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The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln Hardcover – January 4, 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Psychologist, therapist and former Kinsey sex researcher Tripp—author of the 1975 classic The Homosexual Matrix—died in May 2003 at the age of 83, just after completing this riveting new study that makes a surprisingly compelling case for Lincoln's bisexuality. Tripp merges a sexual psychologist's knowledge with a prosecutor's eye for evidence as he scrutinizes letters, diaries and oral histories gathered by early Lincoln researchers. Seeing what others either could not or would not, Tripp itemizes in telling detail three homosexual liaisons from different stages of Lincoln's life. The first involved young Billy Green, a frequent bunk mate in New Salem during the 1830s. The second was a passionate union with the aristocratic Kentuckian, and Lincoln's lifelong friend, Joshua Speed in Springfield, Ill., during the 1840s (Tripp notes, refuting others' arguments, that poverty did not necessitate their long-term sharing of a bed). The last involved Capt. David V. Derickson, President Lincoln's bodyguard and intimate companion between September 1862 and April 1863; it is documented that the president shared his bed with him on numerous occasions during Mary Lincoln's frequent absences. Throughout the book, the most important factor is Tripp's knowledgeable sex therapist's eye running over key sources to detect telltale markers missed by previous writers who lacked Tripp's training. An Introduction by Jean Baker (biographer of Mary Todd Lincoln) and concluding comments from Lincoln scholar Michael Chesson help put Tripp's groundbreaking—and sure to be controversial—study into historical context. BOMC, InsightOut Book Club alternates. (Jan. 11)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
From Bookmarks Magazine
Here’s a book that provokes more rebuttals than reviews. Every critic breaks out the textbooks to dispute, distort, and dismiss the evidence. Only The Advocate comes out with unabashed praise. Otherwise, the critical consensus is that the late Tripp, a former therapist, psychologist, Kinsey associate, and author of The Homosexual Matrix (1975), twists well-known evidence with an eye on an agenda rather than historical accuracy. More importantly, he doesn’t attempt to answer the trickier question of how Lincoln’s sexual predilections affected his role in American history. Reviewers also mourn Tripp, who passed away in 2003, with wishes that he’d been around to edit the manuscript’s jumpy, uneven prose.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.
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A psychologist and associate of Alfred Kinsey, Tripp uses both the research gathered by Kinsey on human sexuality and factual information from Lincoln's life to arrive at his conclusions. He ascertained that Lincoln arrived at puberty very early, at age nine or ten, and from Kinsey's research, hypothesized that Lincoln would have been more likely to have been homosexual or bisexual because of that. On Kinsey's seven-point continuum, with zero being completely heterosexual and six exclusively homosexual, he opined that Lincoln would fall at five.
Although there are other men mentioned-- Billy Greene, a lad who helped Lincoln with his grammar, often slept with him and said of the small cot they slept on that when one of them turned over the other had to do likewise-- Tripp discusses in detail three men that Lincoln may have had a romantic or sexual interest in. David Derickson was a captain in the Union Army, from a "socially prominent" family in Pennsylvania and nine years younger than Lincoln. For a time, when Mrs. Lincoln was away from the White House, this young man slept with Lincoln. Colonel Elmer Ellsworth was the "first casualty of the Civil War" and someone who had come to Lincoln's attention through a Col. John Cook. Lincoln invited him to study law at the Lincoln law office and later wrote letters to the Secretary of War recommending promotions for him. Ellsworth was killed in an effort to tear down a Confederate flag that waved across the Potomac in Alexandria that Lincoln could see from the White House. Upon learning of this young man's death, the President was distraught. The most compelling evidence, however-- though of course circumstantial-- comes from Lincoln's relationship with Joshua Speed. These two men shared the same bed for four years in Springfield, Illinois. When Speed moved out and moved back to Kentucky, Lincoln had a nervous breakdown. Speed later married and had promised to write to Lincoln the following day to report on "how the wedding night had gone." Lincoln responded as follows: "I opened the latter [letter] with intense anxiety and trepidation; so much, that although it turned out better than I expected, I have hardly yet, at the distance of ten hours, become calm." It is Tripp's belief that these men had concerns over whether Speed would be able to perform on his wedding night and that this letter is the closest we have of a smoking gun. Speed and his wife never had children. There are other interesting facts: apparently Lincoln married Mary Todd because of societal pressures if he were to be a public figure. He only bought the marriage license on the day of the wedding. Mary later nixed the naming of their first child "Joshua" and never liked Speed. After Lincoln's death, when people were gathering all the information available about this martyred president, Speed gave some of Lincoln's letters to William Herndon but only those of "any interest." Finally, Speed is the only person that Lincoln ever signed his letters, "Yours forever."
There is more here-- about what a shrew Mary was as well as evidence that the story of Ann Rutledge as Lincoln's one tragic love is probably as mythical as George Washington's cutting down the cherry tree. For starters, she was engaged to someone else. Tripp discusses Lincoln's lack of conventional religious beliefs-- nowhere in his writings does he discuss a personal savior or mention Jesus. During the illness and death of his first born-- whatever Lincoln felt about marriage, he adored his children-- at no time did he appear to pray or seek divine intervention.
Tripp winds up this certainly intriguing study in a final chapter labeled "On Lincoln's Sexuality with Extensions" with comparisons of Lincoln to Churchill -- I didn't know heretofore that Churchill admitted to at least one homosexual involvement that he labeled "musical"-- and the World War II code-breaker Alan Turing-- a somewhat bizzare ending, but perhaps Tripp would have made revisions had he lived (he died before the publication of this book).
If Tripp's conclusions are accurate-- we will never know, although other scholars believe that Lincoln was at least bisexual-- then ironies abound. Walt Whitman's tribute to Lincoln, the elegiac and beautiful "When Lilacs Last In The Dooryard Bloomed" takes on new meaning. (According to the footnotes from my college Norton anthology, lilacs in some cultures are symbolic of male love as I recall). And maybe we have the last laugh on that great heterosexual President Mr. Jefferson who, although he apparently had no qualms about impregnating his slave again and again, suggested that sodomites be castrated. Of course "jelly babies," Lincoln's term for what happens when two men have sex, leave no DNA evidence, Mr. Jefferson.
In the final analysis, it probably doesn't matter who slept with Lincoln. But at the very least, as Jean Baker says in her introduction, we should give this book a "fair reading."
However unsatisfying their arrangement, these chapters are full of interest that is not the least bit prurient--they paint a portrait of the man that is no less compelling for being not a bit like the marbelized figure most Americans carry in their mind from elementary school mythologizing. Indeed, considering the portrait that Tripp paints of a conflicted, frequently deeply depressed man, caught in a singularly loveless marriage to a harridan, with a fundamentally bleak view of life quite at odds with conventional Christian piety, Lincoln's indelible accomplishments as a statesman are all the more remarkable and moving. Whether or not he was gay in the modern sense ultimately becomes irrelevant--Lincoln in these pages emerges as a human being. All of the homophobic rantings of the book's detractors (including many of the reviewers below) cannot erase this singular achievement.
I believe "The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln" will eventually take its place beside "The Homosexual Matrix" as one of the cornerstones of serious writing and research about alternative sexuality.
Lincoln may not have indulged in same sex relationships and his deep friendship with other men may have been just that, but to deny today that the contrary is more likely is simply biased and blind, and does not subtract anything from the President's greatness.
The book is very readable, in spite of some repetitiousness, and clearly and systematically exposes the facts. I think it's a very important piece to complete the puzzle of one of the most siignificant men in American history.