In the past two episodes, I've told you guys about two of the most well known presidents from recent history. JFK is remembered as a martyr. LBJ is remembered mostly for the Vietnam War, but at the very least, he's remembered this week. I regret to inform you we're talking about Grover Cleveland. Now, hear me out.
The fact that we've all forgotten about Grover Cleveland is just proof of his genius. He went to extreme lengths to protect his reputation as honest and incorruptible. And I don't just mean lying to the press, although he definitely did that, too. I mean, he committed several violent felonies just to keep his other violent felonies under wraps. He ruined lives. He ended careers. And that was all before he became president.
Welcome back to very presidential. I'm your host, Ashleigh Flowers. You can find all episodes of very presidential and all other podcast originals for free on Spotify. And if you like what you're hearing, reach out on Facebook and Instagram at Sparkasse and Twitter at Sparkasse network. When Grover Cleveland was elected in 1884, he was known as Grover the Good. By the time he left office, though, in 1897, he was getting so many death threats that the White House security force had to be increased from two officers to twenty seven.
So what happened? Stay tuned to find out. Grover Cleveland didn't choose to run for president, it was chosen for him in the 1884 election. Corruption was the issue of the day and there was no stronger anti-corruption candidate than Grover the good. In his one years governor of New York, the 47 year old 260 pound colossus had made enemies out of just about every crooked politician in the state. He went after Tammany Hall, the political machine that had basically controlled New York politics for a century.
He vetoed any bill that smelled of profiteering or cronyism. So when the Democratic Convention rolled around in July, Cleveland was the obvious front runner. That isn't to say he was a shoo in. His enemies from Tammany Hall put up a good fight. There was a lot of drama and backroom dealing at the convention in Chicago. Grover himself was noticeably absent from it. By all accounts, he didn't even want the nomination. He didn't campaign at all. He didn't attend the convention.
He wasn't even following the news from his home in Albany. But on the afternoon of July 11, 1884, he got the phone call. He'd won the nomination on the second vote with Grover, the reformer on the ticket. The Democrats thought that they had the election locked down. Here was a man with a spotless reputation, morally upright, immune to corruption. But there was a reason why good old Grover was so reluctant to run. And less than two weeks after the convention, the bombshell dropped.
The Buffalo Evening Telegraph ran with this headline on July 21st. A Terrible Tale, A dark chapter in a public man's history. A pitiful story of Maria Halpin and Governor Cleveland's son. The headline didn't exaggerate. Here's the full story. Maria Halpin was a widow who worked at a high end department store in Buffalo, New York. She was gorgeous, smart, sophisticated. She spoke fluent French, which is rare in Buffalo.
Somehow, through her network of clientele, she was introduced to Grover Cleveland in 1873. Back then, Grover was the sheriff of Erie County. They were the same age, both thirty six. He was a bachelor and he was very persistent about going on a date with Maria. But something about his walrus mustache and his hefty six foot frame just aren't doing it for Maria. She kind of blows him off for months, hoping he'll take the hint and just back off, but he doesn't.
Then on December 15, Maria leaves her apartment on her way to a friend's birthday party. She just walked out the door when she runs into Grover Cleveland. As it turns out, they only live a block and a half away from one another.
Maria says, I love to stay and chat, but listen, I've got this birthday party thing to get to and Grover says, you know what? Forget about that birthday party. Why don't you come and have dinner with me instead? And Maria is like, no, listen, my friends are waiting for me. I'm not just going to blow them off, but Grover won't take no for an answer. And eventually Maria gives it.
Grover takes her to a fancy restaurant, and then he walks her home to her apartment, as you would expect, but that as soon as she opens the door, Grover comes inside, overpowers her and violently rapes her.
Maria threatens to go to the authorities.
But the problem is he is the authorities as the county sheriff. He has connections up and down the whole ladder of law enforcement. And beyond that, this is the eighteen hundreds. Women don't really have rights at this point. It's close to impossible to get a sexual assault conviction. So Grover turns the threat back around on Maria. He tells her that, quote, He was determined to ruin her if it cost him ten thousand dollars, if he was hanged by the neck for it, end quote.
