Abraham Lincoln had a male ‘roommate’ who he shared a bed with for years

Abraham Lincoln on a US dollar

It’s a question that has plagued historians and journalists for decades. Now, the perpetual debate has reared its head once again: was US President Abraham Lincoln gay?

Several of Lincoln’s biographies have alluded to him having same-sex relationships. Publications from Vanity Fair to The Guardian have discussed it at length. The subject of Abe’s sexuality even has its own Wikipedia page.

It seems that everyone is desperate to know whether Lincoln — ironically, the first Republican president — was actually gay. Now, the Internet has been reminded of one key detail from Abe’s younger years, and seems to have collectively come to a conclusion.

The discussion was reignited once again when journalist Alex Abad-Santos shared a snippet of a The New York Times article, which made reference to Abraham Lincoln and his lifelong “friend” Joshua Speed.

“Abraham Lincoln and his friend Joshua Speed, a Springfield, Ill., shopkeeper, had a rare intimacy,” the extract reads. “The two shared Speed’s bed for years in Springfield after Lincoln told Speed he couldn’t afford a mattress. Historians still debate the nature of this relationship.”

Abad-Santos shared the snippet along with the caption “Abraham Lincoln had a ‘roommate’”, making reference to the enduring meme where historians take evidently queer relationships and position them as simple friendships.

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Twitter users were quick to poke fun at the idea that Lincoln simply had no choice but to sleep with his male friend.

“The old ‘can’t afford a mattress’ line,” one person joked, while Abad-Santos added: “fwiw I haven’t been able to ‘afford a mattress’ for the last 22 years.”

Lincoln’s relationship with Joshua Speed has been debated since the early 20th century.

In one Lincoln biography published in 1926, author Carl Sandburg wrote that the pair’s relationship had “a streak of lavender, and spots soft as May violets”. The phrase was later understood to imply homosexuality. 

Speed isn’t the only special pal that Lincoln is rumoured to have spooned with. In his 20s, the former president spent time spooning his friend Billy Greene.

Greene seemed to be a fan of the arrangement, having allegedly said: “When one turned over the other had to do likewise… his thighs were as perfect as a human being could be.”

Other historians however have noted that it wasn’t ‘unusual’ for men to share a bed in the 1800s when no other option was available.

They also point to the fact that Lincoln had a wife and four children as evidence against his rumoured queerness, though most know this isn’t exactly a robust defence.

Despite Lincoln’s sexuality being explored intently over the past 100 years — including in a scientific paper — the debate rages on.

It’s likely we’ll never know if the seminal US president really did share a bed and “rare intimacy” with his friends simply because he couldn’t afford a mattress, rather than because he was, you know, gay.

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