Dead Presidents

Historical facts, thoughts, ramblings and collections on the Presidency and about the Presidents of the United States.

By Anthony Bergen
E-Mail: bergen.anthony@gmail.com
Posts tagged "Sexuality"
Asker Anonymous Asks:
Hello Anthony! This is a two-part question, and one is personal, so I am very sorry if you take offense to the personal nature of it. First, what is your sexual orientation? Second, on that note, I recently read that there seems to be debate on the sexual orientation of James Buchanan. Do you think it is valid? Also, what were political attitudes toward sodomy/homosexuality back then? Did people just ignore it or did actual elected officials talk about "Sodomites"?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

Hello to you, too!  I don’t take offense to personal questions, so no worries.

1.  I am heterosexual.

2.  With James Buchanan, we will never know for sure whether he was or was not a homosexual.  He burned any letters that would have helped shed some light on the issue and while we can speculate all that we want, it’s impossible and perhaps even unfair to out somebody or make a decision on somebody’s sexual identity when they’ve been dead for over 140 years.  During Buchanan’s time, there was definitely not any public statements by other politicians or journalists about his sexuality, but gossip was alive and well in the 19th Century and it was whispered about, particularly when it came to Buchanan’s close relationship with William Rufus DeVane King, who briefly served as Vice President under Buchanan’s predecessor, Franklin Pierce, but died in office after a few weeks.

People have asked me about Buchanan’s sexuality many times, so I’m going to paste what I’ve written in the past that was more in-depth:

First of all, this is all going to be speculation, so take my opinion about this subject very lightly. Secondly, please understand that I am socially liberal, so I don’t care whether or not a President is gay or straight as long as he or she can do the job.

It is very difficult to say that this President or that President was gay or not without simply guessing or making baseless accusations. My personal opinion is that it’s not our business to say that someone is or is not gay unless they choose to address it and make it our business.

It’s even more difficult to go back through history and say “so-and-so was obviously a homosexual because ___________”. I mean, let’s be honest, the first five Presidents wore knee breeches, buckled shoes, and powdered wigs, so we’d already be overloaded with suspicion right there.

Without going too far and becoming gossipy and National Enquirer-ish, I will point out the evidence which some believe strongly suggests that James Buchanan, the 15th President of the United States, was homosexual.

Buchanan was a lifelong bachelor — the only President to never marry. Early in life, he had been engaged to Ann Coleman, the daughter of a wealthy Pennsylvania manufacturer who began worrying about rumors that Buchanan was marrying her for her money. After a difficult period in their relationship, Coleman broke off the engagement in 1819 and died shortly thereafter, likely by suicide. Buchanan was devastated by Coleman’s death and was shunned by Coleman’s family who blamed him for Ann’s demise. At that time, Buchanan vowed to never marry and he retained Ann Coleman’s letters for the remainder of his life.

It is possible that Buchanan was so devastated by the death of his first love that he couldn’t imagine spending his life with another woman. However, that doesn’t explain why he spent so much of his life with another man.

In 19th Century Washington, D.C., it was not unusual for Members of Congress to room together in boarding houses while Congress was in session. Many political deals were debated and decided in Washington’s boarding houses which were set up to appeal to a Congressman’s need for prepared meals and affordable housing. Buchanan, however, was a fairly wealthy man for his age and time period. The affordable housing that resulted from taking on a roommate wasn’t a necessity for Buchanan. It was a choice. And, instead of living with a variety of different colleagues over the years, Buchanan lived with one — Alabama Senator William Rufus DeVane King — for fifteen years.

The close relationship between Buchanan and King raised eyebrows even in their own time. Contemporaries referred to them as “Siamese twins”. Andrew Jackson called Buchanan and King “Aunt Fancy” and “Miss Nancy” respectively. President Polk’s law partner, Aaron Brown, went further, referring to King as “Mr. Buchanan’s wife”. The relationship between Buchanan and King was interrupted from time-to-time by each man’s foreign service (Buchanan as Minister to Russia during Jackson’s Presidency; King as Minister to France during Polk’s).

