On the final day of Grover Cleveland's first term in office, his wife turned to a member of the white house staff and said. "I want you to take good care of all the furniture and ornaments in the house, for I want everything just as it is now when we come back again. We are coming back. Just four years from today."
Four years later, she was right.
Follow along as Cleveland graciously accepts defeat in 1888 only to become convinced he must run again, wins the white house, and them stumbles into one of the greatest economic depressions of the 19th century. By the time he leaves office, the party will be done with him and his brand of small-government politics forever.
1. Grover Cleveland – Henry F. Graff
2. Benjamin Harrison – Charles W. Calhoun
3. The President and the Assassin: McKinley, Terror, and Empire at the Dawn of the American Century – Scott Miller
4. T.R. the last Romantic – H.R. Brands
5. The Moralist: Woodrow Wilson and the World He Made – Patricia O’Toole
Welcome to Abridged Presidential Histories with Kenny Ryan. Episode 24, Grover Cleveland, Part II, Grover strikes back
On March 4, 1889, as Grover Cleveland and his wife Frances prepared to say goodbye to the white house on his final day in office, Frances turned to her favorite white house servant and said, “I want you to take good care of all the furniture and ornaments in the house, for I want everything just as it is now when we come back again. We are coming back. Just four years from today.”
Four years later, she was right.
Grover Cleveland is the only president in American history to serve two non-consecutive terms, which will hopefully win you a trivia contest someday, and it also makes for an interesting story. Because, it’s not like former presidents never run for office again after leaving the white. Five have done it . It’s just that they never win – unless they’re Grover Cleveland.
So what makes Cleveland special? And why did the American people reelect him four years after rejecting him? And why did he have a secret surgical operation on a yacht that was hidden from the public for 30 years?
Didn’t expect that last one, did ya? Get ready for Grover Cleveland part II, Grover strikes back.
When a sitting president loses reelection, they usually say “wow, that was stressful, I’m going to take the book deal and retire.” And then they let someone else play the role of America’s political pinata.
But not Grover Cleveland.
Four years after leaving office, he’d be back. Defeating the man he’d lost to in 88 – Benjamin Harrison – in a rare presidential rematch.
So why’d he do it? Why’d he run again? Was he furious about his defeat? Did he claim the election had been stolen from him? Were his supporters demanding his return?
Quite the opposite.
When Grover Cleveland lost the presidency in 1888, he lost reelection despite actually winning the popular vote, 5.5 million to 5.4 million. But, in a scenario that would be repeated in 2000 and 2016, the winner of the popular vote lost the electoral college 233 to 168. And Cleveland set a precedent in 1888 that would be followed by Al Gore and Hillary Clinton more than a century later by accepting the results of the electoral college and not contesting the election.
And I like to think Cleveland did that because he knew the popular vote margin was bullcrap.
The reason Cleveland won the popular vote, and lost the electoral college, is that rampant suppression of Republican African American voters in the south allowed the Democrats to run up huge voting margins there, only for the party to be more narrowly defeated everywhere else.
And maybe that’s why, when someone asked Cleveland why he lost the race, he answered, “It was mainly because the other party had the most votes.”
When Benjamin Harrison’s inauguration arrived, Cleveland was there in attendance. When it rained during Harrison’s speech, Cleveland held an umbrella over Harrison’s head. When the day was over, sure, Frances had told the white house staff they’d be back, but Cleveland had higher priorities for the years ahead.
Namely, making babies.
If you remember episode 22 on Cleveland’s early life and first term, he had married Frances during his first term, and it was kinda creepy. Frances was 27 years younger than him. Cleveland had been good friends with her father, who had died when she was young, turning Cleveland into her de-facto guardian. He’d known her so long, he’d bought her first crib when she was a baby – she grew up calling him “Uncle Steve.” And then, when she was 21, and he was president, uncle Cleve became husband Cleve.
It’s weird weird weird weird weird. But I’m going to move on from how weird it is, because we’ve covered it before, and I’m done with it.
