James Buchanan is often considered to be the first (and only so far?) gay American president. The major piece of evidence for this (at least according to wikipedia and some popular articles on this I've read) is that he shared a house for 15 years with a fellow politican and spoke of their friendship in very sentimental terms:

I am now 'solitary and alone', having no companion in the house with me. 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 [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.

However, I am not sure this is very conclusive. Which prompts my question: how widespread was the phenomenon of heterosexual men sharing a house for a long time at that time and place? Were Buchanan and King a singular pair (and thus, most likely a couple) or were there many others?

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    Sherlock and Watson! (It's London, but the timeframe is 'almost' right)
    – soliloquyy
    Jan 15, 2013 at 9:46
  • @soliloquyy: I thought about them too, but there might be a world of a difference between 1850s Washington ans 1890s London. Still - nice one :) Jan 15, 2013 at 10:18
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    This just in: Sherlock Holmes Widely Considered the First Gay Detective!
    – kubanczyk
    Jan 15, 2013 at 12:06
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    @DVK: But there was also a period when he lived with Holmes on Baker Street. Jan 15, 2013 at 15:19
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    Holmes and Watson slept in different beds and different rooms.
    – ruffdove
    Oct 21, 2020 at 0:02

1 Answer 1


My own reading has left me at believing that this (Buchanan's special longing apart) was fairly common in North America in the 19th century. E.g. Joshua Wolf Shenk's biography Lincoln's Melancholy contains this passage:

Not only families but strangers at inns and soldiers in the filed often slept snugly against each other. Bed-sharing, in other words, was about a common as, and indeed was very similar to, the way that people today share apartments.

It appears in the context of narrating that Abraham Lincoln and his intimate friend Joshua Fry Speed for some time even shared a bed, and whether this may indicate that Lincoln may have had a homosexual relationship. (The author thinks that the question admits no definite proof in either direction.)

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    Okay, bed-sharing in an inn is clear. But how about sharing a house for a protracted period? Note also that I limited the question to upper-class people who presumably could afford financially not to share accommodation. Re:Lincoln, good point, thanks! Jan 15, 2013 at 23:16
  • Fair enough. My gut feeling from the material at hand is that Buchanan was indeed homosexual, and that same-sex room/flat (sometimes bed) sharing was common among the middle/lower classes, because resources were sparse and women in the provinces were few. (Lincoln's and Speed's arrangement was certainly/also due to Lincoln's restricted means at the time. Speed was a general store owner in Springfield.) Just my 2 cents ...
    – Drux
    Jan 15, 2013 at 23:34

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