Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Secret life: The Lies and Scandals of President Grover Cleveland by Charles Lachman

A Secret Life: The Lies and Scandals of President Grover ClevelandA Secret Life: The Lies and Scandals of President Grover Cleveland by Charles Lachman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sensible and responsible women do not want to vote. The relative positions to be assumed by man and woman in the working out of our civilization were assigned long ago by a higher intelligence than ours.
Grover Cleveland

President Grover Cleveland

Grover Cleveland was a Democrat, not of the Democratic Party that we know today. The two parties have actually switched policy orientation more than once. Franklin D.Roosevelt ushered in a new age of Democrats which was the beginning of the erosion of support from the Southern states. Traditionally the South had always been Democrats, but with Lyndon B. Johnson’s civil rights movement decision in the 1960s the South swung to the Republicans. With the election of Ronald “Raygun” Reagan the South firmed up as a reliable voting bloc for the GOP. When Cleveland was running for office in 1884 the Republicans had ruled the White House since 1868 including the hinky election of 1876 when Rutherford B. Hayes(R) lost the popular vote by 250,000 votes to Samuel J. Tilden(D), but after some double-dealing in the electoral college Hayes was declared the winner.

The Splintering of the Democratic Party or in this case eating it's own tail

In 1884 Cleveland’s chances to win the presidency was dim indeed, first of all he was a bachelor; second he was a known to frequent beer taverns where he not only drank a lot of beer, but consumed large gluttonous meals; third he was a draft dodger; and fourth he had an illegitimate child through an act of rape. It sounds like a recipe for a disastrous campaign or ripped from the headlines of one of our more recent elections. Cleveland had spent almost all of his adult life in Buffalo, NY. He’d taken an apprenticeship with a lawyer, passed the bar, and after years of hoisting beer steins with the right people and becoming part of “the good old boys club”. He found himself elected sheriff. Buffalo was a wide open town and for a sheriff with the right connections there was money to be made.

”Buffalo, it was said, had more saloons and taverns per head than any other city in the world. It seemed there was a bar on every corner--more than six hundred saloons for a population of less than 150,000. Sailors, canal hands, and roustabouts working the city’s ports roamed the tenderloin district looking for a good time. Brothels operated in the open seven days a week. Buffalo was a ‘sink of iniquity’ with more ‘social eyesores’ than any other city of its size in America.”

What is really stunning about the city of Buffalo is by 1901 they are the 9th largest city in the nation (as of 2011 they have fallen to 71st) and are awarded the honor of being the host city of the World’s Fair which also tragically became the location for the assassination of President William McKinley.

Cleveland left the sheriff’s office a wealthy man. The pay of the office was legitimately raised through fines and there were plenty of people to penalize. In the time he was a private citizen again, and before he became Mayor of Buffalo was when he met Maria Halpin. She was a shop girl in an upscale department store, valued by the establishment for her elegance, and her ability to speak French. She was a widow with two children trying to keep herself above the poverty line. She was said to be strikingly beautiful. Cleveland had met her a few times in the shop. One afternoon he ran into her on the street, which I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that it wasn’t a meeting of chance, but carefully planned. Maria was on her way to a friend’s house for a party, but Cleveland insisted that she allow him to buy her dinner. She reluctantly agreed. After dinner he walked her home and she allowed him to come up to her apartment, feeling safe because her young son was in the next room; and after all, this was an esteemed gentleman, a respected man of the community. He raped her on her couch. Now the problem with rape in the 1870s was the laws were written by men. Women had no voice in the definition of laws. There was certainly a bias against women in how the laws are written and also a real lack of empathy for rape victims. The general assumption being that the rape wouldn't have happened if the woman had simply been more careful. It was nearly impossible for a woman to prove rape.

”The presumption in the 19th century was that a woman who truly wanted to preserve her honor could repel any rape, unless it was a gang rape. She could use her hands or draw back her legs and physically thwart the insertion of a man’s penis into her body. If the act of sex was consummated during rape, it was because the woman ‘did not earnestly resist it.’

