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Lincoln and Ann Rutledge - Printable Version

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RE: Lincoln and Ann Rutledge - LincolnMan - 08-01-2012 07:13 AM

If I'm coming to the correct conclusion about the Abe/Ann story, it seems that there is not enough evidence for it for scholars to be convinced. At the same time, scholars have not necessarily questioned other facets of Lincoln's life with the same scrutiny. Yet there is some evidence for the romance-in the testimonies of certain people. Tarbell and Sandburg sided with the testimonies and believed the romance to have happened. They potentially got eggs in their faces over the Minor affair. However, support of the affair having occurred has been strong with the public-so the story lives on. In the end, it still remains an open question, more or less. The account from the Democratic paper in 1862 is astounding. Who gave that report? The fact that it is related before Herndon carries a lot of weight-in my thinking.

RE: Lincoln and Ann Rutledge - RJNorton - 08-01-2012 07:58 AM

I am also very curious about that 1862 article. Could the writer have talked to Isaac Cogdal? Lincoln is purported to admitted his love for Ann to Cogdal early in 1861.

Not everyone agrees with Cogdal's account. Dr. Clarence A. Tripp, well-known for his book on Lincoln's sexuality, has written, "Clearly Cogdal and his entire testimony reeks of deliberate fraud..."

Article here.

RE: Lincoln and Ann Rutledge - LincolnMan - 08-01-2012 08:08 AM

Ah, Roger-you've "Tripped" us up! Tongue

RE: Lincoln and Ann Rutledge - Rob Wick - 08-01-2012 08:20 AM

I'm at work now, but when I get home (and have more time) I'll tell everyone about the discussion I had with the fellow who finished Tripp's book.


RE: Lincoln and Ann Rutledge - LincolnMan - 08-01-2012 08:33 AM


RE: Lincoln and Ann Rutledge - Rob Wick - 08-01-2012 06:51 PM

A few years back, I was frequenting a website hosted by a friend named Sam Wheeler, who was a Ph.D student of John Y. Simon and later taught at Southern Illinois University before becoming a researcher for the Papers of Abraham Lincoln Project. Sam received an e-mail from a Lewis Gannett (whose grandfather, also named Lewis Gannett, wrote book reviews for the New York Herald-Tribune) asking if he would like him to discuss C.A. Tripp's book The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln. After Tripp completed the manuscript, he died before it could be edited and published. Lewis was hired to finish the book. Sam, realizing what an opportunity it would be to have the man who completed one of the most talked about books of the day, immediately accepted.

Not a lot of people contributed to the discussion, which I think Gannett wanted to have in order to help promote the book. I did. Most of the time when I write a post on a website, I do it like I'm doing this one now, i.e, "on the fly." But with Gannett, I decided to write things out ahead of time so I could shape my answer more clearly. Unfortunately, I lost all but two of those posts when my computer was wiped out after a tornado came through the area where I was living.

To say I was skeptical of Tripp's claim was an understatement. However, I hadn't read the book. I decided that I owed it to Gannett, who is a very nice man, by the way, to read what I was arguing against. Before starting, however, I want to point out, as I did to Lewis, that I have absolutely no issues with homosexuality. I am a strong supporter of human rights for anyone. Their sexual orientation does not concern me.

That said, here is the first posting I made after beginning to read it.

Instead of waiting until I finish the book, I’ve decided to begin responding to what I’ve read (I’ve gotten through the first three chapters) and then let you respond to that. This way I can keep my response in some sort of organized and coherent manner and not end up with an unwieldy 50,000 word post. I’ve put the various comments under their own headings, starting with some general comments.


It seems unlikely that this book could have been published even 20 years ago. The main reason is that historiography has only recently accepted cultural history as a form of scholarship, at least in the academy. As Gordon Wood has noted in his The Purpose of the Past “Historians began delving into the most private, subjective, and least accessible aspects of the past, including marriage, sexual relations, and child abuse.” As is often stated, academic historians might have felt their work signaled a closer relationship to science, but such dry and technical works further divorced them from the general reading public, which has generally preferred a rousing narrative to what Wood refers to as “complex, technical, and specialized renditions of the past that fewer and fewer people were reading.” Cultural history, according to Woods, now dominates the profession. That includes so-called “gay history”, which as you well know I feel is non-existent.

