Books: Was Lincoln Gay?

Eric Lamar
4 min readJan 31, 2024


The Intimate Life of Abraham Lincoln

C.A. Tripp, a Lincoln aficionado with a background in sex research, explores Lincoln’s sexuality, examining what is known about his early life, relationships and behavior.

Dr. Jean Baker writes in the Introduction, “What follows…is a full-fledged character study that places Lincoln’s sexuality into a larger, more significant framework of trying to understand this elusive man.”

Tripp carefully surveyed Lincoln scholarship and reviewed primary sources including William Herndon’s notes. Herndon, Lincoln’s law partner, labored endlessly after the assassination to gather as much information as possible regarding his life.

Neither the terms “gay” nor “homosexual” existed when Lincoln was alive and same sex attraction was not part of the public consciousness to any significant degree.

Why does Lincoln’s sexual orientation matter? Understanding how he engaged with the people around him and the nature of his relationships can shed light on the nature of his character.

Tripp suggests that Lincoln’s legendary off-color storytelling infused with sexual innuendo may be rooted in his extremely early puberty (10 years old.) Baker refers to it as sexual precociousness and hypersexuality.

Early puberty meant early sexual interest, more sexual contact, undoubtedly with other males in the frontier environment.

Some Lincoln scholars suggest the storytelling also allowed him to control the flow of information by deflecting unwanted questions. One Lincoln associate said Lincoln was “gushingly frank” about everything except what really mattered.

His personal life was a closed book: David Davis, who is reputed to have known Lincoln as well as anyone, said “No one knows the real Abraham Lincoln.” And William Herndon said of Lincoln that “he was the most shut-mouth man I knew.”

Tripp points out that Lincoln was uncomfortable around single women, seemed to be largely uninterested in them and married far past the “normal” age for the time.

His courting of Mary Owens and Mary Todd also showed a man totally ambivalent about marriage and married life. But Lincoln understood that a single man would likely not be successful in politics.

Mary Todd Lincoln

After his marriage to Mary Todd, when he was riding the circuit as an Illinois lawyer, he stayed away from home on the weekends even when others would return home to their families.

Those skeptical of a homosexual Lincoln point to Mrs. Lincoln’s legendary bad temper and dark moods as reason enough to stay on the road or have a separate bedroom.

When Lincoln arrived in Springfield both broke and homeless, he met young store owner Joshua Speed. Speed eyed Lincoln, took him upstairs to see his bed and then invited Lincoln to share his bed — which he did for the next fours years. The bed was so small that it was said if one wanted to turn, the other had too, suggesting “spooning” or close to it.

Joshua Speed

While it was not uncommon for men to sleep in the same bed when on the road, the Speed/Lincoln arrangement stretches that notion.

Better known is the story of Lincoln inviting an Army Captain, David Derikson, to share his bed when the Lincoln family stayed at the Soldier’s Home in D.C. during the warmer months.

Captain Derikson

Derikson was in charge of the President’s guard detail. Lincoln latched on to Derikson at first sight, inviting him to the White House on the day they met. Lincoln stopped by the War Office on the way to get an update on the troop news and insisted that General Halleck, the commanding general of Union Forces, come down and meet the Captain, who had remained in the carriage. Halleck thought it was all rather strange.

Captain Derikson only slept with the President when Mrs. Lincoln was gone though the Lincoln’s slept in separate bedrooms anyway. The President’s attraction to Derikson was not a secret; it was openly talked about in Washington social circles.

Perhaps due to their great fame, men like Lincoln often exist in the public consciousness lacking a personal dimension. The Intimate Life of Abraham Lincoln offers a view of the heroic figure as a complex and varied human being.