The Blog

Honest, Abe? (cont.)

The author answers Andrew Sullivan.

3:40 PM, Jan 13, 2005 • By PHILIP NOBILE
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

Once again, Sullivan twists context in an anything-goes attempt to knife me. In brushing off the gay theory in his introduction to The Lincoln Enigma, Boritt stated: "Lincoln strongly bonded with men but what may suggest homosexuality in our time most likely did not so much as occur to most people in his time." On this point, I replied : "Of course, it is impossible to know what 'most people' in Lincoln's day might have thought about this matter [i.e., male bonding]. In any case, popular perception is irrelevant to historical truth, whatever it turns out to be." Clearly, my response to Boritt concerned 19th century notions of sex between men, not whether Lincoln's friends or foes noticed his hanky-panky.

Fifth, Sullivan writes: "In THE STANDARD, Nobile argues that Lincoln's early doggerel poem about boy-boy marriage suggests nothing. . . . In an email to Oxford University Press, however, Nobile made a strong case for his own book, . . . [adding] to bolster his case: "'Incidentally, did you know that Lincoln wrote a boy-sex poem when he was 20?'"
Sullivan exaggerates again. I did not say in THE WEEKLY STANDARD that Lincoln's boy-marries-boy poem meant nothing. I merely ridiculed Tripp's original one-to-one correlation between the poem and Lincoln's alleged homosexuality--an argument so bad that even Tripp eventually dropped it.

Finally, Sullivan writes: "Are we really to believe that the vituperation in Nobile's piece is compatible with a simple difference of opinion over a nuance? Given the evidence in front of us, I'd say that the real bad faith in this instance is Nobile's, not Tripp's. THE STANDARD piece is a work of character assassination against a rigorous scholar who cannot defend himself, in the service of a political agenda that is indeed homophobic. Maybe THE STANDARD's editors were unaware of Nobile's rival book and past attacks on the 'het-line' of homophobic Lincoln scholarship. Well, they are aware now. They need to apologize for this lacuna and correct the record."

My hard case against Tripp's flim-flam is based on facts documented in my article, none of which Sullivan bothers to mention or refute. Burlingame's afterword to the book backs up my view of Tripp's less than rigorous scholarship. Further, Free Press made significant changes in Tripp's text after I vetted the galleys, another significant item ignored by Sullivan. The evidence of plagiarism, which forced Free Press to delay publication and rewrite the first chapter, is also missing from his attack on my integrity.

As for apologizing and correcting the record, let Sullivan read my essay and then consult his own finely tuned conscience.

Philip Nobile teaches history at the Cobble Hill School of American Studies in New York. He is the author of Intellectual Skywriting: Literary Politics & the New York Review of Books and editor of Judgment at the Smithsonian.