And then he left. Six weeks later, Maria realizes she's pregnant. And this is basically the death knell for an unmarried woman. The moment she starts showing she's going to lose her job, she's going to be exiled from polite society forever. And the only way to save her reputation and provide for this baby is to get married. So reluctantly, Maria tells Grover the news and he is furious with her as if it's her fault that she got pregnant even though he was the one that raped her.
He promises to marry her and to lend her some money. But as soon as he leaves, it's just radio silence. Clearly, he isn't going to follow through. But Grover does make arrangements for the baby's delivery. He recruits one of the city's best obstetricians named Dr. James E. King. And Grover tells Maria that he wants the baby to be named Oscar Folsom after his best friend, which is kind of weird, but Maria agrees.
In September of 1874, Maria gives birth to a healthy baby boy while she's still recovering. Dr. King takes baby Oscar out of the room and then just never brings him back. Without Maria's knowledge, Dr. King takes Oscar to his sister in law, Minnie Kendall, and tells her, this is your baby. Now raise him like your own and don't ever, ever tell anyone that I was here.
Meanwhile, Grover calls up a few police officers that he's close with and he pays them off to arrest Maria and force her into a mental asylum. He forces her into the asylum, thinking that that way she won't be a liability because in his mind, even if she eventually gets out, no one will ever believe a word she says. Now, when a doctor at the asylum actually examines Maria, it's clear right away that she's not insane. After a few days, he says they can't legally hold her there anymore and they end up letting her go.
Once she's out, Maria tries to regain custody of her baby, but it's her against one of the most powerful and well connected people in Buffalo. There's really no hope for a legal battle. So eventually she agrees to a settlement for what would amount to about 12000 dollars. Today, she surrenders all rights to her child and promises not to contact Grover Cleveland ever again. Oscar is ultimately adopted by Dr. King, and he's renamed James E. King Jr.. Maria disappears and tries to move on with her life.
And the whole scandal seems to be over and done until eight years later. During that 1884 election, when the story leaks to the press pretty much the instant Grover won the nomination, Maria's doctor decided to speak out about what happened. He went to a prominent reverend in Buffalo who went to a reporter for the Evening Telegraph. They did a thorough investigation, checked out every detail of the story and published the entire thing.
As you can imagine, Grover's opponents had a field day with this.
Remember, he's the honesty and morality candidate, and here he is, raping a woman, fathering an illegitimate child, lying about it, kidnapping the baby, committing several felonies in the process. And people start showing up at his rallies chanting, Ma, ma, where's my pa?
Now, at this point, there's enough evidence and witnesses that denying the whole story isn't really an option. So instead, Grover responds with his own version of the story, and his story paints Maria as an unhinged morally. Bankrupt liar who's just out to ruin his campaign. He admits that, yes, he did have an intimate relationship with Maria, but according to Grover, it was consensual. And he claims Maria was sleeping around with several of his married friends at the time.
So he's not even sure if the baby is his butt out of the goodness of his heart. Grover says he took responsibility because he was the only bachelor of the group and he wanted to save his friend's reputations. So if you're paying attention, suddenly that decision to name the baby after his best friend isn't looking so innocent. Obviously, everyone assumes the real father is Oscar Fulsom, who coincidentally had died about a year after the baby was born and at this point wasn't around to defend himself.
Grover also admits that he'd taken steps to separate baby Oscar from Maria. But he says that it was because Maria was an alcoholic and an unfit mother.
It was for the best that her child was taken away from her. Now, whose side of the story do you think everyone believed? In the end? This scandal doesn't really affect Grover's support at all. It follows him all the way to Election Day in November of 1884.
But he still narrowly wins. And as soon as the results come in, his supporters start singing their own tune. Ma, ma, where's your pa? Gone to the White House. Ha ha ha. It was a whirlwind, but with all of that in the rearview mirror, Grover heads to Washington, D.C. in January 1885 when he steps off the train. Six reporters are waiting to greet him and they're a little disappointed. It turns out the campaign posters had made Grover look a lot more handsome than he really was in person.