Together, Frances and Grover had five children together starting in 1891. And - Get your trivia book ready – the first of those children was named baby ruth. Yes, like the candy bar. Which is actually what I’m about to talk about. Baby ruth later died in 1904 at the age of 13, and 16 years later, a Chicago candy company renamed one of its candy bars the Baby Ruth, ostensibly in honor of Grover’s deceased child.
But, it’s more likely that they picked that named because Babe Ruth was incredibly popular baseball player who played just down the street from the candy company, and they wanted to kinda sorta use his name without paying him, so they opened their history textbooks, saw Baby Ruth’s name, and said “Ah hah! She’s the one we named the candy bar after. Not Babe!”
And now you know the history of the baby ruth candy bar, which is exactly what you were expecting to learn at the start of this episode.
Ok, so Grover and Frances kicked off his post-presidency by making babies. What else was going on? Well, Grover opened a law firm in New York city and started rubbing shoulders with business elites in ways he never had before. Remember, Cleveland had gone from being a Buffalo mayoral candidate to president of the United States in, like, less than three years. He hadn’t had time to befriend anyone who was rich and powerful during that rapid rise, and he certainly didn’t do it while he was in the white house, because that would have looked bad. But now that he was a former president, sure, he’ll take a nice paycheck from American financier JP Morgan, one of the richest men in the world, and become his friend.
Surely that’s not going to influence how he acts during his second term in the white house a few years later, right?
The other thing Cleveland did in his retirement was hate watch Benjamin Harrison like your uncle sitting in front of their favorite angry news channel. Sure, Cleveland had been really nice at the inauguration and held that umbrella over Harrison’s head, but that was before Harrison started reversing almost all of Cleveland’s policies. Tariffs were raised, union veterans got the pensions that Cleveland had kept denying them, and the federal surplus Cleveland had built up was totally wiped out by the so-called Billion Dollar Congress.
So, as Cleveland spent day after day sitting around and reading about Benjamin Harrison in in the paper, he got angrier, and angrier, and angrier, and eventually decided, screw this, Harrison is mucking everything up, I must run again to save the nation from Harrison’s crazy policies.
And so the desire to run again was born.
And now I’m going to take a step away from Grover Cleveland for a bit, because there was one other major phenomena going on out in the country that is going to play a big role in the election of 1892.
A third-party movement was growing and getting strong.
For quite a while now, farmers had been growing dissatisfied with the major political parties, because neither of them seemed to be looking out for the farmers. The value of their crops was going down, the costs of their purchases was going up, and one bad harvest could ruin your ability to pay that bank loan you owed. During the early years of the Harrison presidency, we saw this movement start to grow when it allied itself with the silver miners, who said, hey, we have a ton of cheap silver that we would love to sell. If we sold it all to the government so they could print a ton of silver-backed money, inflation will drive up the value of your crops, but the amount of money you owe the banks will stay the same, so you could finally pay off your debts and then start turning a profit. You farmers will come out ahead, and us silver miners will come out WAY ahead. Win, win, win. And this alliance was strong enough to actually get congress to pass the Sherman Silver Purchase act, which bought all that silver and printed all that additional money.
Which made the farmers and silver miners think, hey, maybe we can ask for more. In the summer of 1892, the farmers held a convention in Omaha where they formed a national populist party called the “People’s party” that nominated a candidate for president and crafted a platform that attempted to merge the needs of the farmers with the needs of the city poor. The Peoples’ party really was quite progressive. It called for, yes, more silver backed dollars, but also a graduated income tax, 8-hour workdays, a generous pension for union veterans, single-term limits on presidents and vice-presidents, government ownership of the railroads to cut down crippling shipping rates, decreasing the tariff so every day goods would become cheaper, the adoption of the secret ballot in all elections, because, yeah, there were still places where everyone could see which way you were voting, and the direct election of U.S. senators, who were still largely elected by state legislators.
