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Grover Cleveland is known primarily as the only president to be elected to two nonconsecutive terms. But his record as a staunch reformer is equally impressive: from fighting powerful bosses in both political parties and vetoing bills he considered raids on the Treasury, to resisting American imperialism and robber-barons alike. And when he became embroiled in scandal—from fathering a child out of wedlock to (legally) evading the Civil War—he faced his past truthfully and confronted his demons directly. In ...
Grover Cleveland is known primarily as the only president to be elected to two nonconsecutive terms. But his record as a staunch reformer is equally impressive: from fighting powerful bosses in both political parties and vetoing bills he considered raids on the Treasury, to resisting American imperialism and robber-barons alike. And when he became embroiled in scandal—from fathering a child out of wedlock to (legally) evading the Civil War—he faced his past truthfully and confronted his demons directly. In graceful and enduring prose, H. Paul Jeffers gives us the first full look at a president whose moral timber and courageous administrations have more to say to today's politicians than perhaps any other leader in American history.
About the Author:
H. Paul Jeffers is the author of numerous fiction and nonfiction books, including several history books on Theodore Roosevelt. A native of Vermont and a graduate of Bates College, his is a regular contributor to the Village Voice and lives in New York City.
No one who happened to be on Buffalo's Washington Street one evening in 1873 could recall what triggered the fistfight between the lawyers. It probably was an issue of Democratic Party politics. What everyone vividly remembered was that at some point leading up to the battle Mike Falvey called Grover Cleveland a liar. The next thing Falvey knew, he'd been banged into a gutter near Seneca Street. The combatants then raged as far as Swan Street, where an armistice was mutually proposed and promptly sealed by bellying up to the bar in Gillick's saloon.
Except for politics and the practice of law, Grover relished nothing more than downing large steins of pale lager, especially when accompanied by heaping plates of sausages and sauerkraut and culminating with the smoking of a good cigar, in one of Buffalo's numerous beer gardens and saloons. The thirty-six-year-old bachelor enjoyed the roistering atmosphere of sand-covered floors, flickering gaslights, laughter, loud singing, card games, swapping tales of fishing and hunting, and, being a bachelor, the company of pretty women.
"He was not a great talker," a friend recalled. "Once in a while something would start him going, and he would run on for half an evening, but for the most part he let others do the talking; he listened." His voice was "a little higher than expected from such a large man ... somewhat nasal, though not unpleasant [with] tenderness in it."
At the time of the fisticuffs with Falvey, Grover had been a Buffalo resident for eighteen years. Man and place proved to be a good match. Bustling, uncouth, materialistic, hardworking Buffalostood on the cusp of the rugged Western frontier and the conservative, refined East. It offered little in the way of surface graces but brimmed with people of common sense, tenacity, and stubborn character. These traits harmonized with Grover Cleveland's spirit of independence, conscientiousness, efficiency, and, above all, honesty, which had been handed down to him by ancestors, starting in New England.
The first, Moses, for whom the city of Cleveland, Ohio, would be named, had left Ipswich, England, as an indentured apprentice and had landed in Massachusetts in 1635. The family name was of Saxon origin and taken from a region around Whitby, England, known for "clefts or cleves which abound there." It was variously spelled Cliveland, Cleivland, Clifland, Cleffland, and Cleaveland. The "a" was dropped in 1770 by Grover's grandfather, William, whose son Richard was born in Norwich, Connecticut, in 1804.
A brilliant student, Richard Cleveland garnered high honors in Yale's class of 1824 and immediately began studying for the Protestant ministry in Baltimore. There he fell in love with twenty-two-year-old Ann Neal, daughter of a lawbook publisher. After continuing his studies at Princeton Theological Seminary, he was ordained in 1828 and accepted the pastorate of the First Congregational Church in Windham, Connecticut. He married Ann the following year. After four years in Connecticut and the births of Anna and William, they moved to Portsmouth, Virginia, where Mary Allen was born. Two years later, Richard accepted a pastorate in New Jersey and the couple settled in Caldwell in time for the arrival of their second son, Richard Jr.
When a fifth child and third boy was born on March 18, 1837, he was named in honor of Richard's predecessor in Caldwell's Presbyterian pulpit, the Reverend Stephen Grover. Over the next few years the Cleveland children would total nine, each of whom would learn filial reverence, strict obedience, unquestioning belief in parental wisdom, and all the other tenets of the Holy Bible and Westminster Catechism. These verities and absolutes were intended to produce a keen sense of responsibility, ethical behavior, and trustworthy character. The effect on Grover was expressed in an essay he wrote at the age of nine. Its central point was that time was not to be wasted. Citing the examples of George Washington and Andrew Jackson, Grover wrote, "If we expect to become great and good men and be respected and esteemed by our friends we must improve our time when we are young. If we wish to become great and useful in the world we must improve our time in school."
When Grover penned these thoughts, the Clevelands were no longer living in Caldwell but in Fayetteville, New York, a village near Syracuse, where Grover was enrolled in a school called the Fayetteville Academy. They remained nine years in a spot to which President Grover Cleveland would return for a brief visit some forty years later. Speaking then of his boyhood in "this pretty village," he cited "the many estimable benefits I received--my early education, the training of Sunday school, the religious advantages, the advantages of your social life.These are the things which have gone with me every step in life.And so, when in short intervals of freedom from the cares and duties of my office, my mind revels in retrospection, these early recollections are the truest, pleasantest, and brightest spots on which my memory lights."
Always large for his age, Grover was during nine years in Fayetteville, in his sister Susan's eyes, "a little round-faced, blue-eyed boy,"and in the view of Grover's schoolmates, "chuck full of fun."They found the youth they called Big Steve to be a prankster who was fond of sports, swimming, and tramping up the hills and around in the woods, and crazy about fishing.The latter would be such a lifelong passion that in 1902 he wrote a book on that subject and another of his joys, game shooting."No man can be a completely good fisherman unless he is generous, sympathetic and honest," he wrote."The manifestation of littleness and crowding selfishness in other quarters, and the over-reaching conduct so generally permitted in business circles, are unpardonable crimes in the true fisherman's code."An Honest President. Copyright © by H. Jeffers. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Posted December 2, 2003
While I enjoyed the book overall, the 'page 6' mistake was a huge shock to the system. There are actually THREE errors. In the same paragraph as the goof mentioned by others below, the author states that Cleveland reached the White House 'fourteen years before Rooesvelt'. Of course it was sixteen years (1885-1901). But furthermore when the author said Cleveland preceded Roosevelt by just nine months, he was not just forgeting McKinley's first term. He was also apparently confused on when Presidents took office in that era. Cleveland's LAST day in office was March 3 1897, and Roosevelt's FIRST day was September 14, 1901, thus shrinking the author's 'nine months' to just over six months. Sloppy.
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