Kenneth (kensmind) wrote in polloftheday,

The Brokeback President

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Did President James Buchannan (pictured above) tell Senator Rufus King "I wish I could quit you"?

James Buchanan was the 15th President of the United States. He preceded Abraham Lincoln. Before that he was a Senator from Pennsylvania and later was Secretary of State in the cabinet of Jimmy Knox Polk. Buchanan was the only bachelor President, but of course that doesn't mean much except to simple minds. But some scholars speculate that Buchannan may have been the first gay man to sit in the oval office. (Perhaps Slick Willy wasn't the first to get a hummer in there after all).

According to historians John Seigenthaler (Polk's biographer), Phillip Schreiver Klein (Buchanan's biographer), Michael J. Birkner (another Buchanan biographer) and James Lowen, there is more to the theory than just speculation. In 1819, Buchanan was engaged to Anne Coleman, the daughter of a Philadelphia millionaire. The woman broke off the engagement after an "outburst of hysterics" according to Seigenthaler and died shortly thereafter, quite possibly a suicide according to Klein. (Her attending physician said that this was the first instance he had heard of where "hysteria produced death.") Wikipedia lists her cause of death as an overdose of laudanum, an opiate. Seigenthaler writes: "her parents would not allow Buchanan to attend the funeral and his letter of sympathy was returned unopened by her father. Buchanan swore never to marry in honour of her memory."

While in Washington, Buchanan's "room mate" was Alabama Senator Rufus King (who later became Vice-President under Franklin Pierce). Buchanan and King were rumoured to be lovers. For example, Tennessee Governor Aaron Brown was sent to Washington as an advance man for President-Elect Polk, and wrote Polk back, describing King as Buchanan's "better half" and as "Aunt Nancy." Although Buchanan was unmarried, Brown writes to Polk: "General Saunders, in the presence of Mr. Buchanan and his wife and some others, advanced the opinion that neither Mr. Calhoun nor Mr. Van Buren had any chance to be elected...and being asked by someone, who then can be, he forgot himself and said that Colonel Polk could run better than any man in the nation. This of course was highly indecorous toward Mrs. B."

Wikipedia reports that Buchanan himself once referred to King as "Aunt Nancy", Nancy being a derogatory term for homosexual men in the 19th century.

Historian Robert Remini writes that Henry Clay "rarely missed an opportunity to mock Senator Buchanan" when the two were in the senate. He writes of an occasion when Clay tells Buchanan, "in a soft feminine voice": "I wish I had a more lady-like manner of expressing myself".

In 1844, Polk appointed King as Ambassador to France. King wrote Buchanan telling him "I hope you will find no one to replace me in affection." Buchanan wrote to a female friend "I am now solitary and alone having no companion in the house with me. I have gone wooing to several gentlemen but have not succeeded with any of them."

Buchanan biographer Michael J. Birkner writes "what we know would not give even the most adventurous psycho-biographer much to go on." But it makes for interesting gossip.

Poll #960714 Buchannan

Based on the foregoing information, do you believe that President James Buchannan was gay?

I'm certain he was gay
He probably was gay
I'm not sure
He probably wasn't gay
I'm certain he wasn't gay
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