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Saturday, April 7, 2012

Who Was America's First 'Gay' President?

Don't Ask Don't Tell:  The First Gay Occupant of the White House Was 
(Almost Certainly)
James Buchanan, Jr. (1791-1868)

James Buchanan, Jr. 15th President of the U.S.A.
 James Buchanan was the 15th President of the United States.  He was (and is) the only President from the state of Pennsylvania.  He was a lifelong bachelor.  

He was also our first "gay" President.

Although the terms "gay" or even "homosexual" did not exist at the time -- being relatively modern coinages -- we know that homosexuality is as old as the species, and that it finds a predictable statistical expression among all peoples, everywhere. 

It should not be surprising, then, to find that among the 44 men that Americans have elected President at least one of them was gay.

Buchanan was a well-to-do lawyer when he entered politics, first in Pennsylvania.  Later he was elected to the US House of Representatives and served four terms in that body.  In 1832 Andrew Jackson appointed him as Minister (Ambassador) to Russia.  From 1834 to 1845 he served as Senator.  In 1845 he was made Secretary of State by President Polk and held that office until 1849.  In 1853 he was appointed Minister to the Court of St. James (England) where he served until receiving the Democratic Party's nomination for the presidency in 1856.

He was elected in that year largely because he had been out of the country for so long, and had therefore not visibly participated in the political storm roiling the country in the lead up to the Civil War.  Rather like Mitt Romney today, his party considered him to be "electable." He was something of an unknown, and considered "neutral" on the terrible question of American slavery.  

In the end he was probably the worst President the country has ever elected (more later).

Buchanan had one matrimonial engagement, to the daughter of a wealthy Pennsylvanian. At the time there was much speculation that the engagement was a matter of Buchanan's interest in her wealth, or in her family's political clout.  It seems that they spent very little time together either before or after the wedding plans were announced. In 1819, after hearing unidentified "rumors" about Buchanan, they had a confrontation. The subject remains unknown but the woman immediately broke off the engagement.  A few days later she committed suicide by taking an overdose of laudanum (opium).  Her family blamed Buchanan for her death, and her father barred him from the funeral services.

Buchanan never again courted a woman.

For 15 years Buchanan shared a house in Washington with Rufus King, US Senator from Alabama and later (the only lifelong bachelor) Vice President of the US.

Rufus King

Buchanan and King were inseparable.  Andrew Jackson and others referred to King as "Miss Nancy" or as "Mrs. James Buchanan."  He was also called "Buchanan's Better Half" and "Aunt Fancy rigged out in her best clothes."  He was noted for "his fastidious habits and conspicuous intimacy" with James Buchanan.  The pair were also called "Siamese Twins" -- a slang term for homosexuals of the time.  It seems that they were quite open about their intimacy.  In 1844 when King left the country to become Ambassador to France, Buchanan was devastated.  He wrote to a 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. I feel that it is not good for man to be alone; and should not be astonished to find myself married to some old maid who can nurse me when I am sick provide good dinners for me when I am well, and not expect from me any very ardent or romantic affection.”

To King in Paris he wrote. plaintively,  “I am selfish enough to hope you will not be able to procure an associate who will cause you to feel no regret at our separation.”

In April, 1853 King died of tuberculosis only days after being sworn in as Vice President.  There is no record of Buchanan's reaction to King's death.

Buchanan seems to have courted no one, male or female, after this.  While he occupied the White House his niece Harriet Lane served as substitute First Lady.  He served one term as President, probably the most ineffectual the country has known.  He colluded with members of the Supreme Court in the Dred Scott decision, flailed helplessly as Southern states ceceded from the Union, and virtually destroyed the Democratic Party which remained emasculated for decades after his term.  He was replaced by President Abraham Lincoln in March, 1861.  Buchanan died at his estate called "Wheatland" in 1868, alone except for his servants.

Both Buchanan and King left instructions that their letters were to be destroyed after their deaths.  In each case dutiful neices performed the task by burning them.

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