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Bosom Friends: The Intimate World of James Buchanan and William Rufus King

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The friendship of the bachelor politicians James Buchanan (1791-1868) of Pennsylvania and William Rufus King (1786-1853) of Alabama has excited much speculation through the years. Why did neither marry? Might they have been gay? Or was their relationship a nineteenth-century version of the modern-day "bromance"

In Bosom Friends: The Intimate World of James Buchanan and William Rufus King, Thomas J. Balcerski explores the lives of these two politicians and discovers one of the most significant collaborations in American political history. He traces the parallels in the men's personal and professional lives before elected office, including their failed romantic courtships and the stories they told about them. Unlikely companions from the start, they lived together as congressional messmates in a Washington, DC, boardinghouse and became close confidantes. Around the nation's capital, the men were mocked for their effeminacy and perhaps their sexuality, and they were likened to Siamese twins. Over time, their intimate friendship blossomed into a significant cross-sectional political partnership. Balcerski examines Buchanan's and King's contributions to the Jacksonian political agenda, manifest destiny, and the increasingly divisive debates over slavery, while contesting interpretations that the men lacked political principles and deserved blame for the breakdown of the union. He closely narrates each man's rise to national prominence, as William Rufus King was elected vice-president in 1852 and James Buchanan the nation's fifteenth president in 1856, despite the political gossip that circulated about them.

While exploring a same-sex relationship that powerfully shaped national events in the antebellum era, Bosom Friends demonstrates that intimate male friendships among politicians were — and continue to be — an important part of success in American politics.

About the Author

Thomas J. Balcerski is an Assistant Professor of History at Eastern Connecticut State University.

A concise and confident capstone of [Balcerski's] work on early republican manhood. Readers will find his style accessible and engaging....While Balcerski's conscious focus is on masculinity and male friendships, his narrative also sheds valuable light on the nature of male-female friendships and
alliances, as well as the often-invisible work that women have done in the lives of prominent men. -- Katherine Ranum, Ohio Valley History

... Balcerski is to be commended for tracing how surviving family member, notably Buchanan's niece Harriet Lane Johnston and King's niece Catherine Margaret Ellis, endeavored to preserve the men's legacy. -- Gregory A. Peek, The Journal of Southern History

In Bosom Friends...Balcerski argues that the personal and the political are inextricable in Buchanan's biography. -- Rachel Hope Cleves, Journal of the Civil War Era

Thomas J. Balcerski's dual biography of James Buchanan of Pennsylvania and William Rufus King of Alabama is deeply researched and refreshingly jargon free. -- Sheila Skemp, Journal of American History

As an analysis of the entangled relationships that formed between public men--personal friendships rooted in intimacy, political friendships that advanced common interests--Balcerski offers the best study to date....As political and social history, Bosom Friends is an impressive study and should be
read by anyone who wants to understand how the person and the political interacted in the early-nineteenth-century United States. -- Craig Thompson Friend, Journal of the Early Republic

A stellar contribution to the lively field of antebellum and Civil War-era political history.....By situating the deep bond between these two nineteenth-century Democrats within its social, cultural, and political context, Balcerski offers fresh insight into both men and illuminates the
significance of male friendship in the turbulent world of antebellum American politics....Thanks to studies such as this one, nineteenth-century US political history is flourishing as scholars excavate the human experience of politics and illuminate how power was won, wielded, and lost amid
wrenching partisan and sectional conflicts. -- Michael E. Woods, Alabama Review

Balcerski impressively balances the personal and the worldly to produce an original and engaging study both of two men and of the wider antebellum world which they lived in and helped shape....This is certainly the definitive account of the intimate friendship between Buchanan and King. In
addition, Balcerski makes important original contributions to our understanding of male friendships and politics in the antebellum United States. This is an excellent first book from a promising young scholar. -- Andrew L. Slap, American Historical Review

Engrossing, imaginative, and well written....Balcerski has written an illuminating revisionist study that adds to our understanding of multiple overlapping topics: King and Buchanan, both individually and together; Jacksonian party politics; the sectional crisis; nineteenth-century bachelorhood and
masculinity; the nature and role of antebellum political friendships; the interplay between public and private in such friendships; and the historical memory of the two men and their relationship. -- Gregory L. Kaster, History: Reviews of New Books

There has, over the last decade or so, been a growing interest in the personal behind the political ... This study of two of the nation's most active politicians is a very fine example of the value in this approach ... Balcerski's original study helps us understand better the reasons behind
Buchanan's bad reputation. Bringing King and Buchanan together, we see them, and their world, with far greater clarity. -- Susan-Mary Grant, History Today

Bosom Friends is not merely a fascinating story told by a gifted young historian, but a potentially pathbreaking study that suggests new ways to understand political alliances in the late antebellum years. Far richer than simply a dual biography of two influential public men, this volume instead
situates the much gossiped-about King-Buchanan relationship within larger patterns of intimate male friendships common to the nineteenth century. An illuminating and intelligent work of scholarship. -- Douglas R. Egerton, author of Year of Meteors: Douglas, Lincoln, and the Election That Brought on
the Civil War

This original dual biography offers a good deal more than a spirited argument about the nature of the Buchanan-King relationship; it sheds new light on the meaning and importance of male intimacy in antebellum political culture.--Amy S. Greenberg, author of Lady First: The World of First Lady
Sarah Polk

Bosom Friends is a revelation. Exhaustively researched, it sheds fresh light on antebellum politics through its discerning analysis of a distinctive, intimate friendship that crossed sectional, if not sexual, boundaries. Prepare to be surprised and enlightened by Balcerski's findings.--Michael J.
Birkner, Gettysburg College

Bosom Friends takes us back into a nineteenth-century political world that relied not only on vicious partisanship but also intimate, loving male friendships that provided affection and support as well as serving to advance common political interests. In this absorbing new book, Thomas Balcerski
explores the boardinghouses where most early nineteenth-century congressmen lived and asks how Americans understood the close friendships that developed in these settings. Focusing on the friendship between Buchanan and King, Balcerski pays careful attention to the ways in which contemporaries
described, praised, and attacked the intimate yet public bond between these two men. -- Richard Godbeer, author of The Overflowing of Friendship: Love Between Men and the Creation of the American Republic

With Bosom Friends, Thomas Balcerski enlarges our understanding of the factors that can erode friendships and rupture nations. Rarely has any scholarly treatment of the disintegrating Union felt more urgent. --Richard Norton Smith, Wall Street Journal

Beyond the were-they-or-weren't-they question, Balcerski's book provides a useful understanding of the way personal networks and informal groups, such as messes, ran Washington in the mid 19th century. James Buchanan was a central part of that world for several decades, and if he had won the White
House in his early fifties instead of his mid sixties, today we might rank him among the best presidents. Instead he became the dog who finally caught the car, only to see it burst into flames. --Fred Schwarz, National Review

To understand the lives of King and Buchanan, one must inherently understand politics, of which much of this book consists. This is necessary, since it also shows division between the two men, ultimately both physically and emotionally; the scrappy political competition in which they engaged; and
an untraversable gulf of disagreement -- facets that, individually and together, are fascinating. Readers will clearly see the affection between the two men here, though we'll never completely know the true nature of it: possibly-argument-settling written communication between the two disappeared
shortly after the Civil War. --Washington Blade, Terri Schlichenmeyer

Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
Pub date: sep 03, 2019
350 pages
Format: Hardcover