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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Actual First Gay President: James Buchanan

Posted by on Tue, May 15, 2012 at 11:07 AM

Jim Loewen in Salon, riffing on the silly Newsweek cover, points out that James Buchanan, president from 1857 to 1861, was actually, obviously gay.

There can be no doubt that James Buchanan was gay, before, during and after his four years in the White House. Moreover, the nation knew it, too — he was not far into the closet.

So why is it not more popularly known that Buchanan was gay? Loewen's answer is interesting:

One reason why Americans find it hard to believe Buchanan could have been gay is that we have a touching belief in progress. Our high school history textbooks’ overall story line is, “We started out great and have been getting better ever since,” more or less automatically. Thus we must be more tolerant now than we were way back in the middle of the 19th century!

Loewen also knows a bunch about beards. Not beards like women married to gay men, but facial beards. As he points out, it's been a long time since a president had one.


Comments (21) RSS

Oldest First Unregistered On Registered On Add a comment
And, according to the article, his "great love" was William Rufus King, former namesake of King County!
Posted by Cork on May 15, 2012 at 11:27 AM · Report this
You_Gotta_Be_Kidding_Me 2
@1 Yup. But in 1986 bigots decided they didn’t like the gay connotation so they “changed” it to Martin Luther king Jr. Who was born more than 75 years after the County was founded.
Posted by You_Gotta_Be_Kidding_Me on May 15, 2012 at 11:33 AM · Report this
the article brings up an interesting point about Obama. The sobering reality is our society progresses, but at a snail's pace. Finally, after 230 years, we've let a black man be president. When you think of it historically, of course there would have to be opposition among the regressives. This is how things change: slowly and painfully, with half of the country wishing to move forward, and the other half doing everything to claw it back; more often than not, blood has to be shed. So it will be with gay marriage, apparently, though I sure hope without bloodshed. But to hear some of the regressives, you never know.

Anyway, I think we spend a lot of time grumbling about how little Obama has done for progressives, when in fact those little changes he has managed are epochal. We just wont see the real effects for generations. He's had to pick his battles. I'd like him to roll back the Patriot Act too, but he chose health care instead. And even then not nearly as far as he should, but contained within are little details that could have massive effects.

Posted by modrachlan srarmons on May 15, 2012 at 11:45 AM · Report this
Andy Niable 4
Since Buchanan is consistently ranked near the, er, bottom of lists of Presidents as one of our worst (if not the worst), it might not be something we queers want to brag about...
Posted by Andy Niable on May 15, 2012 at 12:15 PM · Report this

Social progress is an illusion. Since the dawn of history, or even the dawn of homo sapiens, or perhaps even before, different societies have gone up, down, left, right, forwards, backwards in any manner of different and seemingly bizarre combinations.

Certainly we're seeing now some semblance of social justice for the matter of marriage equality, but simultaneously, the past few decades leading up to the present have seen a shocking cultural shift in a large minority of American Christians to hard-line, evangelical, fundamentalist Calvinism. They're not just going to suddenly go away either. I imagine they're going to be hard to get rid of, and they're going to influence elections more powerfully than their actual numbers would suggest. Those same decades incidentally saw the liberalization of Catholics. In all that time, Atheists are really no better off than they were at the beginning of the twentieth century--arguably worse.
Posted by Central Scrutinizer on May 15, 2012 at 12:16 PM · Report this
"The sobering reality is our society progresses, but at a snail's pace."

I think it is worse than that.
We blunder along for decades, talking about whether there is a "problem" or whether the "problem" is "those people" who aren't righteous enough or informed enough or whatever.

Then a critical juncture will be hit and we'll make the jump.
Then we'll all congratulate ourselves on the "progress" we made.

I'd say that 8 years ago the idea of a black President was pure fantasy.
It was only with Obama's personal charisma and the continued disaster that was his opposition that we made the jump.

"Anyway, I think we spend a lot of time grumbling about how little Obama has done for progressives, when in fact those little changes he has managed are epochal."

That's the problem. He's made minor changes instead of any more major jumps.
Some of the minor changes have been positive. Some have been negative.

We get health care insurance reform.
But we don't get universal health care.
We don't even get universal health care for children (21 and younger).

