A fresh look at the only president to serve nonconsecutive terms
Having run for President three times, gaining the popular vote majority each time—despite losing the electoral college in 1892—Cleveland was unique in the line of nineteenth-century Chief Executives. Graff revives Cleveland’s rags-to-riches story, explaining how he fought to restore stature to the office in the wake of several weak administrations. A fascinating account of the political world that created American leaders before the advent of modern media.
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Henry F. Graff is a professor emeritus of history at Columbia University, where he taught his pioneering seminar on the presidency. The author of The Tuesday Cabinet and the reference work The Presidents, he is a frequent commentator on radio and television. He lives in New York.
Ira Claffey has narrated or co-narrated numerous audio titles from Macmillan Audio. His work includes Rock Rats, Thomas Jefferson, Rutherford B. Hayes, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John Quincy Adams, Grover Cleveland, James Madison, and Theodore Roosevelt. Of Ira’s narration of Theodore Roosevelt, AudioFile magazine has said, “Ira Claffey's passionate but cultivated voice is the perfect medium in which to join two men of refinement.”
1Early YearsCleveland was baptized Stephen Grover, but he never used the Stephen after he grew up. He was the fifth of the nine children and third son of the Reverend Richard Falley Cleveland and Ann Neal, a native of Baltimore. There her father, Abner Neal, made a living as a bookseller and publisher of law books. He and his family had emigrated recently from Ireland, possibly fleeing the consequences of involvement in the 1798 uprising against the British crown. Ann’s mother, Barbara Reel, was a Quaker of German background from Germantown, Pennsylvania. The new baby, then, like his siblings, would be regarded as a “typical” American—an amalgam of English, Irish, and German stock.The father of the future president was a Yale graduate, class of 1824, ordained into the Presbyterian ministry at the Princeton Theological Seminary in 1829. Having fallen in love with Ann Neal while he was a tutor in Baltimore, he and she were married the same year. The fledgling minister’s maiden pastorate was the First Congregational Church of Windham, Connecticut. To the dismay of her husband’s new flock, his bride arrived on the scene accompanied by a black maid, and garbed in a flashy dress, her wrists jangling with bracelets. Quickly, though, she sent the maid back to Baltimore, took off the jewelry, and began comporting herself in less dazzling fashion as a devoted helpmate to her husband.Richard Cleveland worked so hard in his post that he fell ill. Friends, believing that he needed a change of scene, obtained a pulpit for him in a Presbyterian church in Portsmouth, Virginia. The lively Ann was pleased that once more she could put on her jewelry and dress as she pleased. Two years later, in 1835, Reverend Richard was called to the pastorate of the Presbyterian congregation in Caldwell, New Jersey. There he came under the influence of the Reverend Steven Grover, an aging minister, long associated with the church, who was filling in in the pulpit until the Clevelands got there. When their fifth child arrived soon afterward, it seemed apt to name him for the admired elderly cleric.The tiny village of Caldwell, where Stephen Grover Cleveland came into the world, was originally known as Horseneck. It had been renamed in 1798 in honor of James Caldwell, a minister whose exploits during the Revolution in support of Washington and his troops had earned him the sobriquet of “Fighting Parson.” Located just northwest of Newark on the Passaic River, Caldwell had a population of no more than a thousand in the 1830s, having doubled in size since 1800. It enjoyed a reputation for having such salubrious air that physicians recommended to their patients locating there as a cure-all for a medley of ailments. Like many such pin-dot communities, its coterie of farm families were supplied by a general store, a sawmill, a distillery, a local cider mill, and a blacksmith’s shop. But its history was unique, and an inquisitive family like the Clevelands must have gloried in what they learned of it. The very road on which the Cleveland two-story frame house stood, now known as Bloomfield Avenue, had been the scene of the well-remembered Horseneck Riots of 1745, which pitted the settlers against the proprietors of New Jersey over land titles, in what may be considered one of the earliest rebellions against the Crown.As isolated and sleepy as small towns still were in the 1830s, a new epoch was emerging, although it was only in retrospect that people could know this was so. More than ever before, Americans—not only the Cleveland family—were on the move. After the Erie Canal was opened in New York in 1825, a canalbuilding frenzy gripped the country. By the time the Panic of 1837 put an end to the canal boom, it was possible to travel along internal waterways from New York to New Orleans. All in all, three thousand miles of canals crisscrossed the country, mostly in the North. Yet the horse remained ubiquitous for most transportation until well into the next century. It was the railroad, though, its route not bound by the availability of rivers and lakes, that became the great binder of the nation, its tracks serving as giant straps connecting the sections better than ever before. Whereas there were twenty-eight hundred miles of rail in 1840, a decade