Charles Lachman provides several incidents of rape that were brought before the courts and overturned usually for the reason that the woman simply did not “resist” enough. ”According to the customs of the time, it was fine for a man with normal biological urges to use a ‘certain degree of violence’ when engaging in sex. As the law saw it, even if the woman put up a struggle, that was foreplay.” So basically the law was based on very crude assumptions, one being the woman should not have placed herself in such circumstances to start with. Two she shouldn’t have led the man on in the first place. Three she should have forced her assailant to beat her senseless before allowing him access to her body.

Maria Halpin

If Maria Halpin contemplated bringing charges against Cleveland she dismissed them very quickly. In fact, she hoped to get on with her life until five weeks later when it became apparent that she was pregnant. I’m sure she had to swallow some bile to approach Cleveland with the problem. Thinking about his burgeoning career he assured her he would do the right thing and marry her. Now Cleveland had an odd affectation, in his apartment he had pictures of children placed all over his rooms. Despite this somewhat unnatural interest, I may be reading more into this than I should but Lachman planted the seed without expressing his own thoughts on the oddness of the displaying of such pictures, but it does make it equally weird how little interest Cleveland expressed in his own offspring. He was a confirmed bachelor and had mentioned several times that he had no intention to marry, but when his best friend Oscar Folsom had a daughter named Frances his answer changed. ”I’m only waiting for my wife to grow up, “ he told his sister. At the time it seemed an off-the-cuff dodge, which, though a little creepy, was not to be taken seriously.”

Francis Folsom Cleveland, the darling of the nation. She was so popular that her image was even used on campaign posters.

It turns out that it was creepy statement indeed because after he is elected President of the United States he married Frances Folsom. She was 27 years younger than Cleveland and became the youngest First Lady at the age of 21. She replaced Cleveland’s problematic sister Rose. Cleveland regretted appointing his sister almost immediately. Rose was his smart sister, a woman who conjugated Greek verbs when she became nervous. She certainly would not agree with her brother's quote that I used to start this review. Well educated, who after leaving the White House retired back to her books and magazines. She published a novel called The Long Run that received solid reviews and also published a collection of essays called George Eliot's Poetry and Other Studies. She fell in love with a widow named Evangeline Marrs Simpson. Well aware of the ramifications of her sexual preference on her brother’s third bid for the presidency she cooled down her contact with Eve until after he won reelection.

First Lady Rose Cleveland

At age seventy-two she was living in Tuscany with Eve when the influenza epidemic of 1918 broke out. When the people in her village started “dying like sheep” she organized efforts. Separating children from households that were infected and cabling home for help from all her old friends in America. She succumbed to fever as a result of her efforts and was buried in a cemetery on the banks of the Lima River. All I have to say is what a woman.

Ma, Ma, where's my Pa?

The Maria Halpin scandal continued to haunt Cleveland throughout his political life. When he made a run for governor Maria reappeared out of the mist to make trouble for him. At one point with the help of his friends Maria is abducted and incarcerating into a lunacy institution long enough for Oscar Folsom Cleveland, named such after his best friend at Grover’s insistence, can be placed with another family. As a countermeasure and also an attempt to throw a better light on this political liability he insisted that Maria had passed herself around to a group of his friends and because he was the only bachelor he had assumed responsibility for the child. Maria’s reputation is shattered by the Democratic newspaper machine and though later she achieves some distance from her past by changing her name through marriage she is never reunited with Oscar.

Charles Lachman discovered the identity of Oscar Folsom Cleveland which I will not reveal in case there are readers out there that want to read this book and follow in the footsteps of Lachman as he peers through the fog of history, separating the lies from what can be proven. I struggled early on to adjust to Lachman’s workmanlike prose. You won’t find yourself carried away by beautifully constructed sentences, but you will occasionally find yourself with your hand to your mouth covering a gasp of indignation.

Looking at this situation through the long lense of history if Cleveland had simply continued to take care of Maria Halpin and had treated her with respect he certainly would have mitigated the liability to his political career. As it all turned out he did not suffer the consequences of his actions. Interesting to know that his home state of New York elected him the first time, spurned him the second time, and then embraced him the third time, making him the only president to serve his terms nonconsecutive. A bit of trivia that somehow fits a man that on close analysis was a man of his time; and yet, a man with a darkness about him that made him seem such an unlikely man to reach the pinnacles of power.

I also recently reviewed the Scott Miller book about the McKinley assassination McKinley Review

View all my reviews

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