The Man Who Would Bed King?
Suspicions of the 15th president.
While Abraham Lincoln has stolen the limelight with rumors about his furtive sex life, some historians have proclaimed that America’s first gay president was really his predecessor, the now-obscure James Buchanan. (He was the 15th president, serving from 1857 to 1861). Buchanan is the only bachelor to ever have held America’s top office, and his private life raised many eyebrows while he was alive.
A little suspiciously, all personal correspondence between the two men was burned by their heirs, so the question of whether they were passionate lovers or simply Victorian chums will never be resolved. This hasn’t stopped historians from weighing in. The only recent biography of Buchanan, by Jean H. Baker, argues that in photographs he displays “eunuchlike, endomorphic features of body and face as well as the low hairline characteristic of low testosterone men” — which leads her to suggest that he had “little interest in sex,” and probably kept his hands off King as well.
Regardless of his carnal potency, Buchanan’s political career was fairly abysmal: He is generally voted by historians as the worst president in American history for mishandling a string of crises and dithering his way towards Civil War. • 9 December 2010
SOURCE/FURTHER READING: Baker, Jean H., James Buchanan, (New York, 2004); Klein, Philip S., James Buchanan: A Biography (New York, 1995); Loewen, James, Lies Across America: What our Historical Sites Get Wrong, (New York, 2000).
Tony Perrottet's book, Napoleon's Privates: 2,500 Years of History Unzipped, is a literary version of a cabinet of curiosities (HarperCollins, 2008; napoleonsprivates.com). He is also the author of Pagan Holiday: On the Trail of Ancient Roman Tourists and The Naked Olympics: The True Story of the Ancient Games.