- Series: American political leaders
- Hardcover: 832 pages
- Publisher: Dodd, Mead (1934)
- Language: English
- ASIN: B0006AO0FA
- Average Customer Review: 2 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,954,982 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Grover Cleveland;: A study in courage, (American political leaders) Hardcover – 1934
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I read this book in September 1952 and on Sept 13 said of it: "Am reading a Grover Cleveland biography which makes very good reading even though about things like the tariff, Civil War pensions, and the silver issue. I am enjoying the book thoroughly." On Sept 14 I said: "Book on Cleveland continues absorbing. Just finished the account of the fight to repeal the Sherman Silver Purchase Act. Congress was called into special session on Aug 7, 1893. The greatest speeches in the House were made by Wm. L. Wilson of West Virginia, Bourke Cockran of N. Y., and Thomas B. Reed of Maine for repeal and W. J. Bryan of Neb. against it. Repeal won by 13 votes. In the Senate the silver forces filibustered long, Senators Jones and Stewart of NV. being willing to go on endlessly. Senate tempers grew very sharp. Cleveland refused a compromise and finally on Oct 20 the Senate passed the repeal bill. Nevins, of course, has nothing but praise for Cleveland's course, but I wonder if a non-biased view would also be that his stand was one of principle rather than of a subservience to the moneyed interests. All the rebel in me urges me to agree with the silver men. Radicalism has, in this case, all the seeming, emotional right on its side." On Sept 15 I said: "Book on Cleveland continues great. His effort to change the tariff in 1893-1894 was riddled when eight Democratic Senators refused to follow him. Compromise followed. Accounts of debates in Congress make me feel something is irretrievably lost to me--I want to revel in study of the personalities of the Congress of that era." I was struck by and copied the following from Page 590 of the book: "Probably never before or since in American history have the times been so completely out of joint for so many millions of producers. By hundreds of thousands farmers had sweated in heat and cold, in hope and fear, and then had seen the sheriff come striding across their dooryard. They had turned in bitterness from wheat fields devoured by chinch bugs or grasshoppers, had watched the short-grass parch under sirocco winds while empty clouds drifted mockingly across the skies; had lifted the tailboards and dumped their grain on the streets rather than take the elevator prices; had gathered in menacing clumps as neighbor after neighbor was sold out at auction. From thin Kansas houses they had watched the furious blizzard which froze their cattle to death, and listened to the icy wind whine across the plains to cut the vitality from their huddling children. In southern cabins they had tossed thru hot nights sick with worry, and risen to stare out at shriveled cotton not worth the picking. There was no sugar on the table, no money to put the son in high school, no books or magazines. they creaked to town..." On Sep 20 I said: "Finished Nevins' book on Cleveland. The book is very favorable to Cleveland, though not a whitewash. I enjoyed the book greatly."
In his wonderful People's History of the United States, Howard Zinn portrays Cleveland as a Democrat in name, but as Republican as his predecessors and successors. Zinn's view is somewhat typical of how history remembers Grover Cleveland, and it takes an in-depth portrait like this 832-page biography from Allen Nevins to properly remember Cleveland.
The Populists opposed the protective tariff because American consumers were forced to pay premiums for necessities, thus raising their cost of living. Grover Cleveland had precisely the same view of the tariff. He proposed cuts in nearly all protective tariffs in his first and second terms, and avidly sought their enactment. The other important financial matter during his tenure was the currency. Populists were opposed to the gold standard because it caused a tight money supply and deflation, which meant that debtor farmers had to repay loans in more dear currency when the loans were due. Cleveland understood this, but he believed that a weak currency would be just as debilitating to the average man.
His remarks that appear sympathetic to big business were simply to reassure jittery citizens that had not known a United States led by a Democratic president since the Civil War. Cleveland was opposed to imperialism, opposing not just to the annexation of Hawaii, but also to the repudiation of the Clayton-Bolwer treaty when the United States had a chance to annex Nicaragua in 1884. Cleveland's reliance on his cabinet members such as Richard Olney led some to believe Cleveland had opposed unions and was unwilling to break up trusts, but these actions were more a matter of Olney misinforming Cleveland. In fact, Cleveland's other second-term Attorney General, Judson Harmon, filed a pair of successful lawsuits against a railroad pool and a cast-iron pipe monopoly. Harmon's tactics were the blueprint for the more famous trust-busting suits of the Roosevelt and Taft Administration.
Allen Nevins is unlikely to change the opinion of Howard Zinn, whose political views are somewhat to the left of those of Karl Marx, but this biography ought to revise the opinion of the average American toward a president who is not well-known because the primary issues of his presidency are not sexy. The currency issue is probably the least understood issue in American presidential history, and the tariff is not too far behind. Both issues are financial in nature and thus, not very interesting to many people. Cleveland's primary first-term issue, executive civil service reform, has not been issue in over one hundred years, but it was the most important presidential issue of the 1880s. Cleveland's efforts toward civil service reform are laudable, and certainly justified the faith of the Mugwumps, who jumped from the Republican Party to vote for Cleveland in the 1884 election.
The tale of the 1884 election is probably the most fascinating story in the book. Grover Cleveland beat James G. Blaine in a close election, decided by Cleveland winning Indiana and New York. The election in New York was so close, that any one of five factors could have turned the election to Cleveland. Belshazzar's Feast and the Burchard Affair were two Blaine campaign muffs that cost him votes. Ignoring the temperance petition of Elizabeth Cady Stanton put St. John in the race as a Temperance Candidate, and his candidacy cost Blaine numerous votes. The enmity of the retired, but still powerful, Roscoe Conkling, toward Blaine cost the Republican candidate votes along the Erie Canal. Finally, Mugwumps such as Carl Schurz and Henry Ward Beecher left the Republican Party to vote for the Democrat Grover Cleveland in such numbers that they affected the election. Any one of these factors might have affected the election - but all five of them, together, most definitely did.
Given that Nivens wrote this biography of Cleveland in 1932, it is surprisingly palatable and easy to digest. He does have an annoying habit of introducing names such as Godkin and Gorman and other political figures of the 1880s that are not well-known today by their last name only, with no first name or description of who they were. It is also unsettling to read a statement such as "So much has been written of it that there is no need to relate the story again in full." Similar statements appear in the book about Cleveland's so-called affair and his marriage and other incidents of his presidency. Maybe these incidents were well-known to readers during the Depression, when Nevins wrote this biography, but they are not familiar to many of today's readers.
The version of the book that I read was the 1962 Dobbs, Merrill version, which was in remarkably good condition for a fifty year old book. There were no pages falling out, and everything was bound together well. A few pages were cut imperfectly.