Monday, February 16, 2015

America's First Gay President?

Some homophobic people still refuse to acknowledge that America's had at least one gay president.  Even though the man in question is routinely regarded as one of the worst presidents in U.S. history, they still don't want to elevate the standing of  a "homosexual" to that prestigous job title--it's just not as easy to try and brand all gays with molesting and bestiality arguments when there was a Commander in Chief who had a long-term love affair with another man.  And the president's likely lover? He once held the title of United States Vice President.

As the 15th President of the United States (from 1857 to 1861) James Buchanan was as they say, a 'life-long bachelor' and the only U.S. president to have never married.  But that doesn't mean he was gay, right?   Sure, there's also the fact that for 15 long years (prior to his presidency), Buchanan lived with his dearest friend, Alabama Senator William Rufus King.  So what if King never married in his lifetime, either.  But that doesn't make them gay.  Lots of men lived together back then, but they usually did so because of money--these were two wealthy gentleman.   And so what if they wrote many intimate letters to one another, personal enough in content that the president's nieces destroyed most of them upon the president's death?   All of that doesn't prove anything they argue--there is nothing in that record to confirm without a doubt his sexual preference. And this is true.

Yet it's more than just these facts that's lead respected historians to believe he was gay.  It's looking at not just selected parts of his life, but putting everything together that forms a conclusion.  The argument made, that it's totally inappropriate to apply today's values and living standards to other eras, is absolutely correct--however even for the time peiord in which Mr. Buchanan lived, rumors were circulating about his sexuality.  In Professor Loewen's book, "Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong," the scholar asserts that Buchanan's long-time living companion, King, was referred to as "Aunt Fancy" by the era's Beltway crowd.  Who were these beltway gossips and why would anyone believe them?  Oh, people like Andrew Jackson, who liked to refer to King as "Miss Nancy." There's also Aaron V. Brown ( Governor of Tennessee and Postmaster General in the Buchanan administration) who spoke of the two as "Buchanan and his wife."  The point is, Buchanan's sexual orientation was widely rumored  while he was still living, to the point that when people talked about "Mrs. Buchanan" they typically knew it meant Mr. King.

Yet despite this bitchy name calling, there were no Moral Majority or Bible thumping fundamentalists in politics strong enough to plague them or ruin their lives. The King-Buchanan liaison was generally accepted (and snickered at) as a political and personal fact of life.  Rightfully so, the nation was consumed with real issues like freedom and slavery.

But wait! There's still the argument that in 1819, James Buchanan almost married Ann Coleman. The couple had became engaged. Then, Coleman heard rumors about Buchanan (exactly what they were about has been disputed. Suggestions include his drinking, wanting to marry for money, and sexual dalliances).  She was embarrassed and hurt and broke off the engagement.  She then died of an opium overdose. Buchanan was not allowed to attend her funeral.  While some use this intended marriage as proof that he was heterosexual, VGMH knows marriages of convenience happen all the time, and especially happen a lot in political careers.

Mr. Buchanan wrote in 1844, after his companion Mr. King left for France: "I am now solitary and alone, having no companion in the house with me.  I have gone a wooing to several gentlemen, but have not succeeded with any one of them.  I feel that it is not good for man to be alone; and should not be astonished to find myself married to some old maid who can nurse me when I am sick, provide good dinners for me when I am well, and not expect from me any very ardent or romantic affection."

By 1852 King was elected Vice President of the United States with Franklin Pierce in 1852 and took the oath of office on March 24, 1853. Shortly afterward, King returned to his Chestnut Hill plantation and died within 2 days.  This adds yet another dimension to history--a gay Vice President.  Eventually abandoned by his party, Pierce was not renominated to run in the 1856 presidential election and was replaced by James Buchanan as the Democratic candidate.

In his December 1860 message to Congress (just 3 months before Lincoln was inaugurated as the new President), President Buchanan declared that the southern states had no right to leave the union, but that the federal government had no right to stop them. By the time he left office 3 months later, 7 states had already left the Union, and the Confederates had looted the arsenals in the South. Buchanan did not exercise his powers as Commander In Chief.  After he left the White House, Buchanan explained that he did not stop secession out of fear that hostile African Americans would overrun the North.  On Buchanan's final day as president, March 4, 1861, he remarked to the incoming Lincoln, "If you are as happy in entering the White House as I shall feel on returning to Wheatland, you are a happy man."

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