He had a double chin. He was graceless and awkward, not exactly the charming bachelor he made himself out to be, but he did make good on his main campaign promise, rooting out corruption. One of the first things he did was fill his government with capable public servants, which sounds like a pretty low bar to me, but in those days was rare for anyone to be appointed a job based on merit instead of as a political favor to the president's supporters.
There was one other big position to fill. Since Grover was unmarried, he needed someone to step into the role of first lady.
Luckily, his sister Rose was unmarried at the time. She was a lesbian and so therefore couldn't be married at that time. So she agreed to move into the White House and do all of the woman's work of hosting and entertaining. She also invited her good friend, a beautiful socialite named Annie von Vectron, to come stay with her. So make of that what you will. And pretty much from the jump, though, Rose is dropping the ball as first lady.
You see, she's an intellectual and she doesn't have a lot of patience for all the party planning and vapid chitchat. And the elite wives of D.C. found her, quote, terrifying. So it's pretty clear Rose is not going to last.
And then in the middle of April and leaves under what seems to be unhappy circumstances and Rose falls into a serious depression. She announces that she's canceling all White House receptions for the rest of the social season. And at the end of the month, she leaves D.C. entirely to recuperate and rest.
All this means that Grover has to find a new first lady and the rumor mill is churning about who it will be. The 48 year old bachelor had a little pep in his step lately, and there were a lot of eligible ladies hanging around the White House. The question was, which one was he actually courting? Ironically, one popular guess was Rose's friend, Annie. Some people were putting their money on Emma Folson, who was the widow of Grovers late best friend Oscar, but he actually had his sights set on someone else, Oscar and Emma's 20 year old daughter, Frances.
Coming up, a very uncomfortable White House wedding. Now back to the story. So Grover Cleveland had known Frances Folsom almost since the day she was born. Grover, then twenty seven, was best friends and law partners with her father, Oscar. He actually bought a baby carriage for Frances when she was born. And he was kind of like an adopted uncle to her as she grew up. I mean, she even called him Uncle Cleve and one time get ready for this.
But one time when Grover was asked if he ever thought about getting married, he looked over at nine year old Frances and said, quote, I'm only waiting for my wife to grow up and quote. Now, eventually, Oscar had died in a carriage accident in 1875 and Grover becomes the administrator of his estate. Francis is 11 by this time, and she doesn't need a legal guardian since her mother, Emma, is still alive. But Grover pretty much steps into the role of father figure.
And over the years, Frances grows into a charming, beautiful young woman with violet eyes and auburn hair. One time, when she's a sophomore at Wells College, she gets two marriage proposals in one day. But she turned them all down because her heart is with the mysterious suitor who sends her a bouquet of red roses every single week. And that mysterious suitor is Uncle Cleave. If you're keeping track. Frances is 20 years old at this point and Grover is 48 and pretty much like her dad.
In March of 1885, just a few weeks after the inauguration, Frances is invited to spend her spring break at the White House. And that's when things get even more creepy. Emma Folson is invited along, too. So it looks like an innocent family affair. But after dinner that first night, Grover somehow manages to ditch Anna and get Frances alone for a private tour. He takes her to the East Room, which is the biggest reception hall in the White House.
They stroll over to the south window and gaze out at the moon. And then, according to Grover, he told her some very romantic things. Whatever those things were. That was the official beginning of the courtship. For the next week, Grover takes Francis and Emma around to all the society dinners. Francis is a charmer. The Washington Post calls her the prettiest girl that Washington society has seen this winter. Everyone kind of treats her like Grover's daughter, which in all but name she pretty much was.
