Commentary

Was James Buchanan America’s first gay President?

In 1844, when King was appointed minister to France, he wrote Buchanan, “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.”

Loewen also said a letter Buchanan wrote to a friend after King went to France shows the depth of his feeling for King.

“I am now solitary and alone, having no companion in the house with me,” Buchanan wrote. “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 said their relationship — though interrupted due to foreign-service obligations — ended only with King’s death in 1853.

In the late 1990s, Loewen visited Wheatland, the mansion in Lancaster, Pa., where Buchanan spent his later years. Loewen said he asked a staffer at Wheatland if Buchanan was gay, and the reply was: “He most definitely was not.”

Loewen said the staffer pointed to a portrait of Ann Coleman, the daughter of a wealthy iron maker, whom Buchanan was engaged to briefly 1819 — shortly before she committed suicide.

However, Loewen scoffed at the staffer’s suggestion that the brief engagement to Coleman proved Buchanan was heterosexual. Loewen said Buchanan showed little interest in Coleman, appeared more interested in her fortune, and possibly contributed to her suicide due to his emotional detachment.

Patrick Clarke, the director of Wheatland, said the staff now takes a neutral stance on Buchanan’s sexual or affectional preference.

“There’s no solid proof that Buchanan was heterosexual, nor is there solid proof that he was homosexual,” Clarke said. “If we ever come up with a smoking gun that proves it one way or the other, I would definitely encourage our staff to share it with the public.” But, he said Ann Coleman’s portrait no longer is displayed at Wheatland.

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