Commentary

Was James Buchanan America’s first gay President?

The tours focus mainly on the mansion’s décor and activities that took place there during the later years of Buchanan’s life, he added. Wheatland also has about 45 volunteer tour guides, and to Clarke’s knowledge, none of the guides is openly gay.

“The volunteer guides who we train to share the history of James Buchanan’s life and times are directed to take a neutral stance regarding [his] sexual preference,” Clarke said.

But Clarke said he wouldn’t object if a volunteer offered a personal opinion that Buchanan was gay, if asked by a visitor. “When you have 50 minutes to take people through a nine-room house, there’s only so much you can discuss,” Clarke said. “But if the question is raised, the guide may express a personal opinion.”

Loewen said many historians rate Buchanan as one of the worst U.S. presidents. Buchanan was part of the pro-slavery wing of the Democratic Party, and corruption plagued his administration. But Loewen said those flaws shouldn’t discourage members of the LGBT community from acknowledging Buchanan’s status as a gay man.

“Lots of gay people have been exemplary,” he said. “Let’s look at Walt Whitman. For my money, he’s the best poet in the history of the country. But we also have to acknowledge the failures. If we only admit that really great people are gay, what kind of history is that? And how is that believable? It’s ridiculous. We have to tell it like it was.”

As a heterosexual male, Loewen added, he has no hidden agenda in outing Buchanan.

“I’m not gay,” Loewen said. “I don’t run around trying to find gay folks or black folks underneath every rock. But I’m not going to ignore clear evidence.”

Timothy Cwiek holds a bachelor of art degree in U.S. history from West Chester University. He has written for Philadelphia Gay News since the late 1970s. This article was first published on The Bilerico Project.

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