Tripp's Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln

NPR has a long excerpt from Tripp's Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln and the work is openly speculative - none of the false certainty, the "my way or the highway" attitude that Civil War authors love to dish out to their readers.

While Tripp was reading the primary sources paradigmatically (Lincoln = gay) he was still able to keep enough distance between himself and the paradigm to consider being wrong: "True, there is no way of knowing exactly what went on in their bedroom..." So it goes in this chapter, anyway.

This NPR excerpt (linked above) deals with the matter of Lincoln and the commander of his 1862/63 bodyguard David V. Derickson. (That matter was also recently covered here.) My personal criticism of Tripp's Derickson/Lincoln material, which is nicely collected and arranged, is that it describes a political - not romantic - seduction and that Tripp, like so many Lincoln and Civil War authors, has an extremely underdeveloped political sense.

Then again, my own paradigm may be politics.

Derickson was a Pennsylvania politician just nine years younger than Lincoln: he was canny enough to win federal patronage as an assessor, connected enough to then help raise a regiment and earn an elective captaincy, and influential enough to have his company assigned to guard the president himself. To borrow a little sexual terminology, Derickson was clearly a man on the make. And he was making it.

The typical Civil War history way of looking at Derickson would be to assume or imply he was "a soldier doing his duty," that some sort of meritocratic or lottery-like assignment of guard companies placed him in Lincoln's orbit, and that after eight months of enjoying Lincoln's personal attention, he went off to perform valuable military service for his country.

Now, politicians flatter and ingratiate themselves with people who can help them. After this so-called soldier Derickson had been "won" by Lincoln's flattering attention he was turned loose with a promotion and plush, highly competitive appointment to the local provost office in the political fields from which he came. Mission: work with local politicians to round-up draftees .... not exactly a full-time job, either. Not surprisingly, he rejoined state politics - while in uniform and as a Lincoln man - and won himself place as delegate to the 1864 Republican convention. He pledged to work hard for Lincoln. I would not be surprised if he helped distribute some Lincolnian patronage at the grass roots, as well.

Derickson bore the expected fruit of Lincoln's attentions; he followed a pattern easy to understand, immortalized with a thousand variations throughout Civil War history. Until we understand this to be *Civil* War, until we can say the words "quid pro quo" we are going to be making every possible error of interpretation in this little corner of the nonfiction world.

Meanwhile, a certain Professor Chesson endorses the gayness thesis in a very silly and speculative essay.

But Michael Burlingame gets right to the heart of the matter, justice to sources: "Dr. Tripp's dismissal of the testimony of more than two dozen informants in the case of Ann Rutledge contrasts sharply with his willingness to accept extremely scanty evidence..."

Finally, a hand-picked audience of ACW roundtable members recently listened to a panel of debunkers headed by Ed Bearss.