Abe Lincoln's home town outraged at his 'outing'

ABRAHAM LINCOLN has been called many things down the years, but to most Americans the idea that Honest Abe was a homosexual remains a novel experience. Americans have always been taught that their 16th - and arguably their greatest - president was happily married to Mary Todd, the mother of his two sons. Lincoln, they have been told, was straight in every particular, the boudoir being no exception.

But the prominent playwright and gay activist Larry Kramer has seen fit to suggest otherwise, and it is causing no end of stink among the scholars, curators and amateur historians who consider it their business to safeguard the memory of the Father of the Nation.

Mr Kramer, who founded the radical Aids support group ACTUP and wrote the play The Normal Heart about the early years of the epidemic, claims to have seen a secret diary kept by Lincoln's lifelong friend Joshua Speed, in which the pair come off as rather more than bosom buddies.

"He often kisses me when I tease him, often to shut me up. He would grab me in his long arms and hug and hug," reads one of the few passages Mr Kramer has so far chosen to make public. "Yes, our Abe is like a schoolgirl," reads another.

Apparently, the two spent time wondering if other men had the same sort of relationship as they had. And - the topper, this - Mr Kramer suggests that Lincoln's assassin, John Wilkes Booth, may have killed the president to spurn his sexual advances following an introduction by Speed.

Since Mr Kramer first made his case at a public lecture at the University of Wisconsin a few months ago, Lincoln specialists have been asking the same question: where's the evidence? Mr Kramer has refused to show anyone the diary or give more than a flavour of it, saying he is working on an extended magazine piece about his discoveries as well as a book examining the issue of repressed homosexuality throughout US history.

That, naturally, has satisfied absolutely nobody, and already sceptics are insisting that no diary of this nature could possibly have survived undetected for so long. The building housing Joshua Speed's office, where Mr Kramer says the diary was discovered beneath the floorboards, burned down in 1855 and any concealed documents are likely to have been destroyed.

The real furore, however, began after the local paper in Lincoln's hometown of Springfield, Illinois, recently decided to splash Mr Kramer's theories across the front page. Readers became so infuriated at what they saw as an unsubstantiated slur on their local hero that the paper's editor was forced to apologise for daring to put the words "Lincoln" and "gay" in the same headline.

"Honest Abe must be spinning in his Oak Ridge grave wondering what he did to Springfield to make them shame him in this manner," one letter to the paper read.

The folks at the Lincoln Home National Historic Site take an equally dim view. "From our perspective, discussions such as these have always come and gone," said the superintendent, Norman Hellmers, voicing considerable distaste for the sensationalism in Mr Kramer's theory which he referred to simply as "that".

"That's just one of many things raised down the years, whether in positive, negative, or neutral ways."

Some of the historical record, it must be said, stands in Mr Kramer's favour. Lincoln became extremely close to Speed after he established himself in Springfield in 1838, and shared a bed with him when money was tight. Their published correspondence shows up considerable trepidation on the issue of marriage, and awkwardness about women in general. On the other hand, Lincoln had girlfriends, including one he proposed to, long before he settled down with Mary Todd. And although his political enemies spread rumours when he was running for president, they never suggested he was homosexual.

It is a debate where everyone has a stake above and beyond the historical truth about Abraham Lincoln. Mr Kramer makes no secret of the fact that he wants to reclaim as much of American history as possible for the gay cause. The establishment in Springfield has a certain, rather conservative civic pride to uphold.

Lincoln is such an icon that he has been an alluring figurehead for interest groups of all kinds. "People find it useful to exploit Mr Lincoln for their own purposes," Mr Hellmers observed. "They will do whatever it takes to make the connection." Including, it seems, tussling over his sexuality 134 years after it ceased to have any practical significance.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
The two faces revealed by the ultraviolet light
newsScholars left shaken after shining ultraviolet light on 500-year-old Welsh manuscript
News
Rosamund Pike played Bond girld Miranda Frost, who died in Die Another Day (PA)
news
Arts and Entertainment
books
News
newsHow do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? With people like this
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: In House Counsel - Contracts

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading supplier of compliance software a...

Recruitment Genius: Associate System Engineer

£24000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Associate System Engineer r...

Recruitment Genius: Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Executive Assistant is required to join a l...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - B2B, Corporate - City, London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat