Timeline: Abraham Lincoln, Sexuality and Intimacy, 1809-1865, by Jonathan Ned Katz

This feature in progress is intended to gather in one place and provide citations for the major documents, articles, and books relevant to an understanding of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln's sexuality and his intimate relationships with men and women. OutHistory initiates this timeline as a contribution to ongoing debates about these aspects of Lincoln's life. To recommend additions, please contact OutHistory at outhistory@gmail.com.


1809-02-12: Lincoln is born in what is then Hardin County Kentucky, about three miles south of present-day Hodgenville, Kentucky.

1830-00-00: William G. Greene first meets Lincoln when he starts working for Denton Offutt at the Offut store, in New Salem, Illinois. According to William Herndon, “William G. Green[e] was hired to assist him, and between the two a life-long friendship sprang up."[1] Historian Michael Burlingame describes Greene as “a highly entertaining story teller. Green’s main duty at the store was to assess applicants for credit. The three young men [Lincoln, Greene, and Charles Maltby] slept at the store and took meals at Bowling Green’s home, three-quarters of a mile from the village. Greene found his tall colleague ‘attentive – Kind – generous & accommodating,’ and recalled that he and Lincoln ‘slept on the same cott & when one turned over the other had to do likewise.’”[2] Greene said of Lincoln: "He grasped the Peoples affections through simplicity of his good nature – his honesty – his integrity – his virtue – his high moral & noble qualities and when he once had a man’s or a woman’s love he never willingly let go its hold.”[3]
1: William H. Herndon and Jesse Weik, Herndon’s Life of Lincoln, p. 68. Michael Burlingame, Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis, editors.
2: Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life, Volume I, p. 60.
3: Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis, editor, Herndon’s Informants, p. 21 (William G. Greene statement for William H. Herndon, May 30, 1865).

1835-08-25: Ann Rutledge, commonly said to be Lincoln's first love, dies at her family's farm seven miles northwest of New Salem.

1836-12-13: Lincoln writes to Mary Owens, his first fiancee, at New Salem.

1837-04-15: Lincoln moves to Springfield and meets and begins sharing a bed with Joshua Fry Speed. He turns down an invitation to stay with a couple in town.

1838-04-01: Lincoln writes a mocking letter about Mary Owens.

c. 1839-00-00 - 1840-12-31: Speed sends Lincoln to see a prostitute of his acquaintance in Springfield, Illinois, and Lincoln fails to consummate any sexual act.

1840, Summer: Mary Todd writes to Mercy Levering about Lincoln and other suitors.

1840, Fall: Lincoln and Mary Todd are moving toward an engagement to be married.

1840-12-00: Lincoln and Speed both fall in love with Matilda Edwards.

1841-01-01: Speed sells his interest in his Springfield general store in preparation for a return to his family home in Kentucky. That day Lincoln suffers an emotional crisis and is absent from the Illinois legislature for several days. Lincoln and/or Mary Todd may also have broken their engagement on this day. There is no evidence that Mary Todd is in Springfield on this date. Lincoln later refers to this day as "The Fatal First," but what he meant is unclear.

1841-01-20: Lincoln writes to Speed.

1841-02-03: Lincoln writes to Speed.

1841-06-01: Mary Todd writes to Mercy Levering.

1841-08-00: Lincoln travels from Illinois to Kentucky with Speed to visit Speed's family home. Later, Lincoln writes about seeing unhappy slaves being sold down the river. Lincoln reminisces about this in a letter to Speed on August 24, 1855. Here is an excerpt:

In 1841 you and I had together a tedious low-water trip, on a Steam Boat from Louisville to St. Louis. You may remember, as I well do, that from Louisville to the mouth of the Ohio, there were, on board, ten or a dozen slaves, shackled together with irons. That sight was a continual torment to me; and I see some-thing like it every time I touch the Ohio, or any other slave-border. It is hardly fair for you to assume, that I have no interest in a thing which has, and continually exercises, the power of making me miserable. You ought rather to appreciate how much the great body of the Northern people do crucify their feelings, in order to maintain their loyalty to the Constitution and the Union.

1841, Summer: Speed and Fanny Henning are engaged to be married; Speed is "very unhappy" until his marriage to Henning in February 1842.

1841-09-00: Speed writes to Lincoln, sharing his "immense suffering"; Lincoln writes back (only Lincoln's letter survives).

1842-01-01: Speed ends a Springfield visit with Lincoln and starts back to Kentucky to marry Henning; Lincoln gives Speed a letter to read on the trip.

1842-02-13: Lincoln writes to Speed.

1842-02-15: Speed and Fanny Henning marry.

1842-02-16: The day after his wedding night, Speed writes to Lincoln (letter not extant but a part is quoted in Lincoln's letter to Speed of Feb. 25).

1842-02-25: Lincoln writes to Speed.

1842-03-27: Lincoln writes to Speed.

1842-07-04: Lincoln writes to Speed.

1842-10-00: Lincoln writes to Speed and Speed replies (Speed's letter not extant).

1842-11-04: Lincoln and Mary Todd marry.

1860-00-00: In 1860, Elmer Ephraim Ellsworth moved to Springfield, Illinois. to work with Abraham Lincoln. Studying law under Lincoln, he also helped with Lincoln's 1860 campaign for president and accompanied the newly elected president to Washington, D.C.

1861: Lincoln offers Speed the job of U.S. Attorney General, Speed rejects the offer, and Lincoln offers the position to Speed's brother James, who accepts.

1861: Lincoln and Speed meet in Washington, D.C.

1862-09-00 - 1863-04-00: Capt. David V. Derickson is President Lincoln's bodyguard, intimate companion, and bedmate when Mary Lincoln is absent from Lincoln's summer residence. (See http://www.lincolncottage.org/visit/index.htm) Captain David Derickson of the 150th Pennsylvania Infantry was Lincoln's bodyguard and companion. They shared a bed during the absences of Lincoln's wife, until Derickson was promoted in 1863.[44] Derickson was twice married and fathered ten children.

C. A. Tripp recounts that, whatever the level of intimacy of the relationship, it was the subject of gossip. Elizabeth Woodbury Fox, the wife of Lincoln's naval aide, wrote in her diary for November 16, 1862, "Tish says, 'Oh, there is a Bucktail soldier here devoted to the president, drives with him, and when Mrs. L. is not home, sleeps with him.' What stuff!"[16] 

This sleeping arrangement was also mentioned by a fellow officer in Derickson's regiment, Thomas Chamberlin, in the book History of the One Hundred and Fiftieth Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, Second Regiment, Bucktail Brigade.

Historian Martin P. Johnson suggests  that the strong similarity in style and content of the Fox and Chamberlin accounts suggests that, rather than being two independent accounts of the same events as Tripp claims, both were based on the same report from a single source.[45] David Donald and Johnson both dispute Tripp's interpretation of Fox's comment, saying that the exclamation of "What stuff!" was, in that day, an exclamation over the absurdity of the suggestion rather than the gossip value of it (as in the phrase "stuff and nonsense").[46]

18??-18??: William Henry Herndon collects comments on Lincoln's sexual and intimate life. See William H. Herndon and Jesse W. Weik, Herndon's Lincoln. Cleveland: World Publishing, 1965.

1926: Carl Sandburg refers to Lincoln's and Speed's intimacy as "lavender," in Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years. This is obviously a reference to homosexuality.

1943: Robert Kinkaid, Joshua Fry Speed: Lincoln's Most Intimate Friend.

1965. William H. Herndon and Jesse W. Weik, Herndon's Lincoln. Cleveland: World Publishing, 1965.

1971: Gary Lee Williams, Ph.D. thesis, Duke University, James and Joshua Speed: Lincoln's Kentucky Friends.

