Our Terrible First Gay President

Well, you learn something new every day: I accidentally hit on a link at Salon, and found myself reading a May 2012 piece by sociologist and historian Jim Loewen and discovered there is a tremendous amount of evidence that the 15th president of the United States, James Buchanan, was gay.

Loewen treats the rather widespread ignorance of this fact as symptomatic of a “buried history” of the United States motivated in no small part by a belief in ineluctable progress. But I’d say there may be another factor at work in this particular case. At a time when progress towards LGBT equality is making large strides, who would want to reclaim James Buchanan as a unheralded pioneer? The main historical debate about the Pennsylvania Democrat who sat fecklessly as the nation drifted towards a Civil War is whether he or the scandal-ridden Warren Harding was the worst president ever (yes, I know giving George W. Bush that accolade was a lefty blogospheric meme a few years ago, but historians so far don’t agree). It’s hard to imagine anyone carrying banners of him in a Pride march, and I’m sure the next gay president will do better.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.