As a “sex researcher” Tripp brings yet another tool to this hodge podge, although I have to question its validity, at least as presented by Tripp. Obviously, I am not a scientist, nor do I claim any special insight into something as esoteric as “sex research”. I can say, from my research, not everyone is as enamored with Tripp (or through him, with Alfred Kinsey) and his research methods. As Joan Flinspach pointed out in a Claremont Institute discussion on Tripp’s book “Tripp has applied the scientific method to history—presenting a theory or hypothesis first and then through research trying to prove it—and ends up cross-applying his scientific training to a field that demands a methodology that is completely foreign to him.” This whole attitude of “I am a sex researcher, therefore I am trained to see what you cannot” is, I have to say, insulting to the reader. Anyone can turn Lincoln into whatever they wish him to be if they control the parameters and the methodology. Kinsey’s scale has its critics (some more reasonable than others) but to act as if the scale (and its interpretations) are accepted in all quarters is wrong.

I also think that what I said earlier still applies. Tripp, because of his own homosexuality, wants Lincoln to be the same. Why not apply this test to other historic figures? Where did George Washington come in on the scale? How about Andrew Jackson? What of Stephen A .Douglas? Lincoln represents to most Americans the ultimate in not only what it means to be an American, but what it means to be respected and admired and dignified. Prove that his primary erotic response was homosexual, or at least try to prove it, and suddenly decades of oppression and opprobrium are no longer acceptable.


As I’ve already made several points as to why I think Tripp’s work is bad history, I want to focus on his use of Carl Sandburg, Margaret Leech and Ida Tarbell as early indicators that some historians saw evidence of homosexuality but either chose to ignore it or weren’t “sophisticated” enough to understand what they were seeing. As Sandburg is the most popular and well-known Lincoln biographer, I will focus on him.
Sandburg’s “streaks of lavender” quote is often hauled out as proof that he saw something there, as is his quote concerning “invisible companionships”. However, nowhere in Tripp’s work does it appear that he ever looked into the personal papers not only of Sandburg but of Leech or Tarbell to see if further evidence existed. While it might be possible that they chose not to write about something like alleged homosexuality in a public forum, it doesn’t stand to reason that they would be as circumspect in their private correspondence. After all, wouldn’t that type of information be something they would want to confide to someone, possibly as a “devil’s advocate” so as to confirm or prove false their suspicions?

Sandburg’s “streaks of lavender” appears in the Prairie Years in 1926. The etymology of the word shows its usage in the 1920s to mean effeminate, but it wasn’t used to denote homosexuality until the 1950s and 1960s. There certainly are many descriptions of Lincoln, but no one would seriously call him at any point in his life effeminate, which is a point that Tripp concedes. It’s more likely that Sandburg, using the poet’s brush, was trying to show that Lincoln and Speed’s relationship was based on kindness and compassion and understanding for the trials each man was going through. Not even any of Sandburg’s biographers mention the possibility that he saw evidence of a homosexual relationship between the two men, which I think if it had appeared in his letters would be a serious omission.

Tripp’s cry that “From the moment anything comes along with the possible power to destabilize large areas of Lincoln scholarship, it can be viewed as a major threat by historians who have invested much of the lives sifting and sorting conventional interpretations” is the familiar cry of those who believe a coterie of official court historians stand at the ready to block anything that doesn’t pass muster. It should tell you something that the ones who cry the loudest have been the likes of Thomas Di Lorenzo, Otto Eisenschiml and Ray Neff. It usually is a pretty good indication that their work and research is shoddy and based on half-truths and innuendo.


While I think it would be too strong a statement to say that Martin P. Johnson demolishes Tripp’s views concerning David V. Derickson, I think his interpretation in the Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association is a reasonable and well-though out response.