Unfortunately, the long letters that Buchanan and King wrote to each other throughout their lives are unable to explain their close relationship. After each man’s death, their nieces burned almost all of their correspondence with one another.

There are hints which further the mystery in the few pieces of correspondence between the two men that have survived. In 1844, President Tyler appointed King as the Minister to France and King wrote to Buchanan, “I am selfish enough to hope you will not be able to procure an associate who will cause you to feel no regret at our separation. For myself, I shall feel lonely in the midst of Paris, for here I shall have no Friend with whom I can commune as with my own thoughts.”

With King in Paris, Buchanan wrote an equally curious letter to a female friend of his in Washington, “I am now solitary and alone, having no companion in the house with me. I have gone a-wooing to several gentlemen, but have not succeeded with any one of them. I feel that it is not good for man to be alone; and should not be astonished to find myself married to some old maid who can nurse me when I am sick, provide good dinners for me when I am well, and not expect from me any very ardent or romantic affection.”

Whether or not Buchanan and King were truly homosexual will likely never be known. This much is true: In 1852, King was elected Vice President and died of tuberculosis in April 1853, 45 days after his inauguration. In 1856, Buchanan was elected President and served one term while his adopted niece, Harriet Lane, performed the duties of official White House hostess.

To this day, Buchanan and King are the only lifelong bachelors to ever serve as President or Vice President.

In researching some Presidential trivia, a friend mentioned that Buchanan never married because he was gay. Not that it matters at all, but now I'm curious if it's true.
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

You’re right, it doesn’t matter whether or not President Buchanan was gay, but for the historical record, we’d love to have a definitive answer.  Unfortunately, that’s never going to happen.  So, we have to use the evidence that we have and make our own personal conclusions.

I’ve answered this question in-depth before, so I’m just going to copy and paste that answer.  Since this a question that is asked frequently and a genuine mystery to historians, I, like many other historians, have looked at Buchanan’s life and have a personal opinion on the question. Personally, yes, I do think that James Buchanan was a homosexual.  Still, Buchanan has been dead for almost 145 years and contemporary opinions will always be speculation.  Here’s what I’ve previously written when asked about President Buchanan’s sexuality:

It is very difficult to say that this President or that President was gay or not without simply guessing or making baseless accusations.  My personal opinion is that it’s not our business to say that someone is or is not gay unless they choose to address it and make it our business.

It’s even more difficult to go back through history and say “so-and-so was obviously a homosexual because ___________”.  I mean, let’s be honest, the first five Presidents wore knee breeches, buckled shoes, and powdered wigs, so we’d already be overloaded with suspicion right there.

Without going too far and becoming gossipy and National Enquirer-ish, I will point out the evidence which some believe strongly suggests that James Buchanan, the 15th President of the United States, was homosexual. 

Buchanan was a lifelong bachelor — the only President to never marry.  Early in life, he had been engaged to Ann Coleman, the daughter of a wealthy Pennsylvania manufacturer who began worrying about rumors that Buchanan was marrying her for her money.  After a difficult period in their relationship, Coleman broke off the engagement in 1819 and died shortly thereafter, likely by suicide.  Buchanan was devastated by Coleman’s death and was shunned by Coleman’s family who blamed him for Ann’s demise.  At that time, Buchanan vowed to never marry and he retained Ann Coleman’s letters for the remainder of his life. 

It is possible that Buchanan was so devastated by the death of his first love that he couldn’t imagine spending his life with another woman.  However, that doesn’t explain why he spent so much of his life with another man.

In 19th Century Washington, D.C., it was not unusual for Members of Congress to room together in boarding houses while Congress was in session.  Many political deals were debated and decided in Washington’s boarding houses which were set up to appeal to a Congressman’s need for prepared meals and affordable housing.  Buchanan, however, was a fairly wealthy man for his age and time period.  The affordable housing that resulted from taking on a roommate wasn’t a necessity for Buchanan.  It was a choice.  And, instead of living with a variety of different colleagues over the years, Buchanan lived with one — Alabama Senator William Rufus DeVane King — for fifteen years.

