Nic, Bupkis and Nichevo

About Nothing, by Nothing, with German-flavored cleavage occasionally thrown in for local color.

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Location: Indianapolis, Indiana

You can email me at NicBupkusNichevo at aol dot com. Aren't you excited?

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Critiquing the critics of a Lavender Lincoln

Alas, both notions—that Lincoln's sexual orientation is unimportant; and that Tripp's book raises powerful circumstantial evidence to support his claims—are wrong. On the one hand, if it could indeed be shown that Lincoln was "predominantly homosexual," as Tripp puts it (after all, Lincoln was married and had four children), this would be significant. No, it wouldn't directly alter our understanding of his political opinions or actions as president. But it would give us a fuller sense of the private man and thus in indirect ways might revise our understanding of his psychology. Tripp, however, doesn't even begin to make a persuasive case in this tendentious, sloppy, and wholly unpersuasive farrago. In more than 300 pages, he gives us no convincing reason to believe his central claim.

Tripp's major pieces of "evidence" are familiar: that Lincoln shared a bed for four years in his youth with his good friend Joshua Speed, and occasionally in 1862 with David V. Derickson, a member of his bodyguard detail. But as many historians have noted, same-sex bed sharing was common at the time and hardly proof of homosexual activities or feelings. As the Princeton historian Christine Stansell notes in her excellent review of The Intimate World, "Travelers piled in with each other at inns; siblings routinely shared beds; women friends often slept with each other as readily on an overnight visit as they took their tea together in the kitchen—and sometimes displaced husbands to do so. Civil War soldiers 'spooned' for comfort and warmth." And in the cases of both Speed and Derickson, there are more compelling reasons than homosexuality to explain why Lincoln slept with them.


I have to admit that it's been fascinating watching this all shake out. I've said before that based on what's presented I'd judge Lincoln a Kinsey 4, but I'm no scholar of the President. I *am* concerned about the more-personal-than-usual nature of attacks within the scholarly community based on this book, especially since the author's not here to defend himself and his one-time collaborator has gone to a great deal of trouble to since distance himself. Stay tuned.

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