Lincoln closely supervised the victorious war effort, especially the selection of top generals, including Ulysses S. Grant. Historians have concluded that he handled the factions of the Republican Party well, bringing leaders of each faction into his cabinet and forcing them to cooperate. Lincoln successfully defused the Trent affair, a war scare with Britain, in 1861. Under his leadership, the Union took control of the border slave states at the start of the war. Additionally, he managed his own reelection in the 1864 presidential election.
Copperheads and other opponents of the war criticized Lincoln for refusing to compromise on the slavery issue. Conversely, the Radical Republicans, an abolitionist faction of the Republican Party, criticized him for moving too slowly in abolishing slavery. Even with these road blocks, Lincoln successfully rallied public opinion through his rhetoric and speeches; his Gettysburg Address is but one example of this. At the close of the war, Lincoln held a moderate view of Reconstruction, seeking to speedily reunite the nation through a policy of generous reconciliation. Abraham Lincoln has consistently been ranked by scholars as one of the greatest U.S. Presidents.
The sexuality of Abraham Lincoln is a topic of debate. Lincoln was married to Mary Todd from November 4, 1842 until his death on April 15, 1865. They had four children. C. A. Tripp has commented that Lincoln's problematic and distant relationship with women stood in contrast to his more warm relations with a number of men in his life and that two of those relationships had arguable homosexual overtones. Lincoln biographers, including David Herbert Donald, have strongly contested these claims and believe that there is no evidence of homosexuality in Lincoln's life. As an astute politician, Lincoln was a man with many "friends," Donald says. In his letters, for example, Lincoln refers frequently to acquaintances, even political enemies, as "my personal friend." Commentary on Abraham Lincoln's sexuality has existed for some time but re-entered the public light in 2005 with the posthumous publication of C.A. Tripp's book The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln.
In his biography of Lincoln, Carl Sandburg in 1926 made an allusion to the early relationship of Lincoln and his friend Joshua Fry Speed as having "a streak of lavender, and spots soft as May violets........." "Streak of lavender" was slang in the 1930s for a "sissy" or an effeminate man; later "lavender" connoted homosexuality. Sandburg did not state that either was homosexual or that the relationship was sexual in nature.
Lincoln wrote a poem that described a marriage-like relation between two men. It is an open question whether the poem is a sign of his homosexual feelings or whether it was intended to ridicule. It included the lines:
For Reuben and Charles have married two girls,/ But Billy has married a boy./ The girls he had tried on every side,/ But none could he get to agree;/ All was in vain, he went home again,/ And since that he's married to Natty.
This poem was included in the first edition of Herndon's 'Life of Lincoln', but was expurgated from subsequent editions until 1942, when the editor Paul Angle reinserted it. This is an example of what Mark Blechner calls "the closeting of history" in which evidence that suggests a degree of homosexuality or bisexuality in a major historical figure is suppressed or hidden.
C. A. Tripp, who died in 2003, was a sex researcher and protégé of Alfred Kinsey. He began writing The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln with Philip Nobile until a falling out between them. The New York Times quoted Nobile saying "Tripp's book is a fraud". Nobile wrote a critical review of Tripp's book in the Weekly Standard, in which he accused the Tripp book of plagiarizing his own work, of relying heavily on Charles Shiveley without proper attribution and of distortion. Tripp's book includes an afterword by historian and Lincoln biographer Michael Burlingame titled "A Respectful Dissent", in which he states:
"Since it is virtually impossible to prove a negative, Dr. Tripp's thesis cannot be rejected outright. But given the paucity of hard information adduced by him, and given the abundance of contrary evidence indicating that Lincoln was drawn romantically and sexually to some women, a reasonable conclusion, it seems to me, would be that it is possible but highly unlikely that Abraham Lincoln was "predominantly homosexual""
In a second afterword to the book titled “An Enthusiastic Endorsement”, historian Michael B. Chesson makes the argument for the historical significance of the work:
“ Tripp, for all his research, sophistication, and insight, has not proved his case conclusively. … But any open-minded reader who has reached this point may well have a reasonable doubt about the nature of Lincoln’s sexuality. The “Tall Sucker” was a very strange man, one of the strangest in American history, and certainly the oddest to reach a position of national prominence, let alone the presidency. If Lincoln was a homosexual, or primarily so inclined, then suddenly our image of this mysterious man gains some clarity. Not everything falls into place. But many things do, including some important, even essential, elements of who Lincoln was, why he acted in the way he did, and a possible reason for his sadness, loneliness, and secretive nature. ”
In 1999, author and gay activist Larry Kramer claimed that he had uncovered new primary sources which shed fresh light on Lincoln's sexuality. The sources included a hitherto unknown Joshua Speed diary and letters in which Speed writes explicitly about his relationship with Lincoln. These items were supposedly discovered hidden beneath the floorboards of the old store where the two men lived, and are said to reside in a private collection in Davenport, Iowa. Kramer has yet to publish any of this material for critical evaluation, and historian Gabor Boritt, referring to Kramer's documents, wrote, "Almost certainly this is a hoax ... ." Tripp also expressed skepticism over Kramer’s discovery, writing, “Seeing is believing, should that diary ever show up; the passages claimed for it have not the slightest Lincolnian ring.” Time magazine also addressed the book as part of a prominent cover article by Joshua Wolf Shenk, author of Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness. However Shenk dismissed Tripp's conclusions, stating that arguments on Lincoln's homosexuality were "based on a tortured misreading of conventional 19th century sleeping arrangements".