That is a very progressive platform for the 19th century. And it was very popular with the increasingly neglected lower classes. But the People’s party had one big problem – race. When an earlier farmers convention had attempted to unite southern farm associations with northern farm associations, the southerners insisted on having segregated black and white lodges, which the northerners refused. As a result, the People’s party lacked southern support and was viewed as too progressive on race by many potential supporters.
So, as the election of 1892 drew near, three parties, each with their strengths, weaknesses, and blind spots, geared up to contest the white house. The Democrats quickly renominated Grover Cleveland, who, remember, had won the popular vote four years earlier, on the first ballot at the Democratic national convention. The republicans renominated President Benjamin Harrison on the 1st ballot of their convention after a little bit of drama when his secretary of state resigned days earlier just in case the party wanted to nominate him instead – awkward. And the Progressive Peoples Party nominated a man named James Weaver.
As the election approached, the first thing the Democrats did was further lock down the south behind them.
In 1890, the state of Mississippi organized a convention to write a new state constitution. The convention president laid out the agenda for the constitution when he said, quote, “Let’s tell the truth if it bursts the bottom of the universe. We came here to exclude the negro. Nothing short of this will answer.” The convention then proceeded to write a new state constitution stuffed with voter suppression techniques that became known as “The Mississippi Plan.” The Mississippi Plan included things like literacy tests, which politically savvy supporters of the plan said were important you don’t want uneducated citizens casting ballots in elections. This doesn’t sound too sinister on the surface, until you realize systemic racism in the state education system made sure only 11% of Mississippi African Americans knew how to read.
I bring this up because, today, you see people arguing for laws that restrict access to polling booths for reasons that, on the surface, don’t sound so bad. Until you realize they disproportionately impact one part of the population more than another. The purpose of history is to learn from it. And, unfortunately, some legislatures have learned how to whitewash voter suppression laws.
So Cleveland and the Democrats had the south on lockdown. That left the rest of the country up for grabs, and that’s where a death of a thousand cuts started adding up for the Republicans.
I went into a bit of detail on this in Harrison’s episode, so I’ll be brief here, but between an unpopular tariff, the death of Harrison’s wife keeping him off the campaign trail, the Populist Peoples’ Party stealing votes out west, Cleveland’s strong support for the gold standard winning him the support of banks and industrialists in the northeast, and rampant voter suppression disenfranchising African Americans in the south, Cleveland was able to expand the Democrats’ electoral map into the north and west and win a second term.
Cleveland won the popular vote, 5.5 million to 5.2 million for Harrison, and 1 million for Weaver and the populist party. And Cleveland won the Electoral College 277 to 145 for Harrison and 22 for Weaver, who won five states out west.
Just like that, Frances’ prophesy was fulfilled. Four years after leaving D.C., the Cleveland’s were headed back to the white house.
And so, on March 4, 1893, 56-year-old Grover Cleveland, who had already served four years as the 22nd president, was sworn in as the 24th president in Washington DC, forever throwing off the numbering presidential administrations and people who have been president. He was older, wiser, and he had richer friends, and he not at all ready for the massive economic depression that’s about to fall on his head.
But before we get there, let’s take a look around the world, and the nation, he inherited.
Internationally – the independent kingdom of Hawaii was overthrown by foreign business interests in January, 1893. And U.S. marines may have been on the scene. Buuut I’m going to save the story of Hawaii for William McKinley’s episode, so stay tuned.
Domestically, in December, 1891, a Canadian-American feller named James Naismith came up with a new game he called “Basketball.” Which might have legs.
In 1892 an American inventor named Jesse Wilford Reno patented an escalator concept that would become the first escalator to actually be built when it was installed four years later at New York’s Coney Island where, get this, I’ve read it served as an amusement ride. So, next time you’re stuck on a crowded escalator, remember, that used to be fun!
Oh, and the American economy was about to collapse into a violent and anarchic hellscape. Get ready for the depression of 1893!
