Wednesday, April 20, 2005

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - It must have been the first conference in the history of Abraham Lincoln scholarship to call the 16th president “a terrifically sexual guy.”

Addressing the nation’s top Lincoln scholars on Sunday, two historians defended a book that claims Lincoln was homosexual and called for more research into his sexuality.

“I could build a Lincoln Log cabin of homophobic denial,” said Civil War historian Michael Chesson. “There’s been a cover-up, a conspiracy of silence for experts to hide what they regard as dirty linen in Abe’s faded carpetbag.”

The reason for the discussion — part of a conference held in conjunction with the opening of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum — is a recently released book called “The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln.”

Author C.A. Tripp, who died before the book was published, examined Lincoln’s poetry, the recollections of those who knew him and his relationships with other men and concluded Lincoln was “predominantly homosexual.”

Scholars long have wondered about the relationship between Lincoln and Joshua Speed. The two men slept in the same bed for four years in Springfield and developed a deep friendship.

Seeking to save money and stay warm in crude buildings, men of the day often shared beds. But Lincoln and Speed lived together long after they could afford separate quarters. Though both men married and Lincoln had four children, Mr. Tripp concluded they were sexually involved.

He reached the same conclusion about Lincoln and David Derickson, a soldier assigned to guard the president during the Civil War. Lincoln and Derickson sometimes shared a bed when Mary Todd Lincoln was out of town.

Many historians say Mr. Tripp relied on discredited sources and read too much into conversations that were recalled decades later.

Jean Baker, author of a biography of Lincoln’s wife, said Lincoln was bisexual. “[Lincoln] loved men, and they loved him, at whatever level,” she said. She rejected the contention that Lincoln married only to further his political career, saying the Lincolns “loved each other and could not be happy apart.”

“It does seem to me that Lincoln is a terrifically sexual guy,” she said. “He seems to exude testosterone from every pore.”

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