Reviews:Lincoln, Scholars, and Sex
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''Lincoln's Quest for Union: Public and Private Meanings'' by Charles B. Strozier (Basic Books, 1982)
''Lincoln's Quest for Union: Public and Private Meanings'' by Charles B. Strozier (Basic Books, 1982)
Latest revision as of 13:50, 14 June 2009
Note: This is a slightly different version from the one published in the latest issue of the Gay & Lesbian Review (March/April 2006).
Review Essay by Lewis Gannett and William A. Percy III
"I have heard him [Abraham Lincoln] say over & over again about sexual contact. 'It is the harp of a thousand strings.'"
--Henry C. Whitney to William H. Herndon June 23, 1887
It is a truism that Abraham Lincoln was incompetent with women. Scholars emphasize that as a young man, his awkwardness and shyness and uncouth appearance so embarrassed him that he avoided their company. He botched the niceties of courtship, he tripped over himself, he was almost a laughingstock. Lincoln in his twenties attempted to court a woman named Mary Owens whose verdict is widely cited in Lincoln literature: he was "deficient in those little links which make up the chain of woman's happiness."
Indeed, the eminent scholar David Herbert Donald raises the possibility that Lincoln's cluelessness about women denied him a sex life prior to his marriage to Mary Todd at the late age of thirty-three. In "We Are Lincoln Men" Donald discusses Lincoln's relationship with Joshua Speed, Lincoln's four-year bedmate and by authoritative accounts his most intimate friend. Donald writes, "Both of these young men thought they wanted to marry, but they had forbodings, probably related to doubts about sexual adequacy. Charles Strozier, the psychohistorian, believes it is possible that both were virgins." (pp.41-42)
Strozier believes in the possibility of considerably more than that. In Quest for Union he speculates on Lincoln's reaction to the end of his sleeping arrangement with Speed:
This separation apparently threw Lincoln into a panic that shook his fragile sexual identity [emphasis added]. In this state his fear of intimacy with a woman was revived, and he broke his engagement with Mary [Todd]. (p.44)
With this and other passages Strozier entered territory that no Lincolnist before him had dared to explore, the question of Lincoln's sexual relationship with Speed. Strozier does not argue that Lincoln and Speed actually had sex during the years they slept together. He skirts around the issue, at times seeming to come close to an overtly sexual hypothesis, but he then retreats, theorizing instead that, in fact, both Lincoln and Speed were terrified of sex with women. Strozier asserts quite solemnly that this formed the basis of their intimacy. Their shared fears, their shared bed, bound them together:
The period during which Lincoln slept with Speed began and ended with unconsummated female relationships, first with Mary Owens and then with Mary Todd. Speed provided an alternative relationship that neither threatened nor provoked Lincoln. Each of the two men found solace in discussing their forebodings about sexuality. Their intimate maleness substituted for the tantalizing but frightening closeness of women. [p.43]
In other words, fear of sex with women made the bed a very special place. There Lincoln and Speed found in each other an "alternative relationship" to women. They shivered together under the covers, each dreading a female replacement of the other. But in that bed these two sex-starved individuals never, not once, spilled seed together.
This view desexualizes Lincoln in a most startling way. It makes him a sexual ascetic from his teens all the way through to his early thirties. Is it possible that Lincoln remained celibate until his union with Mary Todd? Of course. Is it plausible? Not in the least.
Doris Kearns Goodwin does not suggest a virginal Lincoln at age thirty-three. She writes on page ninety-three of her sprawling new book, Team of Rivals, "Before his marriage Lincoln enjoyed close relations with young women and almost certainly found outlets for his sexual urges among the prostitutes who were readily available on the frontier." The "almost certainly" is very strong compared to what other biographers have had to say on the subject of Lincoln and prostitutes; the few stories of him seeking such services either are vague or, in the case of the one detailed story, so ludicrous as to suggest a Lincoln joke.
On the same page Goodwin seems to contradict herself when she notes, "His female friendships were mostly confined to older, safely married women." This is quite true. Abraham was great pals with a variety of women who were not looking for men, including the "safely married" Hannah Armstrong and Eliza Browning, Hannah an illiterate resident of New Salem, Illinois, Eliza the more worldly wife of the future U.S. Senator Orville Browning in Springfield. How Lincoln could have a great time with all kinds of "taken" women but become hopelessly "awkward" when available women approached, Goodwin does not explain.