The close relationship between Buchanan and King raised eyebrows even in their own time.  Contemporaries referred to them as “Siamese twins”.  Andrew Jackson called Buchanan and King “Aunt Fancy” and “Miss Nancy” respectively.  President Polk’s law partner, Aaron Brown, went further, referring to King as “Mr. Buchanan’s wife”.  The relationship between Buchanan and King was interrupted from time-to-time by each man’s foreign service (Buchanan as Minister to Russia during Jackson’s Presidency; King as Minister to France during Polk’s).

Unfortunately, the long letters that Buchanan and King wrote to each other throughout their lives are unable to explain their close relationship.  After each man’s death, their nieces burned almost all of their correspondence with one another.

There are hints which further the mystery in the few pieces of correspondence between the two men that have survived.  In 1844, President Tyler appointed King as the Minister to France and King wrote to Buchanan, “I am selfish enough to hope you will not be able to procure an associate who will cause you to feel no regret at our separation.  For myself, I shall feel lonely in the midst of Paris, for here I shall have no Friend with whom I can commune as with my own thoughts.

With King in Paris, Buchanan wrote an equally curious letter to a female friend of his in Washington, “I am now solitary and alone, having no companion in the house with me.  I have gone a-wooing to several gentlemen, but have not succeeded with any one of them.  I feel that it is not good for man to be alone; and should not be astonished to find myself married to some old maid who can nurse me when I am sick, provide good dinners for me when I am well, and not expect from me any very ardent or romantic affection.

Whether or not Buchanan and King were truly homosexual will likely never be known.  This much is true:  In 1852, King was elected Vice President and died of tuberculosis in April 1853, 45 days after his inauguration.  In 1856, Buchanan was elected President and served one term while his adopted niece, Harriet Lane, performed the duties of official White House hostess. 

To this day, Buchanan and King are the only lifelong bachelors to ever serve as President or Vice President.

Asker Anonymous Asks:
I have multiple questions, so this is just a heads up: Adding on to the questions allthekings asked, do you think it would be possible for someone to win an election in this day and age if they were not married? Do you think its possible for a gay person to win the presidency?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

I think that both scenarios you ask about are more of a possibility than something like a non-Christian or non-believer in the White House.  By no means do I think we’re going to see a gay President any time soon, but I definitely think that we would elect a gay President before we elected a Muslim President.

An unmarried candidate — and I’m going to use a male candidate in this hypothetical situation — would face a lot of scrutiny and would really have to prove that he isn’t a playboy because anyone that he smiled at in a bar would come out of the woodwork with something to say about him.  An unmarried candidate would also face a barrage of criticism from family values advocates for not being settled down and raising a family.  I can already hear the opposition: “If you haven’t been the man of the house, you can’t man the White House” and so on.  It wouldn’t be easy, but like I said, it would be easier than getting elected President if you weren’t Christian.

Wasn't Buchanan gay, too? or just asexual?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

I’ve answered this question before, so let’s just revisit my original answer.

Asker Anonymous Asks:
Was James Buchanan a homosexual, or was he just asexual?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

I’ve answered this question previously, so I’ll just copy and paste that answer:

First of all, this is all going to be speculation, so take my opinion about this subject very lightly.  Secondly, please understand that I am socially liberal, so I don’t care whether or not a President is gay or straight as long as he or she can do the job.

It is very difficult to say that this President or that President was gay or not without simply guessing or making baseless accusations.  My personal opinion is that it’s not our business to say that someone is or is not gay unless they choose to address it and make it our business.

It’s even more difficult to go back through history and say “so-and-so was obviously a homosexual because ___________”.  I mean, let’s be honest, the first five Presidents wore knee breeches, buckled shoes, and powdered wigs, so we’d already be overloaded with suspicion right there.

