James Buchanan, our 15th President, Served from 1857-1861
It’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything. Have you noticed? Well, a couple friends did and wondered why. The truth is, I haven’t felt much like writing lately. That is, until I checked out Lies Across America, What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong, by James W. Loewen. Published in 1999, I kept noticing the book referenced in other books I was reading, during my “dead president” fetish this spring. Granted, fetish may not be the right word to use here, but anything tying me to a TLC show is worth its weight in gold.
Once I read we already had our first gay president in 1857, I was mesmerized. It was known by many in Washington DC but without TMZ, word failed to spread. James Buchanan was quite open about his relationship with a male U.S. Senator from Alabama, who was later appointed minister of France. When his partner, William King, left for his post, the president wrote, “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 one of them”. Other references to Buchanan’s relationship with King were burned following his death.
Back then, gay partners were referred to as Siamese twins, Miss Nancy, and other non-PC terms. Quite simply, homosexuality was viewed as deviant behavior that should be punished and shamed. This is hardly news to anyone reading this blog. In fact, decades after Buchanan, the man who greatly sped the Allies ability to decipher Germany’s enigma codes (Alan Turing), was criminally charged for his sexuality. When given the choice of prison time or chemical castration, Turing chose the latter, which led to his suicide in 1954. Regardless of what Turing accomplished, he was a homosexual first and foremost in the eyes of Great Britain. Instead of being viewed as a man who saved countless lives and served his country, he was viewed as someone who made a dangerous and immoral “choice”. At least Buchanan was spared this sentence.
This is precisely why it’s important that history tells the story of people like Buchanan and Turing. When we don’t share the accomplishments of the LGBT community, we give the impression only “straight” members of society have contributed. If you visit James Buchanan’s former house in Lancaster, PA you will hear nothing about his relationship with King. In fact, when Loewen asked the docent specifically about Buchanan’s sexuality, he denied he was anything other than your regular straight guy watching ESPN. Well, there wasn’t ESPN yet, but I am pretty sure there was some guy thing Buchanan wasn’t into.
I am thankful I’ve had the opportunity to read Lies Across America. I’ve learned more about history in 2 weeks than I did throughout high school and college. I had no idea that so many places I’ve visited y, like Magnolia Plantation, Mount Vernon, Independence Hall, etc. had an agenda. Many of these places, along with sites and plaques throughout the U.S. tell us more about who sponsored them than what really happened. I will be talking more about this in future blogs because it’s important that the story is told. It’s time our historic sites tell us more about history and less about wallpaper and dishes.
Like my post? Let me know because I have self confidence issues. It started when my mother told me I am a really good cook, now.