1976: Dennis Doty, "Lincoln's Other Love," Chicago Gay Crusader, April 1976, p. 6. Cites Stefan Lorant, Lincoln: A Picture Story of His Life. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1952; rev. ed., 1957.

1980: Gary Lee Williams prepares "The Psychosexual Fears of Joshua Speed and Abraham Lincoln" for presentation at the Annual Meeting of the Organization of American Historians.

1982: Charles B. Strozier, Lincoln's Quest for Union: Public and Private Meanings.

1988-09-13: Jonathan Ned Katz publishes "Abe and Josh, Mary and Mercy" in The Advocate.

1989: Charlie Shively publishes "Big Buck and Big Lick" in Drum Beats: Walt Whitman's Civil War Boy Lovers.

1992-06-00: Douglas L. Wilson publishes "Abraham Lincoln and 'That Fatal First of January.'"

1993: E. Anthony Rotundo publishes American Manhood: Transformations in Masculinity from the Revolution to the Modern Era.

1995-10-01: David Dunlap publishes "In Search of History: When Today's Agenda Is a Prism for the Past," New York Times.

2001: Jonathan Ned Katz publishes "No Two Men Were Ever More Intimate," a chapter on Lincoln and Speed, in Love Stories: Sex Between Men Before Homosexuality.

2003: David Herbert Donald, “We Are Lincoln Men”: Abraham Lincoln and His Friends. New York, Simon and Schuster, 2003.

2004: In Framing Public Memory (2004), ed. Kendall R. Phillips, Charles E. Morris examines public reactions to Larry Kramer's declaration that Abraham Lincoln was homosexual, horrifying the guardians of Lincoln's public memory.

2005: C. A. Tripp, The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln (Free Press, 2005), includes Michael B. Chesson, "Afterword: 'The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln,'" p. 245.

2005-06-28: Joshua Wolf Shenk, "The True Lincoln," TIME.

2005: Allen C. Guelzo, The Lincoln Bedroom, The Claremont Review of Books, vol. v number 3, summer 2005  Seven scholars assess C.A. Tripp's The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln.

2006-06: Adam I. P. Smith, "Review: Lincoln Scholarship and the Return of Intimacy." Reviews The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln by C. A. Tripp; Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness by Joshua Wolf Shenk. Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association 27, no. 2 (Summer 2006): 56-71.

2006-06: Martin P. Johnson, "Did Abraham Lincoln Sleep with His Bodyguard? Another Look at the Evidence," Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association 27, no. 2 (Summer 2006): 42-55.

2007: "My Old Kentucky Homo: Abraham Lincoln, Larry Kramer, and the Politics of Queer Memory," in Queering Public Address: Sexualities and American Historical Discourse, ed. Charles E. Morris III. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 93-120.

2008-10-17: Mary H. Baker, Mary Todd Lincoln: A Biography (New York: W. W. Norton & Company).

2009-04-25: Larry Kramer, "Yale's Conspiracy of Silence."

2009, Charles E. Morris III, "Hard Evidence: The Vexations of Lincoln's Queer Corpus," in Rhetoric, Materiality, Politics, ed. Barbara Biesecker and John Louis Lucaites. New York: Peter Lang, 185-213.

2010-10: Michael Ferguson, "Was Abraham Lincoln Gay?," Journal of Homosexuality 57, no. 9: 1124-1157. Abstract: Scholars and historians are blind to Lincoln's same-sex inclinations in part because of a personal aversion to male homosexuality, but more importantly because they fail to perceive the vast differences between the sexual culture of antebellum America and that of our own time, especially in regard to male-male physical and emotional intimacy. This article brings those differences to light and sets Lincoln's life in the context of the sexual culture of his own time. This enables one to see that Lincoln's same-sex sexuality was not only unproblematic, but commonplace, if not typical, in his day. Revising the Myth of Lincoln in regard to his same-sex inclinations will have a positive effect on contemporary culture, especially on the education and socialization of young boys.