Critics of the hypothesis that Lincoln was homosexually inclined note that Lincoln married and had four children. Scholar Douglas Wilson claims that Lincoln as a young man displayed heterosexual behavior, including telling stories to his friends of his interactions with women.
Tripp notes that Lincoln's awareness of homosexuality and openness in penning this "bawdy poem" was unique for the time period. Donald, however, notes that Lincoln would have needed to look no further than the Bible to realize "that men did sometimes have sex with each other", and historian William Lee Miller, among others, has acknowledged that Lincoln was reading the Bible well before his twentieth birthday.
Lincoln's stepmother, Sarah Bush Lincoln, commented that he "never took much interest in the girls". However some accounts of Lincoln's contemporaries suggest a strong but controlled passion for women. Lincoln was devastated over the 1835 death of Ann Rutledge. While some historians have questioned whether there was in fact a romantic relationship between her and Lincoln, historian John Y. Simon reviewed the historiography of the subject and concluded, "Available evidence overwhelmingly indicates that Lincoln so loved Ann that her death plunged him into severe depression. More than a century and a half after her death, when significant new evidence cannot be expected, she should take her proper place in Lincoln biography." An anonymous poem about suicide published locally exactly three years after her death is widely attributed to Lincoln. His courting of Mary Owens was diffident. After she had rejected his 1837 handwritten, dutiful marriage proposal, Lincoln wrote to a friend in 1838: "I knew she was oversize, but now she appeared a fair match for Falstaff."
As noted above, in 19th century America men commonly slept with other men. For example, when lawyers and judges traveled "the circuit" with Lincoln, the lawyers often slept "two in a bed and eight in a room." William H Herndon recalled, "I have slept with 20 men in the same room."
A tabulation of historical sources shows that Lincoln slept with at least 11 boys and men during his youth and adulthood. There are no known instances in which Lincoln tried to suppress knowledge or discussion of such arrangements, and in some conversations, raised the subject himself. Tripp, who was not aware of this large number of Lincoln's male co-sleepers, discusses only three of them at length: Joshua Speed, William Greene, and Charles Derickson.
Lincoln met Joshua Fry Speed in Springfield, Illinois, in 1837. They lived together for four years, during which time they occupied the same bed during the night (some sources specify a large double bed) and developed a friendship that would last until their deaths. According to some sources, William Herndon and a fourth man also slept in the same room. Historians such as Donald point out it was not unusual at that time for two men to share even a small bed due to financial or other circumstances, without anything sexual being implied. Putting the issue in historical perspective, Jonathan Ned Katz, wrote of the bed sharing:
"At the start of the twenty-first century it may even be difficult to imagine a man, especially a bachelor, offering another a place in his bed without some conscious fear or desire that the proposition will be understood as a come-on. In the nineteenth century, Speed was probably not conscious of any such erotic possibility. His immediate, casual offer, and his later report of it, suggests that men's bed sharing was not then often explicitly understood as conducive to forbidden sexual experiments."
