The student news site of Dickinson College.

The Dickinsonian

The student news site of Dickinson College.

The Dickinsonian

The student news site of Dickinson College.

The Dickinsonian

Gay History

Much can be said about the fifteenth president of the United States, James Buchanan. He was one of the most ineffective presidents in this country’s history, and is often considered to be one of the worst. He was a lifelong bachelor. Some historians assert that he was gay.

He also was a student at Dickinson College who left school “feeling little attachment to [his] Alma Mater.” It is clear that the school shares the same opinion toward him: the massive portrait of him that formerly graced the stairwell in the quiet side of the library has since been tucked away into a corner of the first floor that probably no one goes to ever, except for this author who gets so bored doing homework in the library sometimes that she decides to explore.

His anti-Dickinson attitude may very well be attached to a period of turmoil he experienced the prior year, during which he was expelled in the Fall 1808 semester. His crimes included excessive, outlandish drinking, disturbing the peace, and vandalism in town. One can only imagine that his behavior indeed provided a model for the frat bros on campus today, as well as acted as a spiritual precursor to that time the baseball team destroyed all of the ice sculptures downtown. 

Jamie boy made a “pledge of good behavior,” however, and was readmitted to the College, ultimately graduating in 1809. Good for him. But this article aims to unpack the circumstances of his expulsion.

Though “disturbing the peace” and “excessive drinking” may seem as though they are standard hallmarks of the behavior of college kids, they are also a potential indicator of severe mental distress. So what could have happened to make him act in such a way?

It was at this point that this author decided to embark on serious archival research (Wikipedia) and learned of a tragic death that happened not only earlier in the year of 1808, but on the one and only Valentine’s day: that of our very own John Dickinson.

Longtime fans of this esteemed author’s work will be familiar with this College’s esteemed homosexual namesake, who carried on a lifelong romance with our founder Benjamin Rush. When Ben’s lover died, it most certainly caused him an excessive amount of pain. But what must have certainly been more painful was the discovery that James Buchanan, a student heretofore unknown to him, was also considerably distraught over Dickinson’s passing.


Thus Benny boy embarked on a mission to destroy the young Mr. Buchanan, using his influence as the school’s founder and as a member of the board of trustees to expel him. Much manuscript evidence indicates a wholesale smear campaign, although the accusations against Buchanan were, in fact, truthful. Benjamin Rush desired to put fear into the hearts of this new generation of gay people, in a shocking reversal of the tolerance and acceptance that he founded the College for. Just goes to show what heartbreak can do for you, huh.

But his efforts were thwarted! Jamie persevered, and as previously stated ultimately returned to and graduated from Dickinson. However, the animosity between the two men persisted for life

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