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New book analyzes complex relationship between Abraham Lincoln and his friend Joshua Speed


Much has been written about the life, death, and legacy of the 16th president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. According to Business Insider, more than 15,000 books have dealt in whole or large measure with Lincoln. Some, like famed poet/writer Carl Sandburg’s Pulitzer Prize winning two-volume biography, Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years, have become classics.

On the other hand, some of the Lincoln books issued over the years have been awful and were quickly relegated to the bargain bin of discount chain stores. A few of these have dealt with lurid and unnecessary provocative speculation as to Lincoln’s sexuality, fueled by his complex and seemingly strange (to modern readers) relationship with his good friend Joshua Speed. Some writers, without the requisite credentials, have foisted their opinions on the unsuspecting public without grounding their arguments in facts.

A thoughtful, carefully written treatise on the Lincoln-Speed friendship has long been overdue. And now, New York City historian and psychoanalyst Charles B. Strozier has taken a crack at doing just that in his detailed new work, Your Friend Forever, A. Lincoln:The Enduring Friendship of Abraham Lincoln and Joshua Speed.

Abraham Lincoln in 1860 (National Archives)
Abraham Lincoln in 1860 (National Archives)

Strozier, to his credit, does not dive into sensationalism or unwarranted extrapolation. Instead, he allows the actual words of both Lincoln and Speed to speak for themselves, and then places them into the broader historical context of what was happening in both of their lives at the time. The history professor at John Jay College and the Graduate Center of CUNY examines the national and local events, habits, cultural norms, family issues, and outside pressures that shaped and influenced both men’s personality traits.

He does bring his professional craft as a psychoanalyst into play fairly often, but not enough to distract from this work as a solid, interesting narrative of Lincoln’s prewar life through the White House years and how his relationship with Speed changed and matured over time. Speed often filled the role of confidant, friend, and sounding board for Lincoln, offering council and advice at times and at other places simply lending a friendly ear so Lincoln could vent his frustrations, fears, anger, and angst. Speed helped Lincoln get through the death of his first love, Miss Ann Rutledge, and then later was Lincoln’s confidant and support throughout the “Rail Splitter’s” relationship and then courtship of the mercurial socialite Mary Todd.

The author has diligently combed the archives to pull together a myriad of primary sources from Lincoln, Speed, and many others in their sphere of friends and their social circles. Many of these citations are relatively unfamiliar and seldom used, and they add depth to the narrative and help fill in the details of the president’s relationship with Joshua Speed.

Strozier deems Speed as Lincoln’s “emotional compass,” and credits him with helping guide Lincoln through a darkest hours in the early 1840s, a time when Lincoln’s melancholy bordered on suicidal, according to several period commentators. Speed’s stabilizing influence made it possible, according to the author, for Lincoln not only to recover, but to flourish and grow into the strong-willed politician whose policies and beliefs shaped not only a generation, but American destiny.

Charles B. Strozier, Your Friend Forever, A. Lincoln:The Enduring Friendship of Abraham Lincoln and Joshua Speed (New York: Columbia University Press, 2016), 353 pages, illustrated and annotated, ISBN 978-0-231-17132-8.