Reviews:On Doris Kearns Goodwin's recent comments about Lincoln
By William A. Percy
In her TV interview on C-Span’s In Depth Sunday (11/6/05), Doris Kearns exuded charm. One can see how she must enchanted LBJ and might well have Abe, although I fear Gabe, unlike Lyndon Baines, would not have found her sexually alluring. This vamp, however, dismissed C.A. Tripp’s The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln. She quipped that homosexuals didn’t exist before the word was coined in 1868, a point on which many gays would agree with her. Lewis Gannet opines:
“Doris Kearns Goodwin was utterly charming in her interview. There was a fascinating trace of ambiguity about her stance on Joshua Speed and Lorena Hickok (with Eleanor) and their respective relationships with White House notables. It’s as if she privately has not made up her mind, and in public signals that fact by talking about how very different same-gender intimacies were in the 19th century. On one level it’s a way to discount sexual intimacy. But on another it’s a way to open the possibility that “gay” may indeed have existed in unexpected places, but in a form foreign to today’s understanding.”
The very well informed and thoroughly experienced Gore Vidal, who believes that Lincoln had sex with men, would go even further and say that homosexuals never have existed and still don’t; only homosexual acts exist. It is acts (praxis) that my mentor Charley Shively taught me to emphasize.
As an expert on male homosexuality, Doris Kearns is at a disadvantage, having (presumably) never had nocturnal erections and emissions. David Donald, her chief supporter who denied to me that any president ever had sex with another man, almost certainly himself never had sex with another man, and in his late eighties might not even clearly recall his youthful erections and emissions anyway. He is definitely a Kinsey “O”, and I believe a highly sublimated one at that. Michael Burlingame is both younger, and as Tripp thought, more sophisticated, and consequently less dismissive. These are the three Lincoln experts; they know everything fit to print about him and next to nothing about his homosexuality or that of others.
Those two affluent men (Lincoln from 28 to 32 and Speed from 23 to 27) slept together in the same bed for almost four years, except when one or the other was briefly on the road. Neither seems to have had sexual intercourse with females during that time. (Maybe Speed did a little.) Did they do it with each other? “Sexual abstinence for short periods of time, such as a few days or weeks, is of common occurrence; but average frequencies as low as….between 0.0 and once in ten weeks (for any five-year period under 31 years of age) occur in only about 2.9 per cent of the population.” (Kinsey, 206). Did they masturbate? “Ultimately about 92 per cent of the total population is involved in masturbation which leads to orgasm.” (Kinsey, p.499) Solo or together? What about nocturnal emissions? “They reach their highest incidence in single males between 21 and 30 years of age. About 85 per cent of the single males have at least some experience with nocturnal dreams that lead to climax.” (Kinsey, p.277) After a year of law practice, Lincoln had plenty of money, enough even to rent a room in the finest hotel in Springfield (as Michael Chesson pointed out recently at the opening of the Lincoln Library), and far earlier to bring in more beds to their large room. At times that room even accommodated William Herndon and Charles Hurst in addition to Gabe and Joshua. Did they sleep four to this one bed? Two? Three? What stuff!
Some men have slept with men on trips, in emergencies, etc., throughout history and still do in pup tents in the army for example, but how many unrelated, affluent twenty-something gentlemen slept with each other for nearly four years without sex and then also nearly suffered mental breakdowns when they finally had to marry? Eugene Rice, arguably the greatest authority on the history of homosexuality, can’t think of a single incidence of two unrelated, healthy, pecunious twenty year olds sharing the same bed for years on end without any type of sexual play, certainly not in America.
Another point, and one where Tripp went beyond Shively, was that Lincoln often shared his bed at the White House with the Captain of the Guard Derickson, when Mary Todd went away, as she often did. Did any other president share his bed at the White House with another male? I don’t believe that even Buchanan did. There were of course plenty of beds and firewood there, so you certainly didn’t need a mate to keep you warm at night. Do records show that male guests shared beds in the White House? Big as it was, it could have gotten crowded on occasion. If they did, how often and for how many nights?
In my opinion, no one yet has speculated enough about the teenage Lincoln’s raft trip with an older man down the Mississippi (like Huck and Jim), all the way to that den of iniquity, the Big Easy, New Orleans and then the long walk home. That two men, one in his teens and one in his twenties, both of them near their sexual peaks, with that most sensual and seamy of towns on their minds, could have spent such isolated lengths of time with each other without having sex seems to me unlikely at best, and what did they experience in the Crescent City?
One of Donald’s ablest student’s, Jean Baker, who had already published the best biography of Mary Todd, upon reading Tripp, at once recognized that the problems in the marriage that she was so familiar with stemmed in large part from Gabe’s sexual orientation. That was from the true female viewpoint, which Doris Kearns pretends to represent.
These are the sorts of questions that the Lincoln priests and priestesses and the rest of the Presidential Priesthood should be asking and answering. Instead they are evading or ignoring the analyses made by Tripp, arguably the greatest authority who ever wrote about homosexuality.