If you think that the title is a typo or error, you are mistaken. President Obama may be the first president to openly support gay marriage, but what many Americans don't realize is that America has already elected its first gay president -- at least that's what many scholars and historians, including me, believe.
Considering I was born and raised in New Jersey, I am very familiar with politicians who secretly lead double lives. For example, a few years back, Jim McGreevey, a popular governor who was married with children, was exposed by a male former lover and then publicly came out as gay. In the past and present, men (and even some women) have felt the need to conceal their sexuality in order to maintain specific images in their professions. I also have to imagine that gay athletes feel that they have no choice but to conceal their sexuality until they are retired, out of fear that, if their teammates and team owners found out, they would be completely ostracized. Though politicians do not have nearly the same alpha image as athletes, they still feel the need to present the "traditional" family image in order to gain votes and win elections.
With American sentiment slowly but surely shifting in favor of same-sex marriage, many Americans may begin to call for a gay presidential candidate. However, what they don't realize is that many historians already believe we have had a gay president, and I am not referring to Abraham Lincoln, who was known to share his bed with men, especially his dear friend Joshua Speed. Nor am I referring to President Chester A. Arthur, who earned the nickname "Elegant Arthur" for his exquisite taste in décor and fine clothes, which included nearly 80 pairs of pants. Additionally, even though Bill Clinton definitely seems to be the experimental type, we have no proof that he had any "relations" with male interns. The president to whom I am referring is James "The Bachelor President" Buchanan, who was the 15th president of the United States, from 1857 to 1861, and preceded "Honest Abe."
Buchanan didn't receive the stigma of being the first gay president, simply because he remains the only president in American history to never marry. He was engaged to the daughter of one of the wealthiest men in Pennsylvania, but she broke off their engagement for unknown reasons and died shortly thereafter, from an illness. Nevertheless, speculations of homosexuality followed Buchanan throughout his presidency, mainly due to his relationship with William Rufus King. While still in Congress, Buchanan and King began a lifelong "bromance." Buchanan and King lived together for 15 years prior to Buchanan's presidency. Their intense friendship earned them the nicknames "Miss Nancy and Aunt Fancy" and even "Buchanan and his wife" in various political circles, which included Andrew Jackson.
In 1844, when King left Buchanan to attend to his duties as Minister to France (the naming of King to this position did not help his heterosexual image), Buchanan wrote to friend, "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." In Buchanan's defense, men of his era spoke and wrote very differently from men of today. I have read numerous letters from George Washington to his aide from France, Marquis de Lafayette, and in a modern context every one of them can be interpreted as suggesting much more than a mere friendship. Even so, lines like the ones from Buchanan's letter have led many contemporary historians to question Buchanan and King's relationship, and his sexuality.
Whether Buchanan and King were an actual couple or just had America's first political "bromance" is still a matter of debate. However, their letters to each other during their time apart must have been damaging to their political legacies, because the two men's nieces destroyed them all. We may never know whether James Buchanan was the first gay president in American history, but it's safe to say that he enjoyed his guy time much more than he did flirting with and courting the ladies.
O'Brien, Cormac. Secrets Lives of the U.S. Presidents. Philadelphia: Quirk Publishing, 2004. Print.
Klein, Philip S. President James Buchanan: A Biography. Newtown, Connecticut: American Political Biography Press, 1995. Print.
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