Newsweek is going to have to run a correction after its cover story this week proclaimed Barack Obama to be the nation's first gay president.
Yes, I know ..... they are playing off the whole "Bill Clinton was the first black president" thing and they don't mean it literally.
At least with Clinton there clearly was no occupant of the Oval office before him who had been black, so he could be the first, even if only in an honorary capacity.
But Obama was beaten to the title by about 150 years by a guy named James Buchanan.
While in Washington, Buchanan's "room mate" was Senator Rufus King. The two men were virtually inseparable and were rumored to be lovers.They shared a house and a bedroom (this apparently was not uncommon for the time.) Many openly wrote and spoke this accusation. For example, Tennessee Governor Aaron Brown was sent to Washington as an advance man for President-Elect Polk, and wrote Polk back, describing King as Buchanan's "better half" and as "Aunt Nancy" (a derogatory term for homosexuals). Although Buchanan was unmarried, Brown writes to Polk: "General Saunders, in the presence of Mr. Buchanan and his wife and some others, advanced the opinion that neither Mr. Calhoun nor Mr. Van Buren had any chance to be elected...and being asked by someone, who then can be, he forgot himself and said that Colonel Polk could run better than any man in the nation. This of course was highly indecorous toward Mrs. B." Former President Andrew Jackson would also refer to Rufus King as "Miss Nancy" and "Aunt Fancy", both being derogatory terms for gay men in the 19th century.
Of course, back then you just didn't acknowledge such things, even in the face of people openly gossiping about it. So it will always be a matter of some speculation as to Buchanan's sexual preferences, especially since his nieces and King's nieces destroyed much of their correspondence after they died.
In fact, such things were not acknowledged even when attempts to at least appear to be heterosexual went very, very badly:
In 1819, Buchanan was engaged to Anne Coleman, the daughter of a Philadelphia millionaire. She broke off the engagement after an "outburst of hysterics" according to historian John Seigenthaler. There was some speculation that Buchanan was only marrying her for her money, and the bride-to-be's awareness of this may have been what caused her to call off the nuptials. Coleman died shortly thereafter, quite possibly a suicide according to Philip Klein, one of Buchanan's biographers. Her attending physician said that this was the first instance he had heard of where "hysteria produced death." The physician's records list her cause of death as an overdose of laudanum, an opiate. Seigenthaler writes: "her parents would not allow Buchanan to attend the funeral and his letter of sympathy was returned unopened by her father. Buchanan swore never to marry in honor of her memory."
Buchanan certainly left quite an impression.
He left an especially big impression with Rufus King.
In 1844, President Polk appointed King as Ambassador to France. King wrote Buchanan telling him "I hope you will find no one to replace me in affection." Buchanan later wrote to a female friend, a Mrs. Roosevelt, that "I am now solitary and alone having no companion in the house with me. I have gone wooing to several gentlemen but have not succeeded with any of them. I feel that it is not good for man to be alone, and I 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."
That was back when people still wrote letters instead of sexting.
King is an interesting story himself.
He holds the distinction of being the only person from Alabama to be elected as either president or vice president. King was Franklin Pierce's vice president, but he didn't get to serve very long.
King was in poor health with tuberculosis after the 1852 election and moved to Cuba to be in a warmer climate. In fact, he was even allowed to take the oath of office as vice president while he was living in Cuba.
Just imagine the heads that would explode all over Alabama today if one of the state's senators declared that he was gay and that he was moving to Cuba because of the health care he could get there.
Poor Rufus never did get the chance to be America's first gay president, however. He died in April 1853.