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Lincoln's private life

From Brian Todd

Wolf Blitzer Reports
Abraham Lincoln

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- His public countenance is the indisputable part of Abraham Lincoln's legacy.

Exploring his private side is a more delicate business. Historians often disagree about his marriage and personal relationships.

A newly published book on the sexuality of the 16th American president represents a bitter divide.

"We need to have these kinds of perhaps unpopular views of a major American icon presented to the public," says Jean Baker, a professor at Goucher College and biographer of Mary Todd Lincoln.

In "The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln," author and sex researcher C.A. Tripp says that Lincoln had homosexual attachments -- emotional and physical -- throughout his life.

"He assumed going into his history that Lincoln was gay," says historian Philip Nobile.

Nobile, who worked on the book with Tripp, believes Lincoln had homosexual leanings, but quit the project and joined a host of writers who criticize Tripp's work.

"He was cooking the evidence. He was fabricating material. He was also suppressing important information about Lincoln's heterosexuality," Nobile says.

Lincoln was married to Mary Todd and shared four children.

Contacted by CNN, a spokesman for Tripp's publisher, Free Press, said the firm is "confident that the finished book reflects Tripp's ideas, as supported by his extensive research."

To bolster his argument, Tripp focuses on close friendships Lincoln had with four men, including store owner Joshua Speed, whom Lincoln shared a bed with for four years beginning in his late 20s and who later received letters from Lincoln signed "yours forever."

And during the Civil War, historians agree, the president slept in the same bed with Army captain and presidential bodyguard David Derickson at his summer retreat.

But prominent historians and Lincoln scholars CNN spoke to say it was very common for heterosexual men to share beds in the 1800s. Mattresses were expensive, private quarters were scarce and it was simply accepted practice.

Flowery prose was also commonly written by heterosexual men to other men.

They say there's no solid historical evidence to back it up.

Baker wrote the introduction to Tripp's book and believes the complexity of the man's life leaves open at least a possibility.

As for evidence, Baker says, "Unless you have a blue dress from the Gap with stains on it, how are you going to be able to argue any point about sexuality? I would perhaps say, in the language of today, that he was bisexual and that he was incidentally homosexual."

Tripp died in 2003, two weeks after finishing his manuscript.

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