The progression in America’s development from the gay sensibilities of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton to the next great gay American leader, Abraham Lincoln, is astonishing for the common vision and approach they took advancing the cause to, in Whitman’s words, “cheer up slaves and horrify despots.”
Hamilton’s profound, romantic affection for John Laurens has not awaited modern homosexual studies to be recognized. In her 1902 biography of Hamilton entitled, “The Conqueror: Being the True and Romantic Story of Alexander Hamilton,” Gertrude Atherton wrote that the bond between Hamilton and Laurens “was romantic and chivalrous. Each burned to prove the strength of his affection, to sacrifice himself for the other.”
While Hamilton died at the hand of an assassin, technically in a duel with Aaron Burr, at age 47, his indispensable achievements in the forging and providing for the sustainability of the great American experiment in Constitutional democracy were achieved against seemingly overwhelming parochial sentiments that would have made the young nation easy pickings for the British to rend it asunder with divide and conquer tactics.
Therefore, Hamilton’s passionate desire to establish a strong central government, and a national bank to direct its defense and development, were born of his staunch determination to forge a lasting bulwark against tyranny.
Despite his premature death in 1804, his institutions and their merits outlived him, and were bridged to Lincoln by the great Whig leader Henry Clay. Clay’s passion was also to prevent dissolution of the union, and that mantle was passed to Lincoln, who then could only prevent its division by prosecuting the Civil War.
In his monumental study, “The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln” (2005), the late C. A. Tripp surveyed four of Lincoln’s adult same-sex relationships, beginning at age 22 with Billy Greene in New Salem, Illinois in 1831, and followed by one with Joshua Speed in Springfield beginning in 1837. He shared a bed with Speed for over four years. During Lincoln’s presidency, he had intimate relations with Col. Elmer Ellsworth, “a flashy young drillmaster” who died in the early days of the war, and later Capt. David Derickson, who, in the words of his regiment’s history published three decades later, “in Mrs. Lincoln’s absence, he frequently spent the night at his cottage, sleeping in the same bed with him.”
By contrast to these, Tripp studied Lincoln’s special relations with three women, including Mrs. Lincoln, all of which were “problematic or distant.”
Lincoln’s untimely death in 1865, like Hamilton at the hand of an assassin, compelled his great admirer, the gay Walt Whitman, to pen his memorable poem, “Oh Captain, My Captain.”
Beyond their common fates, the similarities in the exercise of their “gay sensibility” between Hamilton and Lincoln are astonishing. Although today’s Republicans like to claim them both for their pantheon of heroes, their policies had far more in common, in fact, with the great Democratic presidents of the 20th century to the present, beginning with Franklin D. Roosevelt (whose conscience and sense of doing the right thing was aided immensely by his lesbian wife Eleanor) and his New Deal, empowerment of working people and war against one of the worst, most brutal tyrants in world history, Hitler.
Lincoln did not shy away from prosecution a war against a Confederacy that was a proxy for the British, who relied for their textile industry on cotton from the southern U.S. states, and cynically perpetuated the institutions of slavery and exploitation against disadvantaged people worldwide.
Lincoln freed the slaves, realizing the dream of Hamilton and other Abolitionists, and set in place a set of policies that encouraged a half-century of unprecedented progress that absorbed and provided unprecedented opportunity for millions of immigrants. These policies included the railroad act, the land grant college act, the greenback currency act and the Homestead Act.
What “great poets” both Hamilton and Lincoln were! Their lives, their careers and their passions manifested full measures of their “gay sensibility,” their unique “sensual perspective” and their “constructive non-conformity,” the three gay attributes that I have identified in these chapters.
I remind readers that what is being presented here is unprecedented. This series marks the first effort to identify and develop the notion of gay attributes outside the limited realm of sexuality. It is a novel and original attempt to break out of the reductionist confinements imposed on us by the invention of the word, “homosexual,” by social scientists in 1869, that has for the last 140 years contained us within that category.
Rather than properly appreciating the homosexual impulse as a by-product, so to speak, of a more fundamental “gay sensibility” notion of person-hood, everything that has been written about us since the word “homosexual” was first invented has accepted that definition without question. All examinations of us have begun with the search for evidence of our sexual inclinations, when there is so much more, and fundamental, about us that is “different.”
To be continued.