Was America's Only Unmarried President Gay?

Evidence James Buchanan Was Homosexual

James Buchanan
National Archives/Getty Images News

There has never been an openly gay president of the United States, but some historians have argued the first and only bachelor president, James Buchanan, may have had feelings for a member of the same sex.

The nation's 15th president is the nation's only bachelor president. A lifelong bachelor, Buchanan had a very close relationship with William Rufus De Vane King, a diplomat who served as U.S. senator and the nation's 13th vice president.

King was the only vice president to never have been married.

Buchanan and King, in fact, lived together for more than two decades, although that was a relatively common practice in the 1800s.

Buchanan the Bachelor President

Historians who believe Buchanan and King were intimate often cite their contemporaries in Washington, who reportedly described King as being effeminate and called him "Miss Nancy" and Buchanan's "better half."

They also cite letters written by Buchanan about the man described as his soulmate. After King left the United States to become the minister to France, Buchanan 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."

Also, King showed his own affection for Buchanan at his departure by writing to him: "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."

Historians Claim Buchanan Was Gay

James Loewen, a prominent American sociologist and historian, has been the most outspoken academic who claims Buchanan was the first gay president.

"There can be no doubt that James Buchanan was gay, before, during, and after his four years in the White House," Loewen wrote in a 2012 essay. "Moreover, the nation knew it, too - he was not far into the closet. Today, I know no historian who has studied the matter and thinks Buchanan was heterosexual."

Loewen has argued that Buchanan's homosexuality is not often discussed in modern times because Americans do not want to believe society was more tolerant of gay relationships in the 19th Century than they are now.

Loewen does not explain, however, how or why a gay Buchanan had been engaged to a woman long before he became president. The woman, Ann Coleman, died and the two never wed.

Bachelor Presidential Candidate in 2016

The closest the nation has come to having a bachelor president after Buchanan was in the 2016 election when Republican U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina sought the party's presidential nomination. Graham's candidacy was short-lived, however. Had he been elected, however, he said he'd have a "rotating first lady."​

"Well, I've got a sister, she could play that role if necessary," Graham also joked.

Barack Obama as First Gay President

President Barack Obama has been described as being the first gay president, a symbolic label first used in a May 2012 Newsweek magazine headline.

The Democrat earned the label during his first term for his vocal support of gay marriage in May 2012, making him the the first president in U.S. history to take such a position.

Obama is married to Michelle Obama, and the couple has two daughters.

Newsweek Cover

Newsweek's editor, Tina Brown, explained the term and picture of Obama with a rainbow halo superimposed over his head this way:

"If President Clinton was the ‘first black president’ then Obama earns every stripe in that ‘gaylo’ with last week’s gay marriage proclamation," Brown told the online news site Politico. "Newsweek’s cover pays tribute to his newly ordained place in history."

Andrew Sullivan, who wrote the Newsweek story, pointed out that the claim was not meant to be taken literally. "It's obviously a play on Clinton being the first black president.

I am aware that James Buchanan (and maybe Abraham Lincoln) have been in the Oval Office before," Sullivan wrote.

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Murse, Tom. "Was America's Only Unmarried President Gay?" ThoughtCo, Jul. 9, 2017, thoughtco.com/americas-only-gay-president-3367940. Murse, Tom. (2017, July 9). Was America's Only Unmarried President Gay? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/americas-only-gay-president-3367940 Murse, Tom. "Was America's Only Unmarried President Gay?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/americas-only-gay-president-3367940 (accessed December 17, 2017).