later there were nine thousand. It was plain to see that the “cars,” as railroads soon were called, remade every town center that they reached. Their arrival on schedule forced people to be mindful of the clock. Everything, it appeared, was being done in “railroad time” now, and life was noticeably speeding up. Henry David Thoreau, who was fascinated by the Iron Horse, “breathing fire and smoke from its nostrils,” asked even as he knew the answer: “Do [people] not talk and think faster in the depot than in the stage office?” New states constantly coming into the Union added every few years to the number of stars in the flag: Arkansas in 1836, Michigan the following year, Florida and Texas in 1845, Wisconsin in 1848, and California in 1850.It is safe to guess that the Clevelands, even in their quiet little town, felt the vibrations from these developments. But their way of living was no different from those of their eighteenth-century forebears. When Grover was four years old, his father was called as pastor to yet another church. This time the family moved to Fayetteville, New York, a snug and beautiful village in the western part of the state near Syracuse, enriched by the trade flowing on the Erie Canal. Settled in 1792, it was named for the immortal French hero of the Revolution, the Marquis de Lafayette. The handsome Greek Revival homes that still stand there testify to the prosperity of the local quarries, mills, and farms. Here Cleveland, known to his friends as Big Steve, attended the Fayetteville Academy. Full of drive and dash, the boy was serious in his studies although he participated in pranks. He received excellent training in mathematics and Latin, and he took to his work apparently with self-confidence. He began to enjoy fishing as a hobby, and it would give him pleasure throughout his life. There were few other diversions, and the day practically ended at nightfall, even though the new oil lamps were extending the hours for reading. The penny press was emerging, marked by the appearance of the Sun in New York City in 1833. A few years later Horace Greeley, a transplanted Vermonter, established the Tribune, which in its weekly form became a staple in rural homes. Nevertheless, most small towns were still not touched by the force of daily news. Indoor plumbing, ready-made furniture, and balloon-frame houses were beginning to change domestic habits in some places, but these improvements were beyond the reach of most people, including the Clevelands.Although they would remain impecunious like most clerical households, its members surely entertained no feeling of inferiority or deprivation. Pride of ancestry always buttressed their sense of themselves. The first Cleveland, Moses, a child of eleven, who spelled the name Cleaveland, had arrived in Massachusetts around 1634 from Ipswich, Suffolk County, England, as an apprentice indentured to a joiner. He was accompanied by his brother Aaron. Prosperity soon rewarded the youths’ diligence. Moses’s great-grandson, also an Aaron Cleveland, was Grover’s great-great-grandfather, and a friend of Benjamin Franklin. In fact, he had died in Franklin’s house in Philadelphia while seeking medical treatment in the city. It was he who dropped the letter “a” from the family surname. A Harvard alumnus, he took holy orders as a Presbyterian but, having converted to Episcopalianism, was forced to travel to London in order to be consecrated by a bishop, as was the requirement—in his case, the ceremony was performed by the Bishop of London. Aaron’s son, yet another Aaron, became a Congregationalist minister and, as a member of the Connecticut state legislature, introduced the first bill in American history calling for the abolition of slavery.A forebear, a Moses Cleaveland too, after distinguished military service in the American Revolution, was a successful lawyer in Canterbury, Connecticut, and served in the state convention that ratified the Constitution in 1788. In 1795 he led a group of investors who participated in the Connecticut Land Company’s purchase of three million acres of Connecticut’s Western Reserve. He and a party of associates in the following year established a settlement on the south shore of Lake Erie at the mouth of the Cuyahoga River. Named Cleaveland, in salute to Moses’s efforts, the little village, which had become a thriving town by the time Grover was born, finally dropped the “a” in 1832, when, it was reported, the local newspaper had need to shorten its masthead.Young Grover was conscious that his people were patriots whose deeds were tied to the history of the country. He knew much about the national heroes. When he was only nine years old, in writing a composition on the value of industriousness, he pointed out: “George Washington improved his time when he was a boy and he was not sorry when he was at the head of a large army fighting for his country ... . Jackson was a poor boy but he was placed in school and by improving his time he found himself president of the United States guiding and directing a powerful nation.”During Grover’s growing up, public services were nonexistent and not expected. While Philadelphia had provided itself with a water system in 1801, and New York followed suit a generation later, small communities like Fayetteville relied on local waterways and wells. Although uniformed police came into being in the 1850s, the Fayettevilles of America did not have them until the beginning of the twentieth century. Fire was the great scourge of every community; the...
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