At any rate, Goodwin echoes the standard line in describing Lincoln as incompetent with the eligible opposite sex. She hastens to add, however: "His awkwardness did not imply a lack of sexual desire."
Here Goodwin cuts to the chase. There is a reason why the meticulous David Herbert Donald can entertain the idea that Lincoln remained a virgin until his marriage; a reason why Charles Strozier, a crackpot Freudian of the worst sort but a scholar with impressive command of the evidence, can do the same; and a reason why Goodwin's "almost certainly," with regard to Lincoln and prostitutes, is unfootnoted. It is this: The record contains no credible evidence that Lincoln had any enthusiasm at all for the sexual or romantic pursuit of women.
Some mainstream scholars acknowledge that point, albeit with caveats. For an especially good discussion see Chapter Four, "Women," in Douglas L. Wilson's Honor's Voice (Knopf, 1998). The basic conclusion has been around for a long time. The poet Edgar Lee Masters in his 1931 biography, Lincoln the Man (Dodd, Mead, p.145), put it this way:
Lincoln was an under sexed man. That is the simplest way to express it. He liked to be with men when he liked to be with anyone He was one of those manly men, whose mind made him seek masculine minds. Marriage with him had the slightest sexual aim. It was rather taken for social reasons, or other self-regarding motives, all apart from romantic impulses. If the story of Ann Rutledge, and Mary Owens and Mary Todd do not prove this, nothing could.
So there it is. Lincoln was "under sexed." This explains how he could have delayed having sexual intercourse until after he entered his middle age. Or to put it another way: Donald, the most distinguished Lincolnist of our time, believes that if Lincoln did not have sex with a woman until his marriage, up to that point he did not have any sex at all.
There is another explanation for Lincoln's relations with women, for his lengthy bed sharing with Speed, and for why, in Lincoln's case, "unconsummated female relationships" preceded and followed that period of time. Lincoln and Speed were not sexually attracted to women. They were sexually attracted to men, and in particular, to each other.
That hypothesis has horrified the Lincoln establishment. It is worth pointing out that a co-author of this essay, William Percy, played a key role in the late C. A. Tripp's interest in Lincoln, which ultimately led to Tripp's book, The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln (Free Press, 2005). Percy organized a symposium, "Gay American Presidents," at the 1993 convention of the American Historical Association. Charley Shively, a Harvard-educated professor of American history, presented his findings on Lincoln's sexuality, which vastly expanded the earlier work of Jim Kepner, a pioneering gay activist (see Chapter Seven of Shively's Drum Beats: Walt Whitman's Civil War Boy Lovers, Gay Sunshine Press, 1989). Tripp, in the audience, was fascinated. Not long thereafter Tripp asked Percy to introduce him to David Herbert Donald. Percy did so, but pointed out to Tripp that any interest Donald might express in Tripp's research would not be benign. Percy also warned Tripp that Donald would almost certainly prepare a preemptive strike to try to undermine Tripp's findings. With We Are Lincoln Men, Donald did just that.
When Tripp looked at the Lincoln sexual record, he found it amazing that the heterosexual component should be so slight. In Tripp's view--the polar opposite of Edgar Lee Masters' intellectual heirs, Donald and Strozier, among others--Lincoln was an exceptionally "sex-minded" man. This side of Lincoln's personality does not figure in the iconic image, for reasons not hard to guess. But the fact that Lincoln loved to tell sexually explicit jokes and stories is a vivid component of the reminiscences of people who knew him. A telltale trait, Tripp believed. For although some might argue that Lincoln's bawdy sense of humor could have been a case of "all talk, no action," Tripp, a trained sex researcher and an Alfred C. Kinsey protégé saw instead that Lincoln's preoccupation with sex indicated a robust sex drive, one that required outlet.
Why not, Tripp wondered, with women? At the least, on an experimental basis? From the perspective of sex research one would expect to find at least a modicum of what Tripp called "heterosexual commitment." The near-total absence of reliable evidence for it actually made him uneasy.
Doris Kearns Goodwin has recently been alerting the book-buying public that Lincoln was, indeed, "sexy." She adduces this from a photograph of Lincoln. But she does not discuss more compelling evidence in contemporary accounts. Numerous observers commented on Lincoln's ribald side, some lamenting it, others finding it a matter of wonder. Lincoln amongst his peers was infamous for spinning out off-color tales. They riveted his audiences, of necessity all male because women in those days were deemed too tender to witness such performances. William Herndon, Lincoln's law partner and indispensable biographer, wrote that when Lincoln went to social gatherings, he swiftly drew the men present off to one side to spare the ladies, then proceeded not only to mesmerize the gents with his bawdy jokes but also, of them all, to laugh the hardest.