And Emma naturally seems like Grover's lady friend. It's been almost 10 years at this point since Oscar Folsom had died. So it's not weird to anyone that Grover's going after his best friend's widow. In fact, it seems kind of meant to be even Emma assumes Grover was courting her. I mean, he pulls out all the stops for the Folsom ladies. He even takes them to the top of the Washington Monument, which had been completed the previous year but wasn't even open to the public yet.
But eventually, Emma realizes it's not her Grover wants to marry, it's her daughter, exactly how she found out is a mystery, but she was apparently not thrilled about it. The problem was Frances was actually falling for Grover. Was it the result of a literal lifetime of grooming? Yeah, obviously. But when Frances made up her mind, she wasn't the type to let anyone talk her down. Not for a lack of trying, though. Even Frances friends tried to talk her out of it, too.
She's beautiful, educated, she's young, and she's in the prime of her life. She has suitors literally knocking down her door and she's got her sights set on Uncle Cleeve.
I mean, it's hard for them to comprehend, but Frances insists she's in love. Grover officially proposes later that summer, and Frances accepts and eventually comes around to support it, saying that Frances, quote, made a hero out of him before she was out of short dresses. She looks at him through the glamour of Love's young dream, end quote.
And to be totally clear, none of this makes it sound any less creepy. The rumor of the engagement leaked to the press before anyone makes an official statement. And frankly, no one even believes it's true. One reporter actually asked her secretary, how is the president even thinking about this? Is it Frances, just a schoolgirl? And the secretary can only reply, Miss Fulsom is considerably more than a schoolgirl, I can assure you.
At this point, the cat's out of the bag. Eventually, the official announcement confirms that the wedding is set for June 2nd, 1886, in the White House's Blue Room.
It's going to be a small ceremony, just a few family members and close friends, all the president's cabinet members and their wives. But this is the first time a president has ever been married in the White House. So rest assured, the press was clamoring at the door, trying to get a look at the marine band is there to provide the music. The conductor was planning to play a quartet called The Student of Love.
But when Grover found out, he flinched and said, tell Sousa he can play that quartet, but he had better omit the name of it. When the wedding begins at 715 PM, Francis is escorted down the aisle by none other than Grover Cleveland because, again, in addition to being the groom, he was also the closest thing she had to father of the bride, the only one there to give her away, which should just signal you how messed up this whole thing really is.
Now, the ceremony itself lasted about 10 minutes. And Frances Folsom, Cleveland officially replaces Rose as first lady at twenty one years old. She was and still is the youngest person to ever hold that title. But like I said, she was gorgeous and charming. So once she was in the White House, the public honestly quickly forgot about the weird, insanely creepy age gap and became obsessed with Francis. Companies tried to capitalize on her popularity by putting her photo on everything without her permission, from sewing machines to soap bars to laxatives.
And after a brief honeymoon in Maryland, the newlyweds settled down and got back to business in the White House.
According to author Charles Lokman, Grover followed a pretty regular routine on workdays. He sat down in the library at 10 a.m., spent the morning reading through mail, and then in the afternoon he took visitors. Anybody could just show up at the White House back in the day and talk to the president. They didn't even have to make an appointment. So what he actually got done during these meetings is a little up in the air. At 5:00, he took his carriage out for a drive around the city.
Dinner was at seven. And then he did a few hours of paperwork before getting to bed at midnight. Not exactly a workhorse, but it didn't take him a lot of time to sort through those piles of paperwork because his go to response was to veto everything on his desk. Grover believed in a limited government like a really limited government. In his opinion, if it isn't directly spelled out in the Constitution, the legislature doesn't have the right to do it, even if it's something that'll help the entire country.
He once famously wrote to Congress that though the people support the government, the government should not support the people. During his first term, Grover used a record breaking 414 vetoes. To put it in perspective, that's double the amount of all his predecessors combined. He vetoed hundreds of pension bills for civil war veterans. He vetoed a bill to buy ten thousand dollars worth of seeds for farmers whose crops were ruined during a drought. He refused to use any federal power to enforce the 15th Amendment, which secured voting rights for people of color.
And this was just a couple decades after the Civil War. So if the federal government was enforcing voting rights in the South, no one was.