Without going too far and becoming gossipy and National Enquirer-ish, I will point out the evidence which some believe strongly suggests that James Buchanan, the 15th President of the United States, was homosexual. 

Buchanan was a lifelong bachelor — the only President to never marry.  Early in life, he had been engaged to Ann Coleman, the daughter of a wealthy Pennsylvania manufacturer who began worrying about rumors that Buchanan was marrying her for her money.  After a difficult period in their relationship, Coleman broke off the engagement in 1819 and died shortly thereafter, likely by suicide.  Buchanan was devastated by Coleman’s death and was shunned by Coleman’s family who blamed him for Ann’s demise.  At that time, Buchanan vowed to never marry and he retained Ann Coleman’s letters for the remainder of his life. 

It is possible that Buchanan was so devastated by the death of his first love that he couldn’t imagine spending his life with another woman.  However, that doesn’t explain why he spent so much of his life with another man.

In 19th Century Washington, D.C., it was not unusual for Members of Congress to room together in boarding houses while Congress was in session.  Many political deals were debated and decided in Washington’s boarding houses which were set up to appeal to a Congressman’s need for prepared meals and affordable housing.  Buchanan, however, was a fairly wealthy man for his age and time period.  The affordable housing that resulted from taking on a roommate wasn’t a necessity for Buchanan.  It was a choice.  And, instead of living with a variety of different colleagues over the years, Buchanan lived with one — Alabama Senator William Rufus DeVane King — for fifteen years.

The close relationship between Buchanan and King raised eyebrows even in their own time.  Contemporaries referred to them as “Siamese twins”.  Andrew Jackson called Buchanan and King “Aunt Fancy” and “Miss Nancy” respectively.  President Polk’s law partner, Aaron Brown, went further, referring to King as “Mr. Buchanan’s wife”.  The relationship between Buchanan and King was interrupted from time-to-time by each man’s foreign service (Buchanan as Minister to Russia during Jackson’s Presidency; King as Minister to France during Polk’s).

Unfortunately, the long letters that Buchanan and King wrote to each other throughout their lives are unable to explain their close relationship.  After each man’s death, their nieces burned almost all of their correspondence with one another.

There are hints which further the mystery in the few pieces of correspondence between the two men that have survived.  In 1844, President Tyler appointed King as the Minister to France and King wrote to Buchanan, “I am selfish enough to hope you will not be able to procure an associate who will cause you to feel no regret at our separation.  For myself, I shall feel lonely in the midst of Paris, for here I shall have no Friend with whom I can commune as with my own thoughts.

With King in Paris, Buchanan wrote an equally curious letter to a female friend of his in Washington, “I am now solitary and alone, having no companion in the house with me.  I have gone a-wooing to several gentlemen, but have not succeeded with any one of them.  I feel that it is not good for man to be alone; and should not be astonished to find myself married to some old maid who can nurse me when I am sick, provide good dinners for me when I am well, and not expect from me any very ardent or romantic affection.

Whether or not Buchanan and King were truly homosexual will likely never be known.  This much is true:  In 1852, King was elected Vice President and died of tuberculosis in April 1853, 45 days after his inauguration.  In 1856, Buchanan was elected President and served one term while his adopted niece, Harriet Lane, performed the duties of official White House hostess. 

To this day, Buchanan and King are the only lifelong bachelors to ever serve as President or Vice President.

Asker Anonymous Asks:
What will be broken first: the religion barrier or the sexuality barrier?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

I think it depends on which religious barrier it is.  I don’t see a Muslim being elected President anytime in the near or far future.  Our country just isn’t capable of doing that at this moment in history.  I’m not sure that the country is capable of electing a Jewish President at this point, either.  So, if we’re talking about that religious barrier, then I think we’d see an openly gay President prior to seeing a Muslim or Jewish President.

However, I could definitely see a President who classifies themselves as a “non-believer” (or something similar) prior to seeing an openly gay President.