Minor improvements can be rolled back by other administrations.
People were expecting more jumps from him.
He's still a better choice than Romney.
Posted by fairly.unbalanced on May 15, 2012 at 12:25 PM · Report this
leek 7
I don't find the argument that Buchanan was gay very convincing, after reading this article and his Wikipedia page. Nor does it seem as widely accepted as Loewen claims. But I'm no expert on mid-1800s sexual mores. Still, presenting this "I have gone a-wooing" line as evidence is weak sauce indeed.
Posted by leek on May 15, 2012 at 12:33 PM · Report this

Martin van Buren on the other hand was a Knickerbockin' ladies man.
Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe http://_ on May 15, 2012 at 12:36 PM · Report this
Original Andrew 9
Buchanan was the worst president in the nation's history--the only one worse than Dumbya. His corruption, dirty dealing, and incompetence were significant factors leading to the Civil War. We don't want to claim this one!
Posted by Original Andrew on May 15, 2012 at 12:39 PM · Report this
Huh? Oh yes, times were grand back in Buchanan's day. I guess that's why he was mocked for his presumed homosexuality and his and King's nieces burned their correspondence. Not funny, Loewen.
Posted by cgd on May 15, 2012 at 12:57 PM · Report this
Urgutha Forka 11
Damn it, I already said Buchanan was the first gay pres yesterday. First post even.


I'd actually argue that Andrew Johnson was worse than Buchanan (although Buchanan did totally suck in all the ways you mentioned). Johnson bungled the reconstruction so badly though he's probably largely to blame for even TODAY'S silly, backwards, lost-cause resentment that still lingers in the south.
Posted by Urgutha Forka on May 15, 2012 at 12:59 PM · Report this
Backyard Bombardier 12
@10: "Times were grand back in Buchanan's day. I guess that's why he was mocked for his presumed homosexuality and his and King's nieces burned their correspondence."

Unlike today, when no one is mocked for presumed homosexuality and no one's relatives conspire to keep them posthumously closeted.
Posted by Backyard Bombardier on May 15, 2012 at 1:09 PM · Report this
And Buchannan was followed by a president who was, by many accounts, at least bisexual: Abraham Lincoln.
Posted by TechBear on May 15, 2012 at 1:20 PM · Report this
@12 Sure. There are out mayors and members of Congress now, but anti-gay prejudice will exist even loooong after we have a first out LGBT president.
Posted by cgd on May 15, 2012 at 1:32 PM · Report this

Has anyone compiled a LGBT historybook of awesome gay people throughout the centuries?
Posted by Drew2u on May 15, 2012 at 2:09 PM · Report this
lark 16
Buchanan remains the only bachelor President throughout his entire term. Grover Cleveland entered the White House single but had the only Presidential White House wedding ceremony. He married his lawyer's daughter who was 21 y/o. I think he was 49? But my point is being a bachelor, wasn't uncommon in the mid to late 19th century. I read in "World on Fire: Great Britain and the Civil War" by Amanda Foreman that the entire British delegation to the US led by their Ambassador William (Lord) Lyons were bachelors.

As for Buchanan being gay, I'm not so sure. The late C.J. Tripp, author of "The Intimate Lincoln" also contends Lincoln was gay as well. I simply do not believe that. How that can be determined conclusively? On the other hand, a contemporary of theirs poet, Walt Whitman was gay. I have no issue with that.
Posted by lark on May 15, 2012 at 2:30 PM · Report this
Some Old Nobodaddy Logged In 17
This entire thread of "news" is patently ludicrous. The only thing it goes to prove is that there are a lot of bored over-paid "journalists" that exist solely to put words together to entice people to look at ads.

Obama is not gay. The assumption is that he is, that the nation is celebrating him as the first gay president, and that Buchanan should get the credit. WTF??? Equating working for gay (read: human) rights and actually BEING gay is a tactic for the inquisition-minded fanatic. Also, trying to find justification for being gay by pointing to famous historical personalities assumes that it is a requirement for granting basic human rights. I don't recall any tribal bushman from the Kalahari every recording a #1 single, or being leader of a major nation, or writing a classic novel. That's no reason to deny them their human rights.

So who the fuck cares about Buchanan's sexuality. It's not going to change the minds of bigots, and the info is only worth a question in Trivial Pursuit. Can we move on to the next manufactured shocker/outrage, please?
Posted by Some Old Nobodaddy Logged In on May 15, 2012 at 2:38 PM · Report this
RobCrowe9 18
@9 is probably on the right track: history's estimation of Buchanan is pretty dim, so however much the historical record is clear, he doesn't seem to have attracted advocates.
Posted by RobCrowe9 on May 15, 2012 at 3:49 PM · Report this
McGee 19
@2 Quit making shit up. The "bigots" changed the origin of the name of King County as a rebuke to King's staunch anti-abolitionist policies and his support of a senate gag-order that prohibited dialogue on slavery.
Posted by McGee on May 15, 2012 at 4:59 PM · Report this
Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn 20
Alan Touring was the most kickass homo ever. In case you were wondering.
Posted by Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn on May 15, 2012 at 7:47 PM · Report this
Lord Basil 21
Obama is very gay. Just ask Larry Sinclair, read the poem he wrote as a homage to marxist child pornographer Frank Marshall Davis called "Pop," and talk to the mother of his murdered lover, Donald Young.
Posted by Lord Basil on May 16, 2012 at 1:04 AM · Report this

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