The only thing Grover really wanted to do, actually, was to get rid of Chinese Americans. He extended the Chinese Exclusion Act, which, you guessed it, prohibited virtually all immigration from China to the U.S. He also lobbied Congress to pass the Scott Act, which said that if you're a Chinese national living in the U.S., if you leave the country for any reason, you can't come back ever. So the minute Grover signed this bill into law, it left more than 20000 Chinese born U.S. residents stranded outside the country with no way to get back in.
And for anyone who was still in the U.S., they would never be able to visit their family members back in China. This law would remain on the books for decades, but Grover wouldn't be around for so long. Luckily for everyone, his do nothing strategy extended to his reelection campaign. Those first four years flew by without much really happening, for better or for worse. And in 1888, it was time to get back on the campaign trail, at least metaphorically.
Grover himself didn't lift a finger to participate in his own campaign. Instead, he sent his running mate, former Senator Alan Thurman, on a speaking tour in his place, which is kind of cruel because Thurmond was so. 74 years old and not in great health, the DNC chairman even commented, we might just as well nominate a corpse. Poor old Thurmon collapsed on stage twice during his nationwide tour, which did not help the campaign's image at all.
Surprisingly, though, Grover actually won the popular vote by a very small margin, a zero point eight percent margin, to be exact. But he lost the Electoral College by 233 votes to 168. He even lost his home state of New York. But Grover took it amazingly well.
The morning after the results came in, his secretary found him working at his desk as if nothing had happened. Grover just laughed about the results and said one party won and the other has lost. That is all there is to it from start to finish. President Cleveland was so blasé about the job, it's hard to tell if he ever actually wanted to be president in the first place. Which makes it especially weird that when Cleveland left the White House in March of 1889, Francis told one of the stewards, quote, I want you to take good care of all the furniture and ornaments in the house.
I want to find everything just as it is now when we come back again, four years from today, end quote. That's right. This bizarre saga is not over yet. Never before in American history had a former president successfully run for re-election after being voted out of office. But if we know anything about Grover Cleveland, it's that he didn't like to abide by accepted norms.
He was just shy of his fifty second birthday when he left the White House. He still had time for a comeback. Coming up, we'll look at Grovers reelection campaign and the final scandal that almost brought him down. Now back to the story. After four years of Grover Cleveland, better known as President Veto, Benjamin Harrison took office in 1889 and he had big plans to actually pass bills and create programs. In fact, his plans for government spending were so big he completely drained the U.S. Treasury and raised here of so much, it sent the economy into a tailspin.
So by the next election in 1892, everyone was nostalgic for the good old days when the president did absolutely nothing. And just like that, Grover Cleveland was back at it.
And on Election Day 1892, he won by a pretty big margin. Grover and Francis moved back into the White House. Unfortunately, the furniture was not where they left it. First Lady Caroline Harrison had redecorated the whole place. Congress had set aside sixty thousand dollars for the renovations, which is worth about one point seven million today.
And that's just a small peek into the budgeting problems the new president inherited. Thanks to Harrison running the Treasury into the ground, Grover takes over right at the beginning of a little something called the Panic of 1893. Long story short, a few huge companies go bankrupt. There's a run on the banks and by May, the economy is in shambles. And while all this is happening, Grover is distracted by another problem. On May 5th, while the economy is collapsing, he notices a bump on the roof of his mouth.
He figures, you know, it's nothing he's got enough to deal with as is. So he ignores it. But by June, the spot is still there and it's getting worse. He finally goes to a doctor and it turns out it's a malignant tumor, squamous cell carcinoma, to be specific.
The good news is the tumor can be removed with surgery. The bad news is the surgery is super risky in hundreds. Grovers Dr. Joseph Bryant actually wrote a paper on oral tumors a few years before this and he put the mortality rate of surgery at 14 percent. Not great odds, especially when the fate of a nation is in your hands. So Grover decides, first of all, that they need to keep this secret. He's not even four months into his second term yet.