I don’t think it is right to refer to Thomas Chamberlin’s regimental history as a “scholarly book” because that makes it appear that it was written by a vocational historian using standard historical methodologies and practices. Most regimental histories were written several years after the fact by either colonels or other officers of the regiment and were written with a purpose in mind, i.e., to promote the regiment’s service (sometimes with little in common with the facts) and to provide another way for veterans to remember the greatest experience of their life. Not that a regimental history is always bad history (many are quite good and accurate), but to call them “scholarly” provides them with an imprimatur that can be misleading to the average reader. Tripp’s characterization of Chamberlin’s history as one more point of proof in the story is overblown. Attempts to show that Lincoln was trying to impress Derickson when they rode to General Henry Halleck’s headquarters seems silly, given that being President of the United States would normally be enough to impress any soldier. Tripp seems to think that Derickson had some type of special access to Lincoln, although anyone could see the President just about at anytime. Indeed, several Congressmen complained that Lincoln spent too much time seeing his constituents when government business needed done.

Another problem with the relationship comes with Derickson’s apparent reluctance to mention that he slept in Lincoln’s bed in an article he had written for his local newspaper. Why, if people of this time didn’t understand or know about homosexual behavior, would Derickson have found it necessary to omit certain references to his closeness with Lincoln? It seems that if people were as unaware as Tripp makes them out to be, such a reference would have gone a long way to puff up Derickson in the eyes of his fellow townsmen. In the end, the article is too full of qualifications and conjecture to prove any point.

Chapters two and three are full of the same conjecture and circumstantial evidence and quite honestly I don’t have the energy to pick apart each claim. It seems to me that what is only visible to a sex researcher may not be there at all, especially if no one else has ever seen the same things. Surely there were other sex researchers, or people familiar with the same studies that Tripp knew, who had an interest in Lincoln. Why hasn’t anyone ever brought out any of the same issues that Tripp exposes?


In all the posts so far, no one has mentioned Philip Nobile. Nobile, from my research, is certainly a gadfly, but that doesn’t make his characterization of Tripp’s work wrong. It seems pretty obvious that for someone to work as long as he did with Tripp to then come out and call the book “a fraud” is damning. While obviously Tripp is now incapable of suing Nobile, and I will admit that I would have liked to have seen more evidences of Nobile’s claims of plagiarism, his work is hard to discount. I would like to know your feelings about this (although I think I can guess what they are).

One of Gannett's hobby-horses was Lincoln's romance with Ann Rutledge. Both he and Tripp have written articles on this for the Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association. Here is what I wrote to Gannett.

