National Commentary

Nick Benton’s Gay Science No. 72: Hamilton, Lincoln & the Varieties of Gay Loving

The novel, stunning insight into the connection between same-sex erotic affection and revolutions overthrowing tyranny is a central theme of these chapters. The most earth-shaking case was the American revolution, the unlikely result of a small alliance of European and colonial “Radical Enlightenment” proponents who advocated the overthrow of the very notion of the male-dominated family unit that justified monarchy and its right to “hereditary succession.”

Thomas Paine articulated exactly this in a pamphlet, “Common Sense,” that helped spark the revolution.

Among Paine’s close allies was Col. John Laurens, who accompanied Paine on a fundraising trip to Paris, and was a very significant love object of Alexander Hamilton.

Hamilton wrote the bulk of the Federalist Papers advocating ratification of the U.S. Constitution to “preserve the union” and founded, as the first U.S. Treasury Secretary, the Bank of the U.S. to finance the stability and domestic development of the U.S. His famous “Report on Manufactures” became the blueprint for the economic growth and sustainability of the world’s first major democracy for over a century.

Simply pronouncing Hamilton “gay” doesn’t work, however. It’s complicated, given his heterosexual affairs and many children. But for same-sex attracted persons to live complicated lives was common in those times.

For example, contemporary gays may find it hard to believe that same-sex attracted people did not commonly engage in sexual intercourse back then.

But, notwithstanding different times, coping mechanisms and ranges of allowed behaviors through the ages, it is safe to say that feelings of same-sex erotic arousal, ranging in intensity and mood from the “bathwater drinking” passion to more subtle varieties, has always been the same.

Not counting cases of rape, coercion, prostitution, impersonal bathhouse or t-room varieties of sex or orgies – constituting the bulk of historical records of same-sex encounters – intimate, affectionate and reciprocal erotic dimensions to sustained same-sex relationships are basically of three types, and always have been.

• The first is when one of the parties is erotically attracted to the other, and the relationship is intimate and emotionally reciprocal even through the other party does not share the same kind of erotic attraction and may be, in fact, straight. The straight party may or may not be aware of the friend’s erotic feelings. This kind of relationship makes up the vast majority of intimate same-sex relationships where erotic attraction is a factor.

• The second is when there is erotic reciprocity, far more common now than ever before, that is consummated by sexual intercourse.

• The third is when there is erotic reciprocity, but without a context, for any number of reasons, that permits sexual fulfillment or public expressions of affection.
All three types are legitimate and widespread, and are not circumscribed by age difference, masculine or feminine characteristics or any other factors. One or both of the parties in each of the cases often seeks to attain high degrees of exclusivity for the relationship.

In addition, there is a fourth form of same-sex reciprocal relationship involving persons, one or both, with same-sex erotic passions, but which are not factors in the relationship. These are non-sexual friendships that are keenly enhanced by one or both of the parties’ special capacity for same-sex empathy that introduces levels of care and consideration surpassing the garden variety usually-superficial and condition-related friendships among straights.

This fourth form is also very common, resulting in some of the most sustained same-sex friendships over lifetimes. It includes what can happen when the erotic passions at play in the other three options fade. It can also apply as gay empathy, or “simpatico,” finds affection for genuine spirits regardless of gender or sexual orientation, and among “posses,” cliques or circles of gay friends.

Heightened empathy usually makes gays – those not jaded or ground down by their own cynicism – very good employers and collaborators in the workplace. It is a quality that has a strong aversion to cruelty and injustice.

How Hamilton best fits or rides along this spectrum of same-sex erotic and affectionate passions, such was how he was gay.

Likewise for Abraham Lincoln, who like Hamilton, married and had children. Lincoln had a same-sex relationship with Joshua Fry Speed, with whom he shared a bed for four years, 1837 to 1841 (long before becoming president).

As Hamilton wrote love letters to Laurens, Lincoln wrote them to Speed, saying “You know my desire to befriend you is everlasting.” Lincoln biographer Carl Sandburg declared each had “a streak of lavender and spots as soft as May violets” for the other.

As Hamilton in his Federalist Papers, Lincoln took up the cause to “preserve the union” in the Civil War. As Hamilton was fiercely anti-slavery, Lincoln became the “Great Emancipator” by signing the Emancipation Proclamation.

Both men were passionate same-sex lovers, and champions to the death of sustainable justice and democracy. To the death, indeed. Both died prematurely from gun shots wounds inflicted by enemies.

To be continued.