Abraham Lincoln’s sexuality & the scarcity of beds in the 1840s

Homophobic historians exist to deny the glorious story of queer culture. They do not want the tale to be told. They will grab onto any argument, however specious, to deny the queer sexuality of famous figures in history, especially if those figures are the icons of nation states.  

Perhaps the single most preposterous contention advanced by homophobic historians to deny the queer sexuality of some prominent person in history is the bed scarcity argument. 

It goes like this: Back in the old days, beds were in such scarce supply, that men often slept together as a matter of practical necessity. Sex had nothing whatsoever to do with it. 

This argument is most frequently employed to deny the allegation that Abraham Lincoln was homosexual because he slept in a double bed with his friend Joshua Speed. 

Here’s the story: In the spring of 1837, when Lincoln was 28, he moved to Springfield, the new state capitol of Illinois, to begin a law practice there. On the day he arrived, he walked into Joshua Speed’s dry goods store, requesting supplies for a bed. (Speed was 23 and a cutie pie.) 

Speed said the cost would be seventeen dollars, which ended up being too pricey for the visitor, who asked instead for credit until Christmas. Speed was nonetheless taken with this stranger; he “threw such charm around him” and betrayed a “perfect naturalness.”

Speed spontaneously said he had a large room upstairs above the store and a double bed he was happy to share. Without a word, Lincoln picked up saddlebags that contained his life’s possessions and walked upstairs. He came back down and said, with a big smile, “Well, Speed, I’m moved.” 

Now, here’s the thing: Abe and Joshua slept together not for a week, not for a month, but for four years, from 1837 to 1841. And they became each other’s most intimate friend — a friendship that lasted throughout their lifetimes. 

Okay, now, let’s get down to brass tacks. Let’s address the bed scarcity argument. 

Though Lincoln arrived in town penniless, he was a shrewd, brilliant lawyer whose career took off instantly, and soon he had more work than he could handle. By 1840, it’s estimated that his income, both as a lawyer and as state legislator, was as much as $2,500 —  which today would be the equivalent of $83,000. Not bad.

Clearly, if Lincoln had wanted to, he could have bought a home of his own, Certainly, he could have bought himself a bed. Beds couldn’t have been that scarce! But the bed sharing continued until the spring of 1841 when Speed was called home to Kentucky to assume control of his late father’s large estate.

Lincoln wrote a remarkable series of letters to Speed, one including this passionate declaration: “You know my desire to befriend you is everlasting. That will never cease, while I know how to do any thing.”

Read more about Lincoln, Speed, and others in my new book QUEERS & CIVILIZATION: How Sexual Diversity Enlivens, Enriches and Elevates Society, available now at Amazon, as a paperbackeBook or special Pride all-color version of the book. Read the synopsis and early reviews of the book so far. Please let me know what you think of it. Thanks.

— Byron

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