Whether one considers his victory in the Civil War, his role in the freedom of American slaves, or his spot on the five-dollar bill and the penny, it is clear that Abraham Lincoln left behind him an illustrious legacy. Remembered fondly as one of America’s greatest presidents and immortalized on Mount Rushmore, Lincoln has a firm place in the history of the United States. Still, one question has followed the former president since he had his political career cut tragically short: Just how gay was he?
In order to properly assess how gay Lincoln was in terms of modern standards, I will be employing the Henster-Weinberg Level of Gayness Chart (Figure 1-1). As illustrated, a score of Liberace is the epitome of homosexuality, while a rating of James Bond is the pinnacle of heterosexuality. Certain factors such as amount of sexual intercourse with the same sex, number of musicals watched, memorized, or participated in, and any accents deemed “gay” are used to calculate one’s total gayness score. At the most recent People of Science convention in Dallas, Texas, it was agreed upon that any and all theories on gayness should utilize this method, as it has so far proven to be the most accurate to date. Furthermore, with Gaydar rendered obsolete by the subject’s death nearly 150 years ago, Henster-Weinberg provides us with our most reliable option for determining Lincoln’s Level of Gay.
We must of course first acknowledge the so-called “evidence” that Abraham Lincoln was in fact not gay. Most detractors point to his marriage, his status as a public figure, and the line in his will stating that “I am not, and never have been, a homosexual” as enough to prove the former President’s heterosexuality. The fact that this argument has even made it into mainstream society is baffling. It is a well-known fact that any public figure often finds the need to hide his or her inner sexual feelings, especially one in as important a position as the President of the United States. Imagine if Barack Obama was both black and gay. The fear he would generate in racists and homophobes would make him unelectable. By no means is this an insinuation that President Obama is by any means gay, it is merely an example. Now, knowing how important it is that a President hides the love he feels for his fellow man, does it not make sense that he would take a wife in a cover of his true nature? Any woman would relish the opportunity to be the First Lady, especially one as homely as Mary Todd (Figure 1-2).
Clearly, the notion that by simply marrying Mary Todd Lincoln was not a homosexual is a stretch at best. Finally, those who point to his will as “evidence” of a heterosexual lifestyle are severely misguided. The most natural reaction for someone cornered with an allegation of homosexuality is a straightforward denial. A man who spent his whole life hiding his sexual desires from the world would not suddenly change his mind at the end of his life. This “fact” is obviously no more than wishful thinking on the part of crazed scholars who want to conform Abraham Lincoln to their own views of who the 16 President should be.
Furthermore, there is reliable proof that Lincoln did in fact prefer men to women when it came to territory below the Mason-Dixon line. Certain speeches, photographs, and documents provide incontrovertible evidence that Lincoln was, in fact, gay. Consider this excerpt from the diary of a young Lincoln, dated April 13, 1834:
I saw the most fabulous theatre performance last night! The actors indulged in singing their lines instead of merely speaking them, providing an extra twist in the play’s romantic plot! I nearly died when they started dancing as well! It was the tale of a maiden confined to an impenetrable fortress by her domineering father, who was released by a strong, handsome man devoted to fulfilling her every need. Oh, if only I could find someone like that…
Elements of this entry provide clear indicators of Lincoln’s early homosexual tendencies. Notice the use of the word fabulous, the spelling of theater as –re, not –er, the excitement after discovering musical theater, and the sense of longing he ends with after discussing the male lead’s freeing of the confined princess. While none of these factors on their own would provide any sort of meaningful consensus on Lincoln’s sexual orientation, together they serve as a clear expression of Lincoln’s gay leanings.
There are few photographs in general from Lincoln’s era, but there is a small quantity of existing pictures that reveal much more than just wartime conditions and the quality of enslaved people’s living quarters. Take for example this photograph (Figure 1-3) of Lincoln at the Battle of Antietam.
Fringe scholars have done their best to claim it is a display of Lincoln’s leadership during an important battle of the Civil War, but it is evident that much more than that is occurring. Take the man on the left, for example. At first glance, one might assume he is sticking his hand inside of his jacket simply to keep it warm, but neither Lincoln nor the officer to his right appear to be cold in any way. It is far more likely that this man is in fact a male prostitute accepting payment for a sexual act he has just performed. Further supporting this theory is the look of surprise on the officer’s face, as if he just recently discovered something shocking in the tent behind him, and the upright, relaxed look of President Lincoln, who gives off a distinct aura of sexual satisfaction. How this photograph could be misinterpreted to be anything other than one of the few times a President has been caught paying for gay sex is mystifying for the majority of Lincoln historians.
Given the scope of evidence disproving the notion that the former President was heterosexual in nature, the only thing that remains is to determine just how gay he was. His love of musical theater, tendency to purchase male prostitutes, and marriage to such a mannish woman certainly push him into the fiftieth percentile of the Henster-Weinberg chart, but before he is labeled a full-blown Liberace, other non-homosexual factors must also be considered. Winning a war, for instance, is not considered to be gay in Henster-Weinberg equations, and some of our straightest Presidents, such as George Washington and Dwight Eisenhower, have been renowned military leaders who steered our nation through periods of armed combat. In addition, his growth in the solitary wilderness of Illinois, while it eventually drove him to seek the company of other men, did teach him such heterosexual skills as log-cutting, fishing, and bear wrestling. After calculating all the factors together, Henster-Weinberg gives Lincoln a gay level rating of 81.6, slightly above a Lance Bass but still lower than a Clay Aiken. As high as that may seem, Lincoln is still not the gayest President we have ever had, the distinction of which belongs to Rutherford B. Hayes, who, of course, was famous for his all-male orgies.
Some might say that Abraham Lincoln would not want the world to know he was gay, that he hid his true nature for fear of what it would do to his legacy, or that he simply did not want to be referred to as Gaybraham. I say to those critics, Lincoln would be proud to live in an increasingly free society where he could be open about his sexual preference, where he could be married if he lived Connecticut, Massachusetts, or Canada, and where if someone called him Gaybraham against his wishes, he could sue them for sexual harassment. Lincoln’s closeted nature was a product of the times and his office, and I only wish Lincoln had lived long enough to tell the American public who he truly was.