Larry Kramer Claims to Have Discovered a Diary Proving Lincoln Was Gay

Roundup: Talking About History

Carol Lloyd, in Salon (5-3-99):

[Editor's Note: In 1999 Larry Kramer, the AIDS activist and writer, claimed to have come into the possession of a secret diary by Joshua Speed that proved that Speed and Lincoln were lovers. Speed and Lincoln shared the same bed for four years when they were living on the frontier. Both were in their twenties.]

... Kramer doesn't pretend to be a Lincoln scholar or even an objective researcher. ("I have read all the biographies, and they are full of shit," he spits, and derides Pulitzer Prize-winning Lincoln scholar David Herbert Donald as "some dried old heterosexual prune at Harvard.") He's an unabashed gay rabble-rouser, beating the bushes of history to find gay heroes. But if he really does have the new primary sources he claims to, even the staunchest defenders of Lincoln's heterosexuality may be forced to reconsider. Kramer claims to have a trump card, a smoking gun: a hitherto unknown Joshua Speed diary, as well as a stash of letters in which Speed writes explicitly about his love affair with Lincoln. The secret pages, which were discovered hidden beneath the floorboards of the old store where the two men lived, now are said to reside in a private collection in Davenport, Iowa.

No sooner has Kramer mentioned the discovery and location of the papers than he grumbles, "That's already more than I wish I had said." Kramer is ambivalent about airing the entire subject. Even the reading, he explains, was a spur-of-the-moment stopgap measure to save him the trouble of writing another speech for a second appearance at the conference. "I didn't know there were any reporters there," he says, "and I didn't let anyone tape it."

Although Kramer refuses to share any portions of these documents, the Capital Times in Madison reported some of the juicier quotes from the reading: "He often kisses me when I tease him, often to shut me up. He would grab me up by his long arms and hug and hug," Speed reportedly wrote. Addressing his dear friend as "Linc," Speed allegedly described the young politician as a man who couldn't get enough hugging and kissing: "Yes, our Abe is like a school girl." Kramer also attested that Speed recounted conversations in which the two men wondered whether other men, too, had relationships like theirs.

Whether these quotes prove that Lincoln was gay is debatable -- although, of course, Kramer may possess others that are more explicit. But he goes further: He not only claims that honest, rail-splitting, nation-uniting Abe was a proto-bossy bottom, but that there existed a whole 19th century gay frontier subculture. For example, he says there was an underground travel agency that arranged for small groups of man-loving men to travel into the wilderness for nature appreciation and other earthy pleasures. Both Lincoln and Speed, Kramer says, frequented these camping trips while living in Springfield. In one circular, which Kramer shared by phone, a man named "Dapper Dan from Kansas" invited "fellow travelers" on a "holiday journey" to sleep outdoors. The passage he read was certainly suggestive but hardly explicit.

Repeating a claim long circulated in the gay community, if not in Hamilton scholarship, Kramer also claims that Alexander Hamilton was "essentially a cock-tease."

All these assertions, however, pale in the face of Kramer's most outrageous theory: that Lincoln's murder may have been a kind of gay-bashing, resulting from a kinky sexual set-up. "There's some evidence that shows that Speed presented Booth to Lincoln as a 'present' and the young Booth, who was a gorgeous man, was virulently homophobic, like the men who killed Matthew Shepard," he says. "If the murder turns out to have had a homosexual underpinning, that's going to freak everybody out."...

[Editor's Note: Five years have passed since Larry Kramer claimed to have found the Speed diary. To date he has not produced the diary for public inspection.]

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