National Commentary

Nick Benton’s Gay Science No. 71: Gay Sensibility & the American Revolution, Pt. 2

It can’t be overstated how amazingly radical the core tenant underlying the American revolution actually was in its time.

The most important assumption associated with the male-dominated nuclear family was pronounced invalid as a premise for the governance of humankind’s affairs. An unprecedented rejection the notion of a monarch ruling through hereditary succession was at the very heart of what the revolution stood for.

Thomas Paine (1737-1809), in his incendiary pamphlet, “Common Sense” (1776), inflaming growing anger in the colonies against British rule at exactly the right moment, made this his most emphatic point.

Mankind’s affairs, he insisted, must not be governed by a monarch whose hereditary perpetuation inevitably generates offspring of inferior moral and intellectual powers to rule after him. To Paine, it was not some particularly egregious tax or other policy that was cause for grievance, but the notion of monarchy, itself.
Paine’s view was far more radical than many other U.S. Founding Fathers, who saw redressing oppressive policies as the primary cause for revolt but who were otherwise content to allow the monarchy to continue.

Paine and his allies were more universally visionary, harkening to a day when all people, regardless of color, gender or current social status, would be free and equal, able to choose their governmental representatives based on their merits and to develop and realize their full talents and potentials.

Tenuous as they remain, such notions are taken for granted today, even as we strive to extend them to the one remaining class of persons in this country still denied them – us. But they were hardly commonly held values on the eve of the American revolution.

It can be credibly argued that gay sensibility – an alternate sensual perspective inherent in our portion of humanity naturally erotically inclined toward the same sex – was an indispensable component in the overthrow of the very notion of monarchy. After all, even if virtually invisible, there were proportionately as many of us around then as now.

Straight men adhering to the privileges of their dominion over women and children were naturally loathe to call for the overthrow of the very system that had given them their advantage for eons. To them, monarchy was a lawful extension of their own vaunted male supremacy.

Those not centered on species reproduction and attendant nuclear families and territorial control would more likely consider a fundamentally alternative way of ordering mankind’s affairs. Thus, it was Plato (427-347 BC), author of “The Republic” (380 BC) and others of our tribe, who developed the earliest cogent concepts of how a republic, not tyranny, best serves humanity’s interest.

Gays, aligned with free-minded women, children, slaves and others abused by tyranny, were best inclined to push for more than petty reforms, but for a revolution against the monarchical system, itself.

There is no evidence that Thomas Paine was gay. He left his wife in England early in his life and never remarried through his exploits sparking both the American revolution and French revolutions. He assailed not only monarchy, but the institutional church that controlled people’s minds with religious superstition (“The Age of Reason,” 1795). Eventually too radical for almost everyone (Thomas Jefferson remained one of his few friends), only eight people attended his funeral.

But there is evidence that Paine’s revolutionary colleague Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804) was gay. The boyish Hamilton was passionately concerned for the plight of the racially and economically underprivileged, and he authored 51 of the “Federalist Papers,” the famous 85 essays published in newspapers between October 1787 and May 1788 that argued for the ratification of the U.S. Constitution.

Hamilton and his Federalist allies recognized the potential and importance in a wedding of reason rejecting superstition, anti-monarchical democratic values and organization, and the strength of a union of all the colonies.

Many letters, veritable love letters, from Hamilton to fellow radical abolitionist Col. John Laurens (1754-1782) exist. Laurens and Hamilton were both aides de camp under General Washington.

The beloved Laurens represented an interesting link between Hamilton and Paine. It was the same Laurens who paired up with Paine on a trip to France in 1781 to raise money for the American cause. (Laurens subsequently died in battle at age 27 in August 1782).

The first modern feminist, England’s Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797), author of “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman” (1792), was an ally of Paine.

There are other evidences linking intimate same-sex bonding and revolutionary pro-republican sentiment in that era. Alice A. Kuzniar in “Outing Goethe and His Age” (1996) cited plans by German poet Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805) to write a drama about same-sex love where “the love between/of/for men functions as a complete surrogate for the love of women, and indeed surpasses the latter in its effect.”

In his opera based on Schiller’s play “Don Carlos,” Italian composer Giuseppi Verdi in 1867 harkened to such a sentiment in the passionate duet between young idealistic freedom fighters Rodrigo and Don Carlos.

To be continued.