a deep depression. A month after Speed moves away, Lincoln takes and extended stay with him in Kentucky to recover. Although he did not stay in Kentucky with Speed, the two kept up and strong correspondence for many years until the eventually fell out over a political matter.

Lincoln did not seek to keep his seat at the next election. He also reluctantly married Mary Todd on 4th November 1942. But his political dreams were still alive and a few years later, he was nominated as the Whig candidate for the US Congress. On August 3rd 1846, he was elected to the House of Representatives. At last, his political career had gone national! He did not especially stand out during this time in the House, but Lincoln was busy learning some vital political lessons.

He was not re-elected to the House for a second term, so Lincoln went back to law. But his unease over the slavery issue was pulling him back. When the Kansas-Nebraska Act was drawn up, he was enraged. The Act removed all previous protection for slaves and left the new states to ‘make their own mind up’ on the subject. Although his rivals saw it as a victory for democracy, Lincoln and many others saw it as a step back in the campaign to outlaw slavery. A fiery set of debates ensured between Lincoln and his political rival in the issue – Stephen A Douglas. These debates boosted Lincoln’s notoriety no end and when it came time to choose a candidate for the newly formed Republican party, there was one very obvious choice!

In the campaign, Lincoln didn’t need to do much. The election would be fought on the strength of the fledgling party and not the oratory skills of an individual, although biographies about Lincoln’s ‘rags to riches’ story were widely circulated in the press. The campaign was successful and on 6th November 1860, Lincoln was elected as the President of America. But with only 40% of the public vote, there were still enemies out there, especially those who opposed his aim to ban slavery. Even before his investiture, he found himself narrowly evading a kidnap plot. As a precaution, he travelled in disguise to Washington DC for his inauguration and was heavily guarded when he gave his maiden speech as President.

Although married, Lincoln’s closest relationships continued to be with men. While still a lawyer, a young man called Elmer Ellsworth had come to work at the practice. Lincoln took to him and helped to advance his career. Ellsworth in return was devoted to him and helped on the campaign trail before joining Lincoln in Washington. When troubles broke out, the President ensured Ellsworth got a good position in the Union Army. When the young Colonel was shot and killed after he led his men into a Confederate area and removed flag from the top of an Inn. His death was one of the first martyrs of the troubles and his name was used to rally troops when the civil war began.

Lincoln was devastated at his death, but sound found another male friend to dote on – Captain David Derickson. In 1862, Lincoln chose Davidson for White House and before long Lincoln chose not to share a bed with his wife, but sometimes Davidson instead. Lincoln recognised that his closeness would hurt his wife and so his male bed-sharing antics were only carried out when his wife was away. For his eight months of service guarding the President, Derickson was never far from Lincoln’s side and it is said the two men even borrowed each other’s clothes, such was the closeness of their relationship.

But Lincoln had plenty to distract his mind from men. The troubles had got worse and Lincoln sensibly decided to wait for the Confederate army to cast the first stone. When a Unionist fort in South Carolina was attacked, the President knew the war had begun. He wasted no time in deploying troops and started a recruitment drive among Unionist sympathisers. Not wanting the ‘end goal’ of the war to be lost, a year into the war Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation which declared all slaves free in Confederate states which were not returned to Union control within a year. In practice, the Proclamation committed Unionists to freeing slaves wherever possible.

As his army’s drove south, Lincoln committed himself to his real aim of the 13th Amendment, a change in the country’s constitution which would see a national end of slavery. But the war wasn’t going well. Advisors warned Lincoln that his allies were beginning to turn on him. Confidence was running low. Needing a turning point, Lincoln sat to write his most famous speech, an address due to be given at the consecration of a new burial site in Gettysberg. The power of Lincoln’s words did the trick and a new rush of energy ran through the Union army. After two more years of fighting, a surrender final came. Lincoln had won the war and could now turn his attention to ridding the constitution of the right to own slaves.

Re-building the country was going to be hard work. Enemies were still everywhere and in effect, the President was building a brand new country. On Good Friday in 1855, Lincoln and his wife decided to attend a theatre production of Our American Cousin at Ford’s theatre. Little did he know that the news had reached John Wilkes Booth, an jobbing actor who had been planning an assassination for some time. Hearing the President will be in a theatre he knows well, he had found his opportunity. Sneaking through the back passages after the play had begun, he waited just outside the President’s box. Knowing the script well, he waited for a loud moment in the play and burst through the door, raising a revolver and putting a bullet into the President’s head. Lincoln was rushed away to a house across the road. He never regained consciousness and died some ten hours later.

There is little or no hard evidence to suppose Lincoln was gay as such, however it seems clear the closest relationships of his life were with fellow men. Whether those friendships crossed the line into sexual involvement, it is impossible to tell. Despite the inspiration his story could give the LGBT community, his legacy as a gay historical figure seems destined to lay un-proved. What is certain is that Lincoln’s place as one of the world’s greatest humanitarians is secure for many years to come. His defiance of prejudice and will to outlaw unfair treatment should be an inspiration to all, whatever their gender.

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