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Balcerski Explores Relationship of Two 19th Century Politicians

Published on September 26, 2019

Balcerski Explores Relationship of Two 19th Century Politicians

Tom Balcerski

As the nation heads towards the 2020 elections, observers have asked if America has ever elected a gay president. Some say yes. Others say no. Tom Balcerski, assistant professor of history at Eastern Connecticut State University and author of the highly acclaimed new book, “Bosom Friends: The Intimate World of James Buchanan and William Rufus King,” discussed the topic on Sept. 19 at his book talk “James Buchanan: The First Gay President?”

Balcerski has thoroughly researched the friendship of the bachelor politicians James Buchanan (1791-1868) of Pennsylvania and William Rufus King (1786-1853) of Alabama. He narrates Buchanan and King’s relationship and each man’s rise to national prominence. King was elected vice president in 1852 and Buchanan became the nation’s 15th president in 1856.

Balcerski said before the two men became prominent politicians, they became close friends while living together in a Washington, D.C., boarding house. “Their friendship blossomed into a significant cross-sectional — some have suggested sexual — political partnership. They were the talk of the town. The gossip was unkind. Andrew Jackson once called Buchanan — Jackson’s minister to Russia — ‘Miss Nancy.’ King’s political opponents called him Buchanan’s ‘better half.’ Their friendship was so intense that people called them ‘Siamese twins’ and ‘bosom friends,’ the title of my book.”

Even so, Balcerski, an expert on male gender studies, says, “though their 20-year relationship was intense, the evidence is just not there to say that either man was gay. There is nothing there to suggest that their close relationship was more than a political alliance.” He said male political, platonic friendships were common in the 19th century.

Balcerski’s highly acclaimed book has received coverage in the national news media, including CNN, NBC News and Time and Smithsonian magazines. “‘Bosom Friends’ is a revelation,” said Douglas Egerton, author of “Year of Meteors: Douglas, Lincoln and the Election That Brought on the Civil War.”

“Exhaustively researched, (Balcerski’s book) sheds fresh light on antebellum politics through its discerning analysis of a distinctive, intimate friendship that crossed sectional, if not sexual, boundaries,” write Egerton. “Prepare to be surprised and enlightened by Balcerski’s findings.”

Written by Dwight Bachman