Over 16,000 books have been written about Abraham Lincoln, our greatest President. Many of these books either allude to or specifically report about Lincoln’s homoerotic relationships with men. It is historical fact that Lincoln lived with and shared a bed with Joshua Speed for four years and they remained friends years after they no longer lived together. He also had a close relationship with Captain David Derickson who would stay with Lincoln overnight at the Soldiers Home (a retreat from the White House) when Lincoln’s wife Mary left town. There were reports of Captain Derickson wearing Lincoln’s nightshirt and Lincoln has been quoted as saying (with a “twinkle” in his eye) the “Captain and I are getting quite thick”.
Many historians are quick to say that men shared beds due to a bed shortage and surely Lincoln, the savior of the Union, could not be gay. The studied impulse to make Lincoln absolutely heterosexual reflects a discernible societal discomfort with the complexities of human sexuality and sexual orientation, as well as deeply embedded streaks of homophobia.
American history is not only written in books but in the sacred narration of family stories that endure as indelible parchment in our hearts. Thomas Jefferson had an affair with his slave Sally Hemings fathering many children with her. The family history of Sally Hemings descendants never wavered from the fact of Jefferson’s paternity, a situation which had been disputed by many offended historians. Surely, they protested, the author of the Declaration of Independence would not have had a sexual liaison with a slave. Genetic testing proved them to be wrong.
America’s founding fathers had sex with slaves. No dispute on that. This brings us to my own family history. Growing up my mother told me that we were from Blair House, the guest house for the White House. She stated that her great- grandmother was a servant at Blair House, had an affair with the master of Blair House, and she also babysat Lincoln’s kids. The affair produced a child, Mattie, born October 20, 1860.
When I began to research this family story I found that the master of the house was none other than Montgomery Blair, the lawyer for Dred Scott, Lincoln’s Postmaster General and a member of his Cabinet. Montgomery’s father was Francis P. Blair, one of the founders of the Republican Party. While I have not yet learned the name of my great-great-grandmother, I found indisputable evidence that the Blair’s owned slaves and had set them free before the Civil War. I also found that most of those former slaves remained working for the Blair families.
Because this research also led to me learning more about Abraham Lincoln—it resulted in my falling in love with him. I read about his great soul, his better angel genius, his beloved children, his love of animals, his soaring words, his melancholy, and his signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.
And as I went on this journey, I also read about his male preference social life. This led me to find increasing evidence about his sexuality. As a sexologist, I posit that Lincoln was a Kinsey 4 — homosexual with more than incidental opposite sex contact. (See Kinsey scale).
Yet, as I studied his magnificent life, I realized that William Herndon, his law partner for 20 years and keeper of Lincoln’s legacy, never mentioned anything that would leave one to believe that Lincoln was gay.
One day I was having lunch with Rev. Cindi Love, the Executive Director of Soul Force. I was telling her about my family history, my burgeoning love affair with Abraham Lincoln and my quest to search out more information. Here is how the conversation went:
“I have been researching Lincoln and found a lot about his relationships with men and I am getting this from a many sources. But I am puzzled about one thing: William Herndon has not mentioned or written anything that would indicate that Lincoln was gay.” Rev. Love gave me a telling look and said: “Well here is the missing piece of your puzzle. My maiden name is Herndon. William Herndon was my great-great uncle and he was gay, and he was Lincoln’s lover.”
She went on to talk about how this information was handed down from generation to generation in the Herndon family.
There are history books and there are generational stories that add tints and textures to the narrative weaving, giving character and quality to the threads of the loom of history.
Lincoln was gay and that is simply the sweet icing on the cake of the life story of our greatest President.