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Friday, March 18, 2016

Grover Cleveland Portraits

Official White House Portrait, Grover Cleveland, 1891, Eastman Johnson.
Apparently Cleveland sat for only two presidential portraits, this one
and the one by Zorn (below).
It's difficult not to like and admire a man who get's knocked down, then rises back up to fight again and eventually win. Such a man would be Stephen Grover Cleveland the twenty-second, and also the twenty-fourth President of the United States. Today, March 18th, would have been his 179th birthday. Born in 1837, near the small town of Caldwell, New Jersey, Cleveland won the popular vote for President three times. He was something of an anomaly--a conservative Democrat. Today, we'd not only call that an anomaly, but an oxymoron. Cleveland was the leader of a pro-business group of Democrats who opposed high tariffs, free Silver, inflation, imperialism, and subsidies to business, farmers, and veterans. His crusade for political reform and fiscal conservatism made him an icon for conservatives of the era. He won praise for his honesty, self-reliance, integrity, and commitment to the principles of classic liberalism. He relentlessly fought political corruption, patronage, and "bossism." As a reformer, Cleveland had such prestige that a like-minded wing of the Republican Party, called "Mugwumps", bolted the GOP throwing off their support of their own presidential ticket, swinging their allegiance to Cleveland in the 1884 election.

Grover Cleveland, 1899, Anders Zorn (National Portrait Gallery). Cleveland very much liked the portrait, commenting to a reporter, “As for my ugly mug,
I think the artist has ‘struck it off’ in great shape.”
Grover Cleveland ran for President in 1884, 1888, and 1892. He won in 1884 and 1892. Why did he lose in 1888? The Republicans gained the upper hand in the campaign because Cleveland's campaign was poorly managed whereas his opponent, Benjamin Harrison, had engage more aggressive fundraisers and tacticians. Republicans campaigned heavily on the tariff issue, turning out protectionist voters in the important industrial states of the North. Furthermore, the Democrats in New York were divided over the gubernatorial candidacy of David B. Hill, weakening Cleveland's support in that swing state. As a result, Cleveland lost his home state of New York by 14,373 votes. The election largely turned upon Cleveland's loss of Indiana (where voter fraud was a factor), New Jersey, and New York. Al Gore would have been sympathetic to his plight. In leaving the White House after their first term, Cleveland's wife, Frances told the staff, "...I want you to take good care of all the furniture and ornaments in the house, for I want to find everything just as it is now, when we come back again."

For a May-December marriage, the couple lived happily until death did they part.
Rose Cleveland
Speaking of Frances, besides being elected to two non-consecutive terms, Grover Cleveland has another distinction as well. When Cleveland (a bachelor) first moved into the White House, he brought with him his sister, Rose Cleveland to serve as hostess, which she did for the first two years. Then, on June 2, 1886, Cleveland married Frances Folsom in the White House Blue Room. Though Cleveland was the second President to wed while in office (John Tyler was the first), he was (and still is) the only President to actually have been married in the White House. The marriage was unusual, since Cleveland was the executor of his bride's father's estate and had supervised Frances's upbringing after her father's death. Nevertheless, the public was delighted with the match. He was fifty-one at the time; she was twenty-one. Frances Folsom Cleveland therefore became the youngest First Lady in history, and remains so to this day. The couple went on to have five children.
Why there should be two versions of essentially the same portrait seems to be a mystery
 (to me, at least). Perhaps the first was rejected; but if so, which one was the reject?
As the Clevelands left the White House in 1889, they moved to New York City where the former president took a position with a major law firm. The arrangement was more of an office sharing deal than a job, though it proved quite suitable. Cleveland's law practice, such as it was, brought only a moderate income, mostly because Cleveland spent considerable time at the couple's vacation home, Grey Gables, at Buzzard Bay, where fishing became his obsession. While they lived in New York, the their first child was born in 1891. Cleveland's enduring reputation as chief executive and his monetary pronouncements made him a leading contender for the Democratic nomination in 1892. His Democratic opponent was Senator David B. Hill of New York. Hill united the anti-Cleveland elements of the Democratic party but was unable to create a coalition large enough to deny Cleveland the nomination. Cleveland was nominated on the first ballot at the Chicago convention.
Today, a candidate feels lucky to survive the grueling torture of one presidential campaign...two at the most. But three? The man must have been a glutton for punishment.
In 1892, the Republicans re-nominated President Harrison, setting up a rematch of the election four years earlier. Unlike the turbulent elections of previous years, this one was, the cleanest, quietest, and most creditable in memory. This was in part because Harrison's wife, Caroline, was dying of tuberculosis. Harrison did not personally campaign at all. Following Caroline Harrison's death just two weeks before election day, Cleveland and all of the other candidates stopped campaigning, thus making for a somber and quiet event for the whole country as well as the candidates. It was a three-man race the final result being a victory for Cleveland by wide margins in both the popular and electoral votes-- Cleveland's third consecutive popular vote plurality.
Grover Cleveland, Perry Ives
Cleveland's second term was marred by the Panic of 1893, as well as various outbursts of labor strife. But all this paled in comparison to Cleveland's bout with cancer. In 1893, Cleveland sought the advice of the White House the physician as to a soreness on the roof of his mouth and a crater-like ulcer on the left side of his hard palate. Samples of the tumor were sent anonymously to the army medical museum. The diagnosis was not a malignant cancer, but instead an epith-elioma (an abnormal, layered growth). Cleveland decided to have surgery secretly under the guise of a vacation cruise. The surgeons operated aboard the a yacht owned by a friend as it sailed off Long Island. The surgery was con-ducted through the President's mouth, to avoid any scars. The size of the tumor and the extent of the operation left Cleveland's mouth disfigured. During a second surgery, Cleveland was fitted with a hard rubber dental prosthesis that corrected his speech and restored his appearance. Cleveland enjoyed many years of life after the tumor was removed; and there was some debate as to whether it was actually malignant. Several doctors stated after Cleveland's death that the tumor was a carcinoma while other suggested a benign salivary tumor. In the 1980s, analysis of the specimen finally confirmed the tumor to be a low-grade cancer with a low potential for spreading, making Cleveland the first president to be a cancer survivor. Nonetheless, Cleveland's health declined over the next several years, and in the autumn of 1907 he fell seriously ill. In 1908, he died after suffering a heart attack.

Westland Mansion ~ Grover Cleveland's Home,
Princeton, New Jersey


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