James Buchanan and William Rufus King
A lifelong bachelor, James Buchanan appointed his niece, Harriet Lane, to be his unofficial First Lady while he held the position of President of the United States from 1857 to 1861. But that doesn’t mean the Commander-in-Chief was a singleton. Indeed, according to many historians, Buchanan was America’s first gay President and William Rufus King his lover.
Certainly, Buchanan’s close relationship with the Alabama Senator was widely remarked upon at the time. So much so, in fact, that many of their contemporaries, including Andrew Jackson, dubbed the pair ‘Miss Nancy’ and ‘Aunt Fancy’. For King, however, his relationship with Buchanan was a ‘communion’ of two spirits rather than a marriage in the traditional sense.
However their partnership should be described, what is known for sure is that the two men lived together in the same house for 15 years while they both served in the Senate. What’s more, they indulged in each other’s passions, interests and political ambitions, and they were regularly seen out together at social events. Moreover, Buchanan was reported to be distraught when King finally moved to Paris to take up the role of American Ambassador to France.
Ultimately, however, whether the relationship between Buchanan and King was sexual or simply fraternal is likely to remain the source of speculation. Upon his death, Buchanan’s private letters, including his correspondence with King, the possible love of his life, were destroyed by his nieces, possibly in a bid to ensure he was remembered for his politics rather than his personal life. The United States still waits for its first confirmed homosexual leader.
King, meanwhile, died of tuberculosis in April 1853, just 25 days after being sworn in as Vice President. Like his lover’s, King’s letters were also destroyed by his surviving relatives, only adding to the mystery of one of America’s most fascinating political figures.