2011-09-08: Lewis Gannett, letter to the editor; response to Michael Ferguson's “Was Abraham Lincoln Gay?” (2010), Journal of Homosexuality 58, no. 8: 993-997.

2011-10-25: Mark Segal, "Abraham Lincoln: A Life in the Closet?," Washington Blade.

2015-04-07: Larry Kramer, The American People: Search for My Heart, A Novel, Volume 1. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

2016-05-03: Charles Strozier, Your Friend Forever, A. Lincoln: The Enduring Friendship of Abraham Lincoln and Joshua Speed. New York: Columbia University Press.

2017: Rafael Rosa, "Abraham Lincoln and Women: A Psychohistorical Analysis," Ph.D. Dissertation, Drew University.

2017, Winter: Craig Thompson Friend, review of Strozier, Your Friend Forever: A. Lincoln: The Enduring Friendship of Abraham Lincoln and Joshua Speed (2016), Ohio Valley History 17, no. 4: 90-91.

2019-04-16: , "So What If Lincoln Was Gay," The Paris Review.

2020: David S. Reynolds, Abe: Abraham Lincoln in His Times. New York: Penguin Press.

2020: Richard Striner, Summoned to Glory: The Audacious Life of Abraham Lincoln. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield.

2021: Raffety, Matthew Taylor, "5 Historians, Lincoln, and 'The Ruining of America,'" in Reckoning with History: Unfinished Stories of American Freedom, edited by Jim Downs, Erica Armstrong Dunbar, T. K. Hunter, and Timothy Patrick McCarthy. New York: Columbia University Press, 82-107.

2021: Michael Burlingame, An American Marriage: The Untold Story of Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd.

2022-09-00: Andrew Donnelly, "The Sexuality of Civil War Historiography
How Two Versions of Homosexuality Make Meaning of the War,"
Civil War History 68, no. 3: 295-321.

Bibliography on Lincoln, Sexuality, and Intimacy

Doty, Dennis. "Lincoln's Other Love," Chicago Gay Crusader, April 1976, 6.

Dunlap, David. "In Search of History: When Today's Agenda Is a Prism for the Past," New York Times, October 1, 1995.

Katz, Jonathan Ned. "Abe and Josh, Mary and Mercy," The Advocate, September 13, 1988, 47.

Katz, Jonathan Ned. "No Two Men Were Ever More Intimate," in Love Stories: Sex Between Men Before Homosexuality. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001: 3-25, 351-54.

Kinkaid, Robert. Joshua Fry Speed: Lincoln's Most Intimate Friend. Harrogate, Tenn.: Department of Lincolniana, Lincoln Memorial University, 1943.

Rotundo, E. Anthony. American Manhood: Transformations in Masculinity from the Revolution to the Modern Era. New York: Basic Books, 1993.

Sandburg, Carl. Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1926: 1:264-69.

Shively, Charlie. "Big Buck and Big Lick," in Drum Beats: Walt Whitman's Civil War Boy Lovers. San Francisco: Gay Sunshine Press, 1989.

Strozier, Charles B. Lincoln's Quest for Union: Public and Private Meanings. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1982.

Thompson, W. Scott. "Was Abe Lincoln Gay, Too? A Divided Man to Heal a Divided Age. Unpublished paper.

Tripp, C. A. The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln. New York: Free Press. 2005.

Williams, Gary Lee. James and Joshua Speed: Lincoln's Kentucky Friends. Ph.D. thesis. Duke University, 1971.

Williams, Gary Lee. "The Psychosexual Fears of Joshua Speed and Abraham Lincoln." Paper prepared for delivery at the Annual Meeting of the Organization of American Historians, 1980.

Wilson, Douglas L. "Abraham Lincoln and 'That Fatal First of January.'" Civil War History 38, no. 2 (June 1992): 101-30.