This raises two questions. First, how could a man with a "fragile sexual identity" so commandingly relish his own sexy wit? Second, if Lincoln was sexy, what did he do with his sex drive? Oddly, Donald and Strozier do not address the first question. As to the second, one does not find a convincing answer anywhere in mainstream Lincoln literature.
This puts the question of Lincoln's "awkwardness" around eligible women in a new perspective. What truly is awkward are the attempts that establishment scholars have made to decipher that awkwardness. To conjoin the available evidence with their presumption about Lincoln--as Percy puts it, the "presumption of heterosexuality"--they have had to resort to dubious footwork, of which Strozier's is merely the most elaborate. All of the accounts under review here strain credulity. At best they reflect naпїЅetпїЅ at worst, a cynical campaign to enhance book sales and academic stature. Either way, their portrayals of Lincoln have so far been quite successful. That probably will not last.
Consider the quote from Henry C. Whitney that heads this essay.
Whitney met Lincoln in 1854, by which time Lincoln had achieved political and legal prominence. Whitney, age twenty-three, was just beginning his own career as a lawyer. Almost immediately they hit it off. Lincoln mentored the younger man in the ways of the law. They "rode the circuit" together, traveling with a small band of other lawyers and a judge from courthouse to courthouse in towns throughout central Illinois.
It is not possible to divine what, exactly, Whitney meant when he told Lincoln's biographer William Herndon that Lincoln "over and over again" characterized "sexual contact" as "the harp of a thousand strings." But the statement is suggestive. First, the "over and over again." This was no casual remark. Evidently, Lincoln and Whitney had frequent discussions about sex. Second, the subject is sexual "contact." Contact? A strikingly general word. Third, "the harp of a thousand strings." As a matter of convention in Victorian America, sex was thought of as something that men did to women to create progeny within the confines of marriage, and very little if anything else. Lincoln, it seems, had a more expansive view.
Why would Lincoln in conversation repeatedly multiply--by a thousand-fold--the prevailing conception of sex? Does it suggest that he himself had sexual experiences outside the norm? Was he advising a younger, unmarried man that surprises might await him when he took a wife? Was Lincoln putting into context a sexual experience of Whitney's? Perhaps, his own seduction of Whitney?
Whatever Lincoln meant, it is safe to surmise that the metaphor he used implies diversity, a broad range of experience, and moreover, a kind of loveliness in the very fact of such diversity. In short, Lincoln's vision of sex was quite sophisticated for a man of his time--a time that various scholars have called "pre-sexuality," on the grounds that it came before the post-Freudian fixation on "sexual identity." We cannot of course infer that Lincoln's harp with its thousand strings signified to him anything remotely like the modern conception of distinct, identity-grounded sexualities. He was talking, it seems, about the altogether more basic question of variety in sexual experience. Still, it stands as a remarkable recognition that sex is a case of different strokes for different folks.
Then there is Lincoln's poem, the finale of a satirical piece, "The Chronicles of Reuben," produced at age nineteen, wherein two boys marry and have intercourse. It reads in part:
the egg it is laid but Naty[']s afraid the Shell is So Soft that it never will hatc[h]
Tripp identified the "egg" here as a "jelly-baby," vernacular for the imagined result of anal sex between two men, a result that could not produce a baby.
What to make of that? Again, it is well to interpret the poem cautiously, not to read too much into it. At a minimum, however, the poem shows that Lincoln, even as a late adolescent, not only was aware of sexual diversity, in this case of male/male coupling, but also had enough self-assurance to write about it. One conclusion is inescapable: Lincoln's understanding of sex was precocious as well as sophisticated.
That does not accord with the record as construed by Donald and others. Their accounts portray Lincoln as a social and sexual naпїЅ. As a man with doubts about his "sexual adequacy."
Tripp saw this as a profound misreading. Yes, Lincoln very likely did find intimidating the prospect of sex with Mary Todd, particularly if, as the record suggests, he never before had gone to bed with a woman. And yes, the young Lincoln did not display social competence as defined by upper-class parlor behavior, which fork should do what at the dining table, how to pass the sauce, the etiquette of beaux courting belles.
