America’s First Gay President
By, Charlie Williamson
We live in an age of great change. In 2009 we elected the first black president of the United States. In 2016 we have two women running for the White House. Many are wondering when we will have our first openly gay president. But, perhaps, that milestone has already been achieved. According to historian James W. Loewen, President James Buchanan (1857-1861) was America’s first openly gay president.
The idea of Buchanan’s homosexuality began to take hold after Loewen published his book Lies Across America in 1999. The book focuses on the inaccuracies, myths and lies that can be found at national landmarks and historical sites all across America. One such myth is that Buchanan was heterosexual. But what evidence is there to back up this accusation?
Gay rumors are nothing new and President Buchanan certainly is not the first president rumored to be gay. However, Loewen’s deep research into Buchanan’s personal life may just hold the key to the rainbow Oval Office. For starters, Buchanan was the only president to remain a lifelong bachelor—something that was extremely rare during the middle of the 19th century. During his time in office, his niece, Harriet Lane, performed the social duties of the First Lady and became a popular figure in her own right. While lifelong bachelordom doesn’t prove his homosexuality, his relationship with William Rufus King may be the most convincing piece of evidence in Loewen’s book.
King was a democratic senator from Alabama, Vice President under Buchanan’s predecessor, Franklin Pierce and, if Loewen is correct, Buchanan’s lover. The two men shared a home in Washington D.C. for ten years (yes, ten years) and were viewed by many as a couple. Aaron Brown, a prominent Democrat at the time referred to King as Buchanan’s “wife” and “better half.” Scandalous right?
The pair only ceased living together when King was appointed to serve as Minister to France in 1844. In a letter King wrote to Buchanan after leaving he stated, “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.” This was obviously upsetting for Buchanan. Buchanan later 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.” Loewen believes that though they separated, their relationship didn’t truly end until King’s death in 1853.
Although many view Buchanan’s presidency as one of the least successful in U.S. history, there’s something beautiful about the relationship he shared with King. While we may never know the truth about Buchanan’s sexual orientation, the evidence demonstrates that he and King were in a loving homosexual relationship—long before homosexuality became a word in the English language (1892) and LGBT rights became a political issue in presidential elections.