Well, as promised, I finally have gone through all the relevant articles and passages concerning Ann Rutledge, including your article in JALA. With all due respect, neither Tripp nor your article made much difference in my opinions.
After careful consideration, I have to say that nothing has changed my view that 1) Lincoln and Ann had some type of romantic relationship and 2) even if they didn’t, it proves nothing toward Tripp’s thesis. The argument that scholars have accepted far less evidence concerning Lincoln’s relationship with Rutledge and yet are unwilling to even consider Tripp’s evidence concerning alleged homosexual behavior is fallacious. My main belief for this concerns a point that Tripp himself makes in the book. The majority of the population is heterosexual. To accept that Lincoln had a relationship with Ann Rutledge only requires the participant to accept a preponderance of the available evidence and nothing more! To accept that Lincoln’s erotic response was primarily homosexual and that Lincoln participated in such relationships throughout his life requires that the participant first believe Tripp’s circumstantial conjecture about early puberty or femoral intercourse among countless other pieces of alleged evidence that seems only visible to someone who has an obvious bias; that Lincoln had the opportunity to pursue these relationships without anyone becoming the wiser or even caring; that the other men in this scenario had the same type of erotic response that Lincoln supposedly had; and that despite the fact that nowhere has there ever been found any supportive physical evidence for homosexuality, one must deny physical evidence (apart from Ann Rutledge) that supports heterosexual encounters. In short, to accept the Lincoln as gay theory, one has to overcome far more hurdles than to accept that Lincoln loved Ann Rutledge. The burden of proof rests, as it should, with the accuser, especially when attempting to “prove” something which would put Lincoln in the statistical minority.
There is no doubt in my mind that Herndon used the Ann Rutledge story as a hammer against Mary Todd Lincoln. While that may make Herndon a bit sleazy, that doesn’t make the basics of the story wrong.
Tripp’s chapter on Ann Rutledge is basically a simple rehash of the arguments offered by J.G. Randall and Paul Angle. He really gives us no new evidence or argument that hasn’t been heard before.
Tripp’s insistence that Lincoln would never “have moved in on a friend” such as McNamar assumes that the two were indeed “friends” as opposed to mere acquaintances. In the Collected Works only two letters to McNamar are present, both of which refer to governmental business or taxes. While Lincoln refers to McNamar as “Mack” or “Friend McNamar” the tone of the letters (without any personal conversation) makes it highly unlikely that the two were close. Also, McNamar hadn’t been seen in New Salem for several years. Seems to me “all’s fair in love and war” applies here. Tripp overreaches in his argument that no engagement means no romance. One doesn’t follow the other. The lack of letters, while seemingly hard to understand, could be explained simply by the possibility that in his state of grief (which even McNamar reports he heard from two separate friends) Lincoln could have destroyed them. It’s also conceivable that the pair never wrote because they saw each other far more often than Lincoln did Mary Owens. If her death moved Lincoln to grief as much as the testimony indicates, it wouldn’t be unreasonable that he never wrote about her later. How often did he write about his mother or his sister?
As to Tripp’s assertion that “Lincoln also had a long history of falling into extreme depressions for lesser reasons, or indeed for no apparent reason at all” there are only two times when it was said that Lincoln’s depression could called “extreme”—shortly after Ann died and after the “fatal first”. Most other times, the “hypo” was melancholia, not extreme depression.
As to the testimony of Isaac Cogdal, one has to ask why would Cogdal lie? While Cogdal may have embellished parts of his story by romanticizing his own wording, John Y. Simon argues forcefully that such things that Randall picked up on (calling Lincoln “Abe”) wasn’t out of the question. Contrary to Tripp’s assertion that Simon, Douglas Wilson or Michael Burlingame “have failed to answer or to honor Randall’s case on Cogdal” Simon not only answered it, he demolished it.
As to Lincoln’s reticence to talk about personal matters, one other person did indeed ask him what could have been considered an embarrassing question, which Lincoln answered, albeit grudgingly. During the Civil War, an unnamed officer asked Lincoln about the duel he was to have with James Shields. Lincoln’s response was “I do not deny it, but if you desire my friendship you will never mention it again.” Lincoln was obviously reticent to talk about personal matters, but why wouldn’t he engage in conversation about New Salem with an old friend? And, if asked, why wouldn’t he remember with fondness someone he obviously knew? To call Cogdal’s testimony fraud seems unreasonably harsh.
In my opinion the most important piece of evidence is the Menard Axis story.
I find it telling that neither you nor Tripp mentions it (although Tripp did in his JALA article on Cogdal—why leave it out of the book?). For those not familiar with it, here is the information taken from Simon’s JALA article:
“The Ann Rutledge canon was augmented in 1944 by the rediscovery of an 1862 article by John Hill, a Democrat contemptuous of Lincoln, in the Menard Axis, a county newspaper so obscure that the article had previously gone unremarked. The son of New Salem merchant Samuel Hill, partner of McNamar, and rival for Ann's affections, Hill wrote scornfully of young Lincoln as a ‘love-sick swain.’”

He chanced to meet with a lady, who to him seemed lovely, angelic, and the height of perfection. Forgetful of all things else, he could think or dream of naught but her. His feelings he soon made her acquainted with, and was delighted with a reciprocation. This to him was perfect happiness; and with uneasy anxiety he awaited the arrival of the day when the twain should be made one flesh.—But that day was doomed never to arrive. Disease came upon this lovely beauty, and she sickened and died. The youth had wrapped his heart with her's, and this was more than he could bear. He saw her to her grave, and as the cold clods fell upon the coffin, he sincerely wished that he too had been enclosed within it. Melancholy came upon him; he was changed and sad. His friends detected strange conduct and a flighty immagination.—They placed him under guard for fear of his commiting suicide.—New circumstances changed his thoughts, and at length he partially forgot that which had for a time consumed his mind.