Katz does indicate that such sleeping arrangements "did provide an important site (probably the major site) of erotic opportunity." Katz notes that referring to present day concepts of "homo, hetero, and bi distort our present understanding of Lincoln and Speed's experiences" and that rather than there being "an unchanging essence of homosexuality and heterosexuality" people throughout history "continually reconfigure their affectionate and erotic feelings and acts." He suggests that the Lincoln-Speed relationship fell within the 19th century category of "intense, even romantic man to man friendships" with erotic overtones that may have been "a world apart in that era's consciousness from the sensual universe of mutual masturbation and the legal universe of 'sodomy,' 'buggery,' and 'the crime against nature.'"
Certainly, correspondence of the period, such as that between Thomas Jefferson Withers and James Henry Hammond, provides clear evidence of a sexual dimension to some same-sex bed sharing. The fact that Lincoln was open about the fact that they had shared a bed is seen by some historians as an indication that their relationship was not romantic. None of Lincoln's enemies hinted at any homosexual implication.
Joshua Speed married Fanny Hennings on February 15, 1842, and the two men seem to have consulted each other about married life. Despite having some political differences over slavery, they corresponded for the rest of their lives and Lincoln appointed Joshua's brother, James Speed, to his cabinet as Attorney General.
Lincoln and Mary Todd met in Springfield in 1839 and became engaged in 1840. In what historian Allen Guelzo calls "one of the murkiest episodes in Lincoln’s life," Lincoln called off his engagement to Mary Todd at the same time that the legislative program he had supported for years collapsed, his best friend Joshua Speed left Springfield, and John Stuart, Lincoln’s law partner, proposed ending their law practice. Lincoln is believed to have suffered something approaching clinical depression. Lincoln's Preparation for Greatness: The Illinois Legislative Years by Paul Simon has a chapter covering the period that Lincoln later referred to as "The Fatal First," which was January 1, 1841. That was "the date on which Lincoln asked to be released from his engagement to Mary Todd." Simon explains that the various reasons the engagement was broken contradict one another and it was not fully documented, but he did become unusually depressed, which showed in his appearance, and that "it was traceable to Mary Todd." During this time, he avoided seeing Mary, causing her to comment that he "deems me unworthy of notice."
Jean H. Baker, historian and biographer of Mary Todd Lincoln, describes the relationship between Lincoln and his wife as “bound together by three strong bonds – sex, parenting and politics.” In addition to the anti-Mary Todd bias of many historians engendered by William Herndon’s (Lincoln's law partner and early biographer) personal hatred of Mrs. Lincoln, Baker discounts the criticism of the marriage as both a basic misunderstanding of the changing nature of marriage and courtship in the mid-19th Century and attempts to judge the Lincoln marriage by modern standards.
Baker notes that “most observers of the Lincoln marriage have been impressed with their sexuality.” Some “male historians” claim that the Lincolns’ sex life ended either in 1853 after their son Tad’s difficult birth or in 1856 when they moved into a bigger house, but have no actual evidence for their speculations. In fact, there are “almost no gynecological conditions resulting from childbirth” other than a prolapsed uterus (which would have produced other noticeable effects on Mrs. Lincoln) that would have prevented intercourse, and in the 1850s “many middle-class couples slept in separate bedrooms”.
Far from abstaining from sex, Baker suggests that in fact the Lincolns were part of a new development in America that saw the birth rate declining from seven births to a family in 1800 to around 4 per family by 1850. As Americans separated sexuality from child bearing, forms of birth control such as coitus interruptus, long-term breast feeding, and crude forms of condoms and womb veils, available through mail order, were available and used. The spacing of the Lincoln children (Robert in 1843, Eddie in 1846, Willie in 1850, and Tad in 1853) is consistent with some type of planning and would have required “an intimacy about sexual relations that for aspiring couples meant shared companionate power over reproduction.”
Captain David Derickson was Lincoln's bodyguard and companion between September 1862 and April 1863. They shared a bed during the absences of Lincoln's wife, until Derickson was promoted in 1863. Derickson was twice married and fathered ten children, but whatever the exact 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!'" This sleeping arrangement was also recorded 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 notes 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 in fact based on the same report from a single source. David Donald and Johnson both dispute Tripp's interpretation of Fox's comment, saying instead that the exclamation of "What Stuff!" was an allusion to the absurdity of the suggestion rather than the gossip value of it.