A new historical novel documenting the private life of Abraham Lincoln explores whether the 16th President of the United States could’ve been gay, taking a particular interest in his relationship with best-friend Joshua Speed, with whom he shared a bed with for over three years.
In his book ‘Courting Mr. Lincoln’, Louis Bayard investigates – with a fictitious slant – the occasionally contested subject of Abe Lincoln’s sexuality.
Famed for their ‘bromance’, Speed eloquently recalled the moment in 1837, where a ‘long, gawky, ugly, shapeless’ man walked into his goods store in Springfield, Illinois, which later turned out Lincoln, aged 28, a near quarter century before he was made president.
Despite cutting an unconventional figure, Speed – 23 at the time – recalled how Lincoln ‘threw such a charm around him’, according to historian Charles B. Storzier.
Famed for their ‘bromance’, Abe Lincoln and Joshua Speed (right) shared a bed for nearly four years having met at Speed’s goods store in 1837
He’s said to have asked the vendor how much materials for a bed would cost, but Speed’s answer of ‘$17’, proved to be too steep a price for a young Lincoln.
From that moment, the pair are said to have become inseparable, giving birth to what many consider to be one of the most important friendships in American history.
Speed is widely credited with coaxing Lincoln through two bouts of suicidal depression, which would have otherwise jeopardized his political ambitions, and the relationship with his future wife, Mary Todd.
The most serious episode came in 1840, when, in a move that continues to baffle historians, Lincoln suddenly broke off his engagement with Todd. Friends of the future president were said to be so concerned they took extra measures to hide his razor.
He was, in the words of his friend and future biographer, William H. Herndon, ‘crazy as a loon.’ But many credit Speed for bringing back from the brink.
Speed is widely credited with coaxing Lincoln through two bouts of suicidal depression, which would have otherwise jeopardized his political ambitions
The pair became inseparable after their meeting in 1837 when Lincoln asked Speed how much a bed would cost. They decided to split the difference and sleep next to one another for nearly four years
Now, Bayard has sought to explore the pair’s relationship one step further, using a combination of historical research and promiscuous intervention to theorize the full extent of their relations.
‘It was a common arrangement among bachelors [to share beds], because beds were expensive,’ the author told the NY Post.
‘[What was strange] was the length of time [they shared the bed] — three years. And they got married late in life.’
In his book ‘Courting Mr. Lincoln’, Louis Bayard explores – with a fictitious slant – the occasionally contested subject of Abe Lincoln’s sexuality
Storzier said he conducted extensive research to provide a truthful foundation to the novel’s themes, using the ‘The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln’ by C.A. Tripp, as inspiration for the narrative.
Tripp is considered first historian to suggest that Lincoln may have been homosexual, though his book was criticized as being too extravagant upon its 2005 release.
However, Carl Sandburg – Lincoln’s biographer – described his subject’s relationship with Speed as being tinged with a ‘steak of lavender’ in 1926, which is considered to be code for the fact the pair were involved romantically.
‘I’ve never come across a whisper of that nature,’ Bayard admitted. ‘[However] One of the things that did come up with Lincoln’s early biographers is that he wasn’t a player with the gals. Even his own stepmother, who adored him, said he was never much for girls.’
In the first few months of 1842, just as Speed was about to wed his fiancee Fanny Henning, Lincoln wrote several remarkable letters to his confidant, in a bid to explain his deepest feelings.
‘You know my desire to befriend you is everlasting,’ Lincoln said in one of the letters, ‘that I will never cease, while I know how to do anything.’
One of Lincoln’s two bouts of suicidal depression is said to have been prompted by Speed’s marriage to Fanny Henning (both shown above)
‘You know my desire to befriend you is everlasting,’ Lincoln said in one of his letters to Speed, ‘that I will never cease, while I know how to do anything.’
Louis Bayard (shown above) has sought to explore the pair’s relationship, using a combination of historical research and promiscuous intervention
‘You well know that I do not feel my own sorrows much more keenly than I do yours,’ he continued.
‘You will feel [very] badly’ he said in relation to Speed’s fears about consummating his marriage with Henning. ‘It is the peculiar misfortune of both you and me, to dream dreams of Elysium far exceeding all that anything earthly can realize.’
Bayard says he took inspiration from the letters exchanged between the two men, as well as from Paula McLain, the author of ‘The Paris Wife’ – a historical fiction assessing the relationship between Ernest Hemingway and his wife, Hadley.
‘I have Paula McLain, Bayard told the Post. ‘I thought that “The Paris Wife” was such an interesting model for a book — to look at a famous person through the eyes of someone who loved them. And the famous person that came to mind was Lincoln. I thought of Mary Todd and that strange marriage and how that happened.’
‘There was also the mystery of Lincoln’s second nervous breakdown in 1841. Scholars thought it was because he had broken off his engagement to Mary Todd. But it was also when Speed had announced he was going back to Kentucky [to marry Henning].
‘That was when my book became a double narrative, and I realized it was a love triangle with Lincoln as the enigmatic middle.’