If the public finds out that he has cancer, it would only add to the panic. But he doesn't tell anyone, not even his cabinet, not even the vice president, Adlai Stevenson, who would have to take over the country if Grover dies, if they're going to keep this under wraps.
Doing the surgery at a regular hospital is out of the question. It has to be done somewhere with total privacy. And if the president is going to disappear for a week or more while he recovers, he needs a good excuse just in case reporters start poking around or asking questions. So Grover does what he's always done best. He comes up with a creative cover story. One of Grover's friends owns this luxury yacht called the Oneida. The plan is Grover will announce that he's taking the yacht on a trip to his summer home in Cape Cod.
The surgical equipment will be smuggled on board in the dead of night, so no one sees it. They'll set up a makeshift operating room below deck. And while they're out on the open seas on a moving boat, his doctors will perform the complicated, life threatening surgery. Clearly, this plan is nuts, but somehow Dr. Bryant agrees, and he manages to recruit a small team of doctors who are willing to help him. So on July 1st, 1893, President Cleveland set sail.
As soon as they start operating, it's clear that this tumor is a lot bigger than anyone thought, they end up having to remove a whole section of Grover's upper jaw along with five teeth. And it leaves this hole in his mouth, nearly two and a half inches long and an inch wide. But amazingly, the operation is a success. Grover lives. It'll take him a few weeks to recuperate, but he's expected to make a full recovery. There's only one problem.
This surgery happened on July 1st. Pretty soon it's the Fourth of July and the president is MEPA. Even though he announced he was taking a vacation, everyone assumed he'd still make some sort of appearance in Cape Cod on Independence Day. I mean, he's the president of the United States. But by afternoon, his yacht was still nowhere to be found. The trip from New York to Cape Cod should have only taken a day or so, not for a handful of reporters had gathered outside his estate, Gray Gables, and they were starting to ask each other, like, where is he when the fourth passes without a single word from Grover Cleveland?
Rumors start to spread that he must be seriously ill. The Oneida finally docks late at night on July 5th, and Grover is quietly spirited off to Grey Gables by the next morning. The reporters have found out that he's back and they're clamoring for answers. Grover Secretary of War Dan Lamont tells them that the president's health is excellent. He's just suffering from a bit of rheumatism, so he needs rest for a while in private. Now, that obviously raises some eyebrows.
So that evening, one reporter for the United Press heads over to the estate to check things out. He finds Dr. Bryant sitting on the porch and he asked him if he can say anything about the president's alleged illness. Dr. Bryant says everything's fine. It's just rheumatism. And the reporter replies, then, doctor, the report that he is suffering from a malignant or cancerous growth in the mouth and then an operation had been performed to relieve it is not correct.
This catches Dr. Bryant off guard. Like how did he find out all of the specifics? He's so surprised that instead of denying it, Bryant replies, he is suffering from the teeth. That is all. Dr. Bryant wouldn't answer any more questions, but the next morning, July seven, the interview is published verbatim. And this is the United Press. So it's not just one newspaper. It's syndicated all over the country. Immediately, Gray Gables is flooded with reporters from all over the Northeast, if they get anywhere near the house, they might see Grover laying in bed with a swollen face and then the jig is up.
So Dan Lamont has to spend all day wading up the road, intercepting the reporters and corralling them into a barn. He gives this makeshift press conference where he says, OK, you caught us. Here's what happened. President Cleveland really hates going to the dentist. So his teeth got into really bad shape and he finally had to do something about it. So he had some oral surgery done on the yacht where he could be comfortable and get a nice sea breeze.
And now he's going through a bout of rheumatism, as we said. What a terrible coincidence. Nothing more to see here. Please be on your way. Now, most of the reporters are not buying it, but they don't really have any evidence to the contrary since the nation is already in the middle of an economic panic. So they decide as a group to all report the official story, it's best not to sow any more confusion. All of the rumors are quelled, at least for the time being.
