Was the silk stovepipe hat a dead giveaway?

Examining history has long been a fascination for many, but now the preoccupation of some on the sexual proclivities of historical figures is beginning to eclipse study of their accomplishments. Take Abraham Lincoln, for example. What’s the discussion been about for the past few days? The Emancipation Proclamation? The Gettysburg Address? Nope. The focus has been on whether or not Abe and his friend Joshua Speed, and later a presidential bodyguard, had a “If this log cabin’s a rockin’, don’t come a knockin'” sign on the door.

C.A. Tripp, the author of “The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln,” a book which claims the nation’s 16th president was homosexual, died before the book was published, but his claims were defended by a couple of historians at a conference in conjunction with the opening of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfiled, Ill.

Here’s a quote from one historian in an Associated Press article:

“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.”

If you feel a little sullied after reading that, go ahead and take a shower. I’ll wait.

Welcome back.

It’s fascinating to watch historians, sociologists and others pick famous names from history and then go searching to find any clues that they may have been homosexual. These “Raiders of the Lost Bathhouse” set out on archae-illogical adventures, bent on substantiating a presupposition. For the sexually preoccupied historian, the search is like “Where’s Waldo” with show tunes and color-coordinated throw pillows. It’s not a difficult job, mainly because the people being retroactively outed aren’t here to defend themselves against claims from such an incredibly inexact science.

In the mid 1800s, back when people generally minded their own business, there was very little record of anything of a sexual nature. There were no tabloid reporters or rumor rags, and audio and videotape was just a gleam in Bob Crane’s eye, so things were much more private. Sitting around now, a century or two later, and trying to sort out all things sexual by using only poems and second-, third-, fourth- and fifth-hand information on “who slept in the same bed as who” is a highly speculative business at best.

The main focus on the accusation that Lincoln was homosexual, or at least enthusiastically bisexual, seem to come from his poems, and that he shared his bed during his life with other men. In a day when the average home had one bedroom and was as well insulated as a Dixie cup, the latter was very common. Sure, in 2005, if a man writes poems and sleeps with other men, “Bingo,” but modern trends can’t – or at least, shouldn’t – be applied across the board of history.

When a historian bases a conclusion that Lincoln was homosexual in part on his poetic writings, you would assume these poems would contain obvious clues in order to make such a judgment – something along the lines of this:

Autumn leaves, bright colors

Forget this beauty I shant

Long walks hand-in-hand

An evening with General Grant

Or perhaps a Haiku …

Horses gallop by

Nature’s majesty disturbed

Seward’s pants back up

No, it’s not that easy. All Abe left us to study were stanzas like this one from his poem “My Childhood Home I See Again”:

But this is past; and nought remains,

That raised thee o’er the brute.

Thy piercing shrieks, and soothing strains,

Are like, forever mute.

This is clearly something only a “gay” man would write … or a constipated one, or a dying one, or … nah, it’ll sell more books if he’s “gay.”

If “The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln” is a best-selling success story, watch out, because more books alleging homosexuality of other historical figures will follow in rapid fire succession.

Keep an eye open for an array of new tomes along the lines of “Tickling the Ivory: The secret life of George Washington’s bootblack”; “A Filament of the Imagination: Inside the private bulb of Edison and Watson”; and “The Enola Gay President: Harry Truman’s Real ‘Fat Man’ and ‘Little Boy.'”

Someday, when future historians are studying present-day historians, those of the future may make note of how fiercely historians in the early 21st century tried to fashion cases to prove that everybody was homosexual. This will lead future historians to write books alleging that these present-day historians were, indeed, gay.

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