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. The revelation that Abraham Lincoln shared a double bed (and his most private thoughts) for almost four years with general store proprietor Joshua Fry Speed as he started out on his illustrious career in Springfield, Illinois, has attracted a great deal of attention, leading on the one hand to claims that this means he was “gay” and on the other to attempts to use this piece of history to raise awareness of the different ways that male intimacy could be expressed in the past.
Speed had heard the young Lincoln speak on the stump when Lincoln was running for election to the Illinois legislature. Abraham Lincoln and Joshua Fry Speed first met on April 15, 1837, the day Lincoln rode into Springfield, IL, on a borrowed horse, carrying a pair of saddlebags, two or three law books, and some clothing. Lincoln had first been elected to the Illinois legislature three years earlier, and Speed had heard him speak publicly, but had not met him. Lincoln "came into my store... set his saddle bags on the counter," and asked about the price of bedding for "a single bedstead," Speed recalled many years later. Hearing the cost, Lincoln said, "Cheap as it is I have not the money to pay. But if you will credit me until Christmas... I will pay you then." If he failed as a lawyer, said Lincoln, "I will probably never be able to pay you at all." " The tone of his voice," Speed remembered, "was so melancholy that I felt for him." Looking up at the tall Lincoln, Speed "thought then, as I think now, that I never saw so gloomy and melancholy a face in my life." Spped then spontaneously proposed a no-cost arrangement. "I have a very large room, and a very large double-bed in it; which you are perfectly welcome to share with me if you choose." "Where is your room?" Lincoln responded. Speed pointed to the stairs, and "without saying a work Lincoln toook his saddle bags on his arms, went upstairs, set them down on the floor, came down again, and with a face beaming with pleasure and smiles, exclaimed, "Well, Speed, I'm moved." Speed became Lincoln's roommate and his lifelong best friend.
As Speed himself described his and Lincoln's friendship at its height, "no two men were ever more intimate." Lincoln "disclosed his whole heart to me," Speed told William Herndon, Lincoln's onetime law partner and chronicler. Lincoln "loved this man more than anyone dead or living," said Herndon, not excepting Mary Todd. A recent biographer called Speed "the only intimate friend that Lincoln ever had," a judgment seconded by others.
In 1838 Speed hired the young William Herndon to clerk in his general store. Herndon later recalled that he, Speed, Lincoln, and Charles R. Hurst (another clerk), "slept in the room upstairs over the store."
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. By December 1840, Mary Todd and Abraham Lincoln may have understood their relationship as an engagement. But on New Year's Day 1841, Joshua Speed sold his interest in the Springfield general store in preparation for a return to his old Kentucky home. 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, visited Speed in Kentucky, where Lincoln's spirits greatly improved. 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. That summer Speed became engaged to Fanny Henning, setting off a new emotional crisis. Lincoln was actually in Kentucky when Speed courted Henning, Speed remembered, "and strange to say something of the same feeling which I regarded as so foolish in him... took possession of me... and kept me very unhappy from the time of my engagement until I was married." From early September 1841 to mid-February 1842, Speed shared his "immense suffering" with Lincoln, and Lincoln responded in several remarkably revealing letters. On January 1, 1842, Speed ended a Springfield visit with Lincoln and started back to Kentucky to marry his fiancée. Lincoln gave him an ostensibly encouraging letter to read on the trip. It was intended, he said, "to aid you, in case (which God forbid) you shall need any aid", Lincoln's first foreboding. Speed and Henning married on February 15, 1842. Mary Todd and Abraham Lincoln married on November 4, 1842.
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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