Harvey Wasserman : Our Gay Commander-in-Chief

President James Buchanan. Image from Encyclopedia Dickensonia.

‘Mister Fancy’ James Buchanan:
Our gay Commander-in-Chief

By Harvey Wasserman / The Rag Blog / December 20, 2010

As “conservatives” scream and yell about gays in the military, they might remember that in all likelihood we have already had a gay Commander-in-Chief.

His name was James Buchanan. He was the 15th President of the United States.

A Democrat from Pennsylvania, Buchanan is discreetly referred to in official texts as “our only bachelor president.”

In fact, many historians believe that he may well have been “married” to William Rufus King, a pro-slavery Democrat from Alabama who was our only bachelor Vice President.

The two men lived together for years. Andrew Jackson, never one to shy from bullhorn bigotry, was among those who variously referred to them as “Aunt Nancy” and “Mr. Fancy.” Other Washington wags called them “Mr. and Mrs. Buchanan,” and the like.

The nature of their relationship was never officially confirmed or proclaimed in public. They were widely referred to as “Siamese twins,” slang at the time for a gay couple. But there was no incriminating gap dress or heartfelt double-ring ceremony, civil or otherwise. It was not uncommon at the time for men and women of the same gender to live together and even share a bed while remaining sexually uninvolved.

Buchanan was once engaged to marry a wealthy young woman named Ann Coleman. But the complex affair ended with her mysterious, untimely death. When King became ambassador to France in 1844, Buchanan complained that “I have gone wooing to several gentlemen, but have not succeeded with any of them.”

With no Moral Majority or Bible thumping fundamentalists to plague them, the King-Buchanan liaison was generally embraced as a political and personal fact of life in a nation consumed with real issues of life and death, freedom and slavery.

In 1852 King was elected as Franklin Pierce’s Vice President. But on an official mission, King contracted a fever and died, leaving Buchanan alone and deeply distraught.

In 1856, Buchanan defeated John C. Fremont, the first presidential candidate from the new Republican Party. Buchanan did not run for reelection in 1860, when Abraham Lincoln was the victor.

Buchanan’s presidency was plagued by economic and sectional disaster. He was a “doughface” northerner with sympathies for southern slavery. Devoted to consensus and compromise, he was swept away by the intense polarization that led to Civil War.

Through his entire time in the White House, President Buchanan lived alone. His niece served as “First Lady.” He stayed unmarried, and had his personal letters burned upon his death, prompting further speculation on his sexual orientation.

Maybe it’s time those legislators who have been so fiercely opposed to gays in the military face the high likelihood that at least one Commander in Chief would probably be among them.

[Harvey Wasserman’s History of the United States S is at www.harveywasserman.com, along with Passions of the Potsmoking Patriots “Thomas Paine,” which portrays George Washington as a gay potsmoker.]

The Rag Blog

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3 Responses to Harvey Wasserman : Our Gay Commander-in-Chief

  1. Kind of like the flapdoodle over Queen Bess 2 naming a gay bishop as Archbishop of Canterbury, and the (also Episcopal) United Methodist Church ordaining openly gay ministers.

    But the Kings of England, since the founding of the Church of England (Episcopal, Methodist) have had a gay old time and not very discretely, George 1st was probably not the father of George 2nd and George 3rd probably died of syphilis.
    Two of the Kings of England had the surname “The Bastard” including William the Conqueror, Henry the 8th with his lovely sprees of Adultery and Murder…
    Which, speaking of Murder, every king or queen of England has added to the torrent of blood on their delicate hands.

    Jack the Ripper is, according to theories, likely a prince who had a shot at the British Throne.

    None of the people whining about gay preachers will bring this up in a debate and if you do you’ll likely be screamed at.

  2. Brother Jonah says:

    And yes, I do know that William The Bastard was way before protestantism in general and Episcopal in particular.
    He’s just a nice example.

  3. Markin says:

    Markin comment:

    This article makes an interesting presentation on the question of Buchanan’s “gayness,” although there was also some to-do about his successor, Abraham Lincoln’s like “condition” a few years back, as well. However, and let’s keep our eyes on the prize here, whether Buchanan is a candidate for what W.H. Auden called the “Homintern” or not, he has much to answer for from history, from our left-wing, pro-Unionist, anti-slavery history, in letting the on-coming Southern Confederacy take wing in the period before Abraham Lincoln took office. There is a very good reason why he is almost universally rated at the bottom of the list for presidential efficacy, and it has nothing to do with his sexual orientation.

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