This is independent confirmation three years before Herndon saw it. It seems amazing that many of the details are there, although Ann’s name wasn’t.

Sorry Lewis, but Tripp still strikes out with me.

Our conversation was spirited and very lonely. We were the only two who posted for several days, until another gentleman came onto the board, but really didn't offer much to the discussion. Last I heard, Lewis was working on his Ph.D in history.


RE: Lincoln and Ann Rutledge - LincolnMan - 08-01-2012 08:45 PM

Rob. Your response to these matters was certainly worth waiting for. Thanks for your careful and well thought-out analysis!

RE: Lincoln and Ann Rutledge - Rob Wick - 08-10-2012 07:15 PM

I found this postcard in Tarbell's papers. Quite honestly, whoever drew this was, in my opinion, a terrible artist. Lincoln looks too effeminate and Ann looks like she wants to be anywhere except in Lincoln's presence, and honestly she reminds me of Deanna Durbin.


RE: Lincoln and Ann Rutledge - LincolnMan - 08-10-2012 07:17 PM

Rob: I have that same postcard in my personal collection-but it's in color.

RE: Lincoln and Ann Rutledge - Rob Wick - 08-10-2012 08:47 PM

What's your opinion of it?


RE: Lincoln and Ann Rutledge - LincolnMan - 08-11-2012 06:30 AM

It's an interesting portrayal of them both. Ann has bright yellow hair. I'm sure that no where in the literature is her hair color described. At any rate, she does look like some kind of Hollywood starlet. I notice also that her face is turned away from Lincoln. Almost stand-offish? Lincoln, on the other hand, seems to be transfixed on her. Can you blame him? Any woman looking like her in New Salem had to be rare indeed! He does look effeminate. So I wonder what the artist is trying to show? The heading on the card states that it is the "courtship." Well, that doesn't appear to be going so well. Maybe the message is that the relationship is doomed-since the card was made in the 20th century and the outcome of the courtship was history.

RE: Lincoln and Ann Rutledge - HerbS - 08-11-2012 10:35 AM

Rob,You explained the facts about a very sensitve issue about Lincoln very professionally!Every where I go,I get asked about Lincoln's sexuality.Excellent Job!

RE: Lincoln and Ann Rutledge - Thomas Thorne - 08-11-2012 10:40 AM

Great thread,Rob!!!

I believe the Ann Rutledge story but think the evidence does not permit us to say that Lincoln was subsequently incapable of forming loving attachments. I did not know of the 1862 Hill story. It is fascinating that Randall and co. demanded a higher standard of proof over Ann Rutledge than other events in Lincoln's early life.

Did Nicolay &Hay address the Ann Rutledge issue? We know they gave Robert Lincoln editorial control of their work and we know his sensitivities regarding the family background and history.

RE: Lincoln and Ann Rutledge - Rob Wick - 08-11-2012 01:26 PM

Tom and Herb,

Thanks both for the kind words.

Tom, while I find some references to the Rutledge family in Nicolay and Hay's book, nothing is mentioned about Ann, which, as you point out, would make sense given Robert Todd Lincoln's belief that Herndon made an ***** of himself by giving the lecture. I guess he figured that even trying to rebut it would give it more credence.

I think the reason Randall, et al demanded more proof is that it fit in with Randall's general distrust of reminisces and oral testimony, although there are some areas where that was all one had to work with. I would imagine that's why his four-volume history of Lincoln (it really isn't a biography in the classical sense) had so little on Lincoln's early days. And, of course, Ruth Painter Randall wrote the appendix on Ann, although I imagine it was in close proximity to her husband.


RE: Lincoln and Ann Rutledge - LincolnMan - 08-19-2012 06:15 AM

I am listening to the audio book Redeemer President by Allen C. Guelzo in my car. Guelzo relates that Lincoln and Isaac Cogdale had a conversation in which Lincoln's New Salem days are talked about. Guelzo says that Cogdale asked Lincoln if he had proposed to Ann Rutledge. He says Lincoln answered in the affirmative. Then Lincoln is alleged to have said that he always loved the name of Rutledge. Since this is an audio book I'm obviously not able to discover the source material for this conversation. I'm assuming it comes from Herndon?