Lincoln, Sex, and the Scholars

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WORKS UNDER DISCUSSION


Team of Rivals
Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln
By Doris Kearns Goodwin
Simon & Schuster, 2005


We Are Lincoln Men“We Are Lincoln Men”: Abraham Lincoln and His Friends
By David Herbert Donald
Simon & Schuster, 2004

Lincoln’s Quest for UnionLincoln’s Quest for Union: Public and Private Meanings
By Charles B. Strozier
Basic Books, 1982

“Gay Abe?”
By Charles B. Strozier
Review of The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln by C. A. Tripp
Illinois Times, February 10, 2005

 

“I have heard him [Abraham Lincoln] say over & over again about sexual contact. ‘It is the harp of a thousand strings.’”
— Henry C. Whitney to William H. Herndon, June 23, 1887

 

IT IS A TRUISM that Abraham Lincoln was incompetent with women. Scholars emphasize that as a young man, his awkwardness and shyness and uncouth appearance so embarrassed him that he avoided their company. He botched the niceties of courtship, tripped over himself, was almost a laughingstock. Lincoln in his twenties attempted to court a woman named Mary Owens whose verdict is widely cited in Lincoln literature: he was “deficient in those little links which make up the chain of woman’s happiness.”

Indeed, the eminent scholar David Herbert Donald raises the possibility that Lincoln’s cluelessness with women denied him a sex life prior to his marriage to Mary Todd at the late age of 33. In “We Are Lincoln Men” Donald discusses Lincoln’s relationship with Joshua Speed, Lincoln’s four-year bedmate and by authoritative accounts his most intimate friend. Donald writes, “Both of these young men thought they wanted to marry, but they had forebodings, probably related to doubts about sexual adequacy. Charles Strozier, the psychohistorian, believes it is possible that both were virgins.”

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