Farmington Historic Home, 3033 Bardstown Rd, Louisville, KY 40205
Cave Hill Cemetery, 701 Baxter Ave, Louisville, KY 40204, Stati Uniti
Joshua Fry Speed (November 14, 1814 – May 29, 1882) was a close friend of Abraham Lincoln from his days in Springfield, Illinois, where Speed was a partner in a general store. Later, Speed was a farmer and a real estate investor in Kentucky, and also served one term in the Kentucky House of Representatives in 1848.
Speed had heard the young Lincoln speak on the stump when Lincoln was running for election to the Illinois legislature. On April 15, 1837, Lincoln arrived at Springfield, the new state capital, in order to seek his fortune as a young lawyer whereupon he met Joshua Speed. Lincoln sublet Joshua's apartment above Speed's store becoming his roommate and his lifelong best friend.
On March 30, 1840, Judge John Speed died. Joshua announced plans to sell his store and return to his parent's large plantation house, Farmington, near Louisville, Kentucky. Lincoln, though notoriously awkward and shy around women, was at the time engaged to Mary Todd, a vivacious, if temperamental, society girl, also from Kentucky. As the dates approached for both Speed's departure and Lincoln's own marriage, Lincoln broke the engagement on the planned day of the wedding (January 1, 1841). Speed departed as planned soon after, leaving Lincoln mired in depression and guilt.
Seven months later, in July 1841, Lincoln, still depressed, decided to visit Speed in Kentucky. Speed welcomed Lincoln to his paternal house where the latter spent a month regaining his perspective and his health. During his stay in Farmington, Lincoln rode into Louisville almost daily to discuss legal matters of the day with attorney James Speed, Joshua's older brother. James Speed lent Lincoln books from his law library.
Joshua Speed and Lincoln disagreed over slavery, especially Speed's argument that Northerners should not care. In 1855, Lincoln wrote to Speed:
You know I dislike slavery; and you fully admit the abstract wrong of it. ... I also acknowledge your rights and my obligations, under the constitution, in regard to your slaves. I confess I hate to see the poor creatures hunted down, and caught, and carried back to their stripes, and unrewarded toils; but I bite my lip and keep quiet. In 1841 you and I had together a tedious low-water trip, on a Steam Boat from Louisville to St. Louis. You may remember, as I well do, that from Louisville to the mouth of the Ohio, there were, on board, ten or a dozen slaves, shackled together with irons. That sight was a continued torment to me; and I see something like it every time I touch the Ohio, or any other slave-border. It is hardly fair for you to assume, that I have no interest in a thing which has, and continually exercises, the power of making me miserable. You ought rather to appreciate how much the great body of the Northern people do crucify their feelings ...
Lincoln, during his presidential administration (March 4, 1861 – April 15, 1865), several times offered Speed a government appointment. Speed refused each time, choosing to help in other ways. Speed disagreed with Lincoln on the slavery question but remained loyal, and coordinated Union activities in Kentucky during the American Civil War. His brother, James Speed, however, served as Lincoln's United States Attorney General beginning in November 1864. In explaining the nomination to Congress, Lincoln acknowledged that he did not know James as well as he knew Joshua.
Joshua Speed died on May 29, 1882, in Louisville, Kentucky. He is interred in Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville. His family's estate, Farmington, is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and while the farm is substantially reduced in size, the house has been restored and has become a local event venue, and the focus of living history events.
In 1999, author and gay activist Larry Kramer claimed that he had uncovered new primary sources which shed fresh light on Lincoln's sexuality. The sources included a hitherto unknown Joshua Speed diary and letters in which Speed writes explicitly about his relationship with Lincoln. These items were supposedly discovered hidden beneath the floorboards of the old store where the two men lived, and are said to reside in a private collection in Davenport, Iowa. Kramer has yet to publish any of this material for critical evaluation, and historian Gabor Boritt, referring to Kramer's documents, wrote, "Almost certainly this is a hoax ... ."
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