But in another sense he possessed social skills of considerable power. Many of these are well known. His talent as a peacemaker, evident from an early age. His leadership abilities, also evident early on, and later, his "political genius," a trait Goodwin nicely lays out. His tenderheartedness, his boundless empathy, which is to say, perceptiveness coupled with feeling, perhaps the prime social grace. His imperviousness to insult and ridicule, founded on his confidence that, as his legal colleague Leonard Swett once put it, he in the end would make "the wrath of his enemies to praise him."
Another social skill deserves particular mention, one that every Lincoln scholar has noted: Lincoln's ability to command the rapt attention of males. With men, Lincoln was a performer of unmatched competence. He was sure-footed, poised, magnetic--in a word, irresistible.
But not with women, in the traditional view. There is however a problem here, in the form of Mary Todd. A formidable socialite of distinguished breeding, young Todd evidently found in Lincoln her best bet to achieve her ambitions, which, as she had often declared, included becoming the wife of an American president. How shrewd she was. Todd saw quite clearly that Lincoln was not a rube, destined to a life of obscurity. The record indicates that she wanted Lincoln, wanted him fiercely. The record also indicates that Lincoln did not reciprocate that fierceness. For Todd, he was a magnet; for Lincoln, she was not. Todd got Lincoln anyway, despite his best efforts--which had worked so well in the case of Mary Owens--to ward Todd off with what might be called his "rube act."
The main point here is this: the traditional view ignores the possibility that Lincoln did not want to be competent as far as social relations with women were concerned. To state it differently: he did not need to be. In fact, Lincoln appears to have been content to let his perceived coarseness act as a defense against unwanted attentions from the "fair sex."
Meantime, his true nature was far from coarse. Mary Owens wrote to biographer Herndon: "In many things he was sensitive almost to a fault." Owens then told a story about Lincoln walking through prairie, wearing good clothes. He came across "a hog mired down" in a ditch. He walked by; then he looked back. The "poor thing seemed to say wistfully, 'There now, my last hope is gone.'" Lincoln proceeded to wrestle the hog out of the ditch, thoroughly muddying himself. Other such stories abound. Lincoln climbed a tree to return fallen bird chicks to their nest, much to the derisive amusement of his companions. He issued stern edicts about the proper treatment of his cats.
Lincoln's "sensitive" nature could have attuned him to the "little links which make up the chain of woman's happiness," as Mary Owens put it. But he did not have it in him. Why not? Probably because it would have been insincere. Owens no doubt sensed this. Lincoln perhaps wanted her to sense it. The case can be made that Lincoln's famous awkwardness with women did not derive from a lack of manners or from feelings of inadequacy. More likely it derived from another famous trait: honesty.
Abraham Lincoln and Joshua Speed first met when Lincoln was twenty-eight and Speed twenty-two, on April 15, 1837. That date marked the beginning of their four-year bed sharing, in a room above a general store that Speed co-owned. Almost every Lincoln scholar has found the sleeping arrangement unremarkable.
Same-sex bed sharing was common in 19th-century America, of course. It was perfectly ordinary, a question of mattress scarcity, small homes, crowded hostelries. Historians have repeatedly pointed to that fact in the wake of the publication of Tripp's Intimate World, which among other things documents Lincoln's sleeping arrangements and finds in them evidence that Lincoln had sexual relations with men.
But as Jean Baker, the well-regarded biographer of Mary Todd Lincoln and the author of Intimate World's Introduction, has noted, for two men with financial resources to share a bed for four years bordered on impropriety. It was unusual. The non-conjugal slept together when it was necessary. They did not do it by choice.
Michael B. Chesson, an award-winning historian of the post-Civil War era and a contributor to Intimate World's Afterword, has pointed out that the Lincoln & Speed bed sharing might have begun as a matter of necessity, but in time became very clearly a matter of choice. The start of Lincoln's sleeping arrangement with Speed coincided with the launch of Lincoln's Springfield, Illinois legal career. As Kenneth J. Winkle notes, "during his first year of [law] practice, Lincoln earned enough to buy two lots in Springfield" (The Young Eagle, Taylor Publishing, 2001, p.170). Lincoln could have gotten his own digs as his practice grew. But he didn't. He continued to sleep with Speed.
Furthermore, this bedroom contained at least one other bed. During portions of the Lincoln/Speed sleeping arrangement, Lincoln's future biographer, William Herndon, and Charles Hurst, who later bought Speed's share of the store, also slept in the bedroom. When Herndon and Hurst did not stay there--according to Donald, they spent their nights elsewhere for much of the four-year duration--Lincoln and Speed could have slept apart. They preferred to sleep together. For warmth on winter nights? Perhaps. Which raises the question of spring, summer, and fall.
