There is a cliche that makes its way into almost every review of a new Lincoln book: "one wonders what can possibly be left to write about." (The cliche is persistent enough to appear twice on this one page of Amazon reviews!). This question is ritually invoked in a new Washington Times review of "Lincoln's Sanctuary: Abraham Lincoln and the Soldiers' Home" by Matthew Pinsker.
There are large matters to write about Lincoln that have hardly been covered at all. There is the matter of his dark side expressed in violent and abusive behavior, featured in a new book by Lincoln scholar Michael Burlingame. There is the matter of his rage attacks being pharmacologically induced, and his risky decision to stop medicating himself with antidepressants as the war got underway. There is the fascinating issue of his day-to-day management style, which has yet to be documented and has tremendous potential impact on how we view his management of the war as a whole.
Finally, there is the business of Lincoln's possible homosexuality, an ironclad fact to members of the Log Cabin Republican organization. The basis of the Gay Abe claims revolve around the excessive time spent the Soldier's home in the company of two young men, one of whom was repeatedly invited to share his bed.
I am not sure what Pinsker makes of this. The review suggests that he proposes this was a common arrangement at the time. Common, perhaps, in country inns; McClellan, for one, tells how he and Lincoln shared beds travelling the county court circuits before the war while on railroad business together. Necessity is implied.
In the Soldier's Home, the necessity is not clear, and so the behavior is strange; Lincoln had a cottage at his disposal. He often stayed there without his family. He stayed there so much I often wondered about it despite being fobbed off by biographies referring to the cooler air and the country charm.
What were his relations with Capt. David Derickson and Capt. Henry Crotzer? Why these evening together "when Mary was away"? I would put this into a much broader context than mere sex and say that despite the floods of Lincoln books, we do not understand the emotional basis of any of his important personal friendships.
Some readers will say that Lincoln's friendships, sexual or otherwise, make no difference to history. In fact, they may be key in trying to understand an historical figure. And no reasonable person who has waded the shallows of Lincoln lit can say "One wonders what can possibly be left to write about."