And it looks like Grover is making a good recovery. But while he's laying up in bed, the economy keeps falling into chaos on July 11. For more, big banks fail in one single day. There aren't many reliable stats from this period, but some estimates say that unemployment was up to 20 percent. That's almost as high as the peak of the Great Depression. So who's running the country throughout all of this? Who knows? The president is out of commission.
His cabinet doesn't know where he is or what's going on. Vice President Stevenson tries to head out to Gray Gables, but when Grover gets word, he sends a telegram telling Stevenson not to come. Instead, he orders him to go out to the West Coast for a bunch of pointless meetings, which will eat up the next month of his time. After a full month on Cape Cod, Grover finally heads back to Washington on August 4th. He sends a message to Congress.
He doesn't actually, you know, delivered himself, which only raises suspicion. But the message says basically that Congress is to blame for the financial situation and it's up to them to figure out how to fix it. So that's super helpful. And three days later, Grover quietly disappears from Washington, leaving behind a note that says he's going back to Gray Gables for the rest of August. Well, Grover is hiding out and the nation is on fire. A reporter named E.J. Edwards manages to get the full scoop on the yacht operation on August 29.
The Philadelphia press runs the headline. The president, a very sick man in operation, performed on him on Mr. Benedict's yacht. Part of the jaw removed a disease whose symptoms gave indications that it might be sarcoma. So that's probably the second worst headline Grovers had to deal with in his life. And he deals with this reporter the same way he dealt with Maria during the secret baby scandal.
First, he recruits a bunch of his friends to refute the story from newspaper editors to the former postmaster general. And then he has them personally attack E.J. Edwards, who broke the story. He's criticized so badly that it completely ruins his career as a journalist. And just like with Maria Halpin, the strategy works. Everyone believes Grover the good. He finally returned to Washington at the end of August and his mouth is healed enough that he can wear a prosthetic in his mouth, which means that he looks and speaks perfectly normal.
So as far as anyone can tell, he never had any operation at all. But even after the scandal passes, Grover doesn't want to admit that he's feeling the after effects of the surgery. He was left with a constant earache that made him irritable and fatigued all the time. Grovers, private secretary, said he was a considerably different man in the years that followed. He worried more easily and he tended to dismiss things that troubled him rather peremptorily. Not the best response to a country in a depression.
For the most part, he doubled down on his old strategy of ignoring problems and doing as little as possible. And when he did decide to take action, it was usually disastrous. Probably the worst example of this came in the summer of 94, when the American Railway Union organized a strike.
The Pullman Company had cut wages for workers in the middle of a depression. But the president responded by sending over 12000 Army troops into Chicago to break up the strike. As many as 30 strikers were killed, 57 were injured, and the union's leaders were imprisoned. Meanwhile, of course, Grover still refused to use federal troops to enforce voting rights. He also failed to do anything to help the economy recover. People were starving, suicide rates were skyrocketing, and the commander in chief was as absent as he'd ever been.
Now, Grover had been able to muddle along, doing as little as possible during his first term because things were going relatively OK without him. But when he was put to the test with the nation in crisis, everyone started to realize how big of a problem his lack of leadership was by the end of his second term. Author Matthew Algeo writes that Grover was, quote, probably the most despised man in America. He received so many threatening letters that the number of police officers guarding the White House was increased from two to 27.
So unsurprisingly, he didn't even consider running for a third term. He left office in 1897, just a couple weeks before his sixtieth birthday. Bizarrely, though, in the century since his reputation rebounded yet again, he's generally ranked within the top half of all presidents.
And most historians consider him to be a moderately successful leader and an admirable person, which is pretty amazing when you consider the fact that he was a sex offender, a kidnapper, a child groomer, racist and overall do nothing. If we're going to forget Grover Cleveland, which is fine, we should at least be clear about why we're ignoring him. It's because if you look too close, the whole facade he crafted for himself collapses. He wasn't an honest man who stood up against corruption.
He was just an incredibly good liar. Thanks for listening next week. I'll be back with a new episode on Another Forgotten Face.
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