These fine points were ignored in the furor following the appearance of Intimate World. "Not enough beds!", commentators chorused, taking Tripp to task for failing to grasp so elemental a reality of 19th-century life. Curiously, these commentators do not mention the extra Springfield bed or the multiple beds and bedrooms of the White House, where Lincoln shared his bed with David Derickson, captain of Company K, the White House guard.
Tripp cites two reports that Lincoln and Derickson occasionally slept together, at the White House and also at the Soldiers' Home, the Lincolns' summer retreat. Both reports mention that this happened when Mary Lincoln was out of town: a key point, overlooked by all of the authors under review here. The Lincolns by this time maintained separate bedrooms, in part because Lincoln often received advisors in his bedroom at night. Donald in We Are Lincoln Men (pp.145-46) writes,
"Suffering from insomnia, Lincoln sometimes talked with Derickson late into the night. I think it is hardly surprising that he may on occasion have asked the congenial captain to share his bed; in those days, it was not unusual for men to sleep together."
Well, yes, the generous Lincoln, who by credible accounts was very fond of the "congenial captain"--according to one report, he even lent Derickson nightshirts--could have invited him into bed for purposes of conversation. But why do so only when Mary Lincoln was absent? Evidently, Lincoln did not want her to walk in and find the captain bedding with him. If it was not unusual for men to sleep together and conversation was the only activity under way, what was Lincoln concealing from his wife?
The bed-scarcity argument clearly does not apply to Lincoln's sleeping arrangements with either Speed or Derickson. Lincoln slept with both men because he chose to, not because a lack of mattresses compelled him to do it. Why did he so choose? No conclusion can be made with certainty. We do not have semen-stained nightshirts and bedclothes in which the DNA of Lincoln is commingled with Speed's, with Derickson's. No tell-tale evidence like Monica Lewinsky's blue dress.
The evidence is circumstantial. Space considerations prevent discussion of much of it here--for example, the surviving correspondence between Lincoln and Speed, which reveals an obsessive concern with their respective love lives that goes well beyond "intimate." As Tripp points out, it strongly suggests anxious exchanges between a pair of ex-lovers confronting an alien world of sexual commitment to women.
For the purposes of this essay, this is what we have:
The best efforts of high-level Lincolnists do not make a convincing case that Lincoln lusted after women. Instead, these scholars suggest that various psychological or temperamental or class-related problems retarded Lincoln's journey to sexual and romantic fulfillment. In effect, Lincoln was so incompetent with women that he either did not experience any sexual intercourse at all until age thirty-three or resorted to theoretical liaisons with prostitutes. Yet, as seen, Lincoln vividly displayed both precocity and sophistication about matters sexual in ways that suggest deviation from the husband/wife 19th-century norm: the poem about two boys who marry, but, alas, cannot have a baby; the "harp of a thousand strings." Then there is Lincoln's highly sexual sense of humor, indicative of a strong sex drive. His charisma and confidence with men also is relevant. Finally, there is the question of Lincoln's sleeping arrangements with men, which under close examination do not reflect ordinary practice of the time.
In short, the evidence indicates that Lincoln quite likely remained a virgin, heterosexually speaking, until his marriage. It also suggests that Lincoln understood his sexual preferences at an early age and fulfilled them quite competently indeed.
In a discussion of Tripp's Intimate World David Herbert Donald proffers another theory about the sexuality of Abraham Lincoln, one just as implausible as the notion that young Lincoln was a sexual innocent. Unlike that, it is offensive. Again, he cites Charles Strozier (p.38):
The evidence is fragmentary and complex, but my judgment is strongly influenced by the opinion of Charles B. Strozier, the psychoanalyst and historian, who concludes that if the friendship [with Speed] had been sexual Lincoln would have become a different man. He would, Dr. Strozier writes me, have been "a bisexual at best, torn between worlds, full of shame, confused, and hardly likely to end up in politics."
Strozier adds details to this judgment in a review of Tripp's Intimate World he published in the Illinois Times:
We also must consider the telling psychological picture we have of Lincoln, who hardly presented as a homosexual. It matters when a friendship is sexualized, whatever the gender of the participants. The tensions that sometimes tormented Lincoln came in part from his repressions and in no small measure contributed to his greatness.
