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Odd Wisconsin Archive

Was Abraham Lincoln Gay?

A new book by C.A. Tripp, The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln, attempts to marshal all the evidence on this question, which has for years fascinated people with nothing more important to do. Buttressed by articles like this one, "Lincoln Was Poor Bed Partner, Says Man Who Tried to Sleep With Him” (about Lincoln spending the night with a Wisconsin youth in 1859), partisans on one side of the question often project today’s values onto the past. It was extremely common, when beds were few in 19th-century inns and homes, for travelers to share them with strangers. Modern standards of personal space and privacy had not yet evolved, nor had our rigid dichotomy between gay and straight. On the other side of the question, those who want to protect what they consider the virtuous character of our heroes often ignore their less noble traits. For example, the Great Emancipator himself did not support civil rights for African Americans but rather backed legislation to send freed slaves overseas. Sometimes defenders of reputations even go beyond this and try to censor those who disagree with them, as in this 1923 Wisconsin legislation that tried to insist that textbooks contained only praise for the founding fathers. Today’s discussion about Lincoln serves to remind us that the best history centers around two central questions: how do you know? and why does it matter? We can never know for certain what Lincoln may have felt or desired, but by examining and debating the evidence in Tripp's book we sharpen our critical thinking skills. By discussing why this issue matters to us at all, we come to a better understanding of our personal beliefs, desires, and values, and perhaps glimpse how we unconsciously project them onto the world around us. To see many more articles about Abraham Lincoln in Wisconsin, and not just about his sleeping habits, consult our collection of online Local History & Biography Articles. Was he gay? You be the judge.
:: Posted in Curiosities on February 10, 2005
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