"Hardly presented as a homosexual"? Lincoln's "psychological picture" is apparently inconsistent with shame, confusion, and so on. If Abraham and Joshua had "sexualized," Lincoln would not have "repressed" his "tensions," whatever that means. Is Strozier saying that Lincoln's chastity with Speed helped to pave the way for his becoming our greatest president? Evidently.
The Freudian assumption that homosexuals are defective-- cases that veered into the breakdown lane on the highway to heterosexuality--lost respectability a long time ago. Moreover, Strozier's view that homosexuality is so emotionally debilitating that it precludes a career in politics betrays ignorance of the sexual predilections of many successful politicians.
Almost as bad, Strozier is projecting a dubious 20th-century sexual stereotype into the mid-19th century. How far back into history are Strozier and Donald willing to extend their argument? Did Alexander the Great "present as a homosexual"? Julius Caesar, Richard the Lion-Hearted, Frederick the Great, William III of Orange, Eugene, Prince of Savoy: how did they "present"? They all had sex with males. In Strozier's apparent view they would be "hardly likely to end up in politics." Yet they did, with a vengeance. Most of them were superb military leaders as well. In Lincoln's century, Presidents Garfield and Buchanan and Vice President William Rufus de Vane King come to mind, as does Luigi Settembrini, the Italian senator who played a heroic role in his country's unification. The list goes on.
It is surprising that so esteemed a scholar as David Herbert Donald could make the transparently homophobic case that Lincoln could not have been a great man if he had been, in Stozier's sneering phrase, "a bisexual at best." This betrays ignorance about both sexuality and history. It is redneck opinion.
Also surprising are comments from two prominent reviewers of Intimate World, Richard Brookhiser in the New York Times and Christine Stansell in The New Republic. Both concede that the evidence Tripp presents indicates that Lincoln may well have found sexual fulfillment with men. But both end their pieces with the conclusion that this is not important.
Not important? Homosexuality barely registers in American history textbooks. Are Brookhiser and Stansell suggesting that this is a trivial fact? The removal of racist assumptions from history textbooks is an ongoing fight, but progress has been made. Young blacks no longer learn in classrooms that "Sambo was happy." What do young people of any race or sexuality learn today if they have the misfortune of reading Donald's latest book? The homo "Sambo," so to speak, was not happy. No, he was ashamed and confused: too much of a ditz to lead governments, to fight wars.
Leaders of the Christian Right and many others complain that positive portrayals of homosexuality constitute an alarming "agenda." The more alarming agenda is that of highly credentialed homophobes who would have American history students believe that homosexuality is a condition that destroys any hope for success in politics.
Happily, history students can look to examples in recent decades that prove that idea wrong: Congressmen Gerry Studds and Barney Frank, to name but two examples. Less happily, they can contemplate the careers of J. Edgar Hoover, Joseph McCarthy, and Roy Cohn, relics of a time when political success required not only the closet, but also, in the minds of these individuals, vicious attacks on fellow homosexuals. Hoover, McCarthy, and Cohn played enormously influential roles in American politics. A lamentable fact, but a fact nonetheless. Donald and Strozier claim that homosexuals in American history were "hardly likely to end up in politics." That claim is preposterous.
On a lighter note, we close with Lincoln's two voyages down the Mississippi River to New Orleans. Lincoln made the first one at age nineteen in 1828 with Allen Gentry, the son of a merchant, James Gentry, who owned a store near the Lincolns' farm in southern Indiana. The trip differed from the rafting saga of Mark Twain's Huck and Jim; Lincoln and Gentry, on a commercial venture, manned a flatboat loaded with produce. But as with Huck and Jim, it certainly widened young Abe's horizons. What did he get up to when he hit the Big Easy, surely the most exotic place he had ever seen? Did he seek pleasures of the flesh, as have so many other newcomers to that famously sex-crazed town? Surviving accounts do not tell us. But we can well imagine that he did. What we cannot imagine: that Lincoln had any problem finding satisfaction in sultry New Orleans. Or that he would endure twelve lonely years of sexual deprivation, wracked with terror about the conjugal responsibilities of marriage, until finally tying the knot with Mary Todd.
Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin (Simon & Schuster, 2005)
"Gay Abe?" by Charles B. Strozier, review of The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln by C. A. Tripp (Illinois Times, February 10, 2005)
"We Are Lincoln Men": Abraham Lincoln and His Friends by David Herbert Donald (Simon & Schuster, 2004)
Lincoln's Quest for Union: Public and Private Meanings by Charles B. Strozier (Basic Books, 1982)