Ok, so remember how the Republicans made all those really big changes to the American economy during President Harrison’s administration? High tariffs? Lot’s of silver-backed currency? The works? Well, those policies were starting to do some pretty weird things to the economy. When the United States put up its big tariff, foreign nations put up their own big tariffs on the United States, causing exports to drop significantly. The impact of the Sherman Silver Purchase act was a bit more unique. This was the act that ordered the US government to buy a bunch of silver and to offer silver-backed money, which it did. If you had a $10 bill, you could redeem that bill for $10 of gold or $10 of silver. And if you had $10 of gold or silver, you could redeem it for a $10 bill.
But there was one big problem. Nobody really believed the silver was worth as much as the gold. So americans started trading in their silver for $10 bills and then trading those in for gold, which depleted the federal gold reserves. The federal gold reserves were important because that’s what it paid its foreign debts with. When word got out that gold reserves were running low because everyone was hoarding it, that triggered a run on the banks, which sparked our familiar ripples of economic depression. Americans demanded their money from the banks, but the banks didn’t have the money because it had loaned it out to the people and businesses – especially railroads. And guess what, there was a huge railroad bubble at that moment. When the railroads couldn’t pay back the banks, they started falling like dominos. 119 railroads failed in 1893 alone, ruining their investors and spreading the economic panic. Before you knew it, 600 banks had closed, 16,000 business had failed, farm prices were cratering, 20% of factory workers were unemployed, and president Grover Cleveland had to figure out what to do.
Cleveland began by compelling Congress to revoke the Sherman Silver Purchase act – but this was not an overwhelmingly popular thing. The narrative I just painted of this act helping cause the depression is just one argument of what caused the Panic of 1893. The Silver act still had its backers, including Cleveland’s own vice president, and they fled Cleveland in droves after he killed the Silver Act.
And killing the silver act didn’t solve all of Cleveland’s problems. Because, great, people couldn’t continue trading silver for government gold, but the federal gold reserves had already been depleted to a dangerously low level. Something had to be done to restore them if the government was going to pay its bills.
And that’s when Cleveland remembered his new friend, JP Morgan.
Remember how I said Cleveland had befriended the richest men in America between his terms in office? That’s about to work out very well for JP Morgan. Morgan was a banker and investor who had a hand in everything. He owned mines, steel mills, railroads – he was a titan of his age. When Morgan heard the U.S. government was about to run out of gold to pay its bills, he called up his old friend Grover and made an offer – Morgan had organized a banking consortium that would sell the U.S. government $62 million dollars-worth of gold in exchange for $65 million dollars of bonds. Grover said yes, and the public was outraged when it found out. Why? Well, imagine you lost your credit card and you needed $62 dollars to pay a bill, and I said “I have $62 dollars in cash right here, but you have to pay me back $65 to get it.” Sure, you got the cash you needed, but I’ve taken advantage of your misfortune to make a few dollars profit. That’s what the U.S. government and JP Morgan did, times 1 million, and it steadied the government’s books, but really pissed off Americans who were furious to read bankers were making a profit when everyone else was dealing with the fallout of the depression.
Fallout like the Great Pullman strike of 1894.
What’s this about. Well it starts with a recent development in travel called the Pullman sleeping car. Sleeping cars had existed before – these are train cars you can sleep in, straightforward enough – but they’d traditionally been cheap, uncomfortable things. A Chicago businessman named George Pullman changed all that when he introduced a luxury sleeping car in 1865. By day, the Pullman sleeping car resembled a typical passenger car, but fancier – it had walls made of walnut and fixtures made of brass. But it got even better at night, when seats folded over, beds lowered from the ceiling, and velvet curtains were unfurled to create an illusion of privacy and actually provide a relatively comfortable sleeping experience. The sleeping cars caught on and made George Pullman a fortune. Which was pretty great, except for one thing – George Pullman was a huge d-bag.
To support his growing rail car empire, and make himself one of the richest men in America, George Pullman built a company town in Illinois that looked really nice at first glance, but which was actually a trap. Pullman forced all his employees to live there, and then he charged them rents that were 25% higher than neighboring towns. He’d buy water in Chicago for 4 cents and sell it to his employees for 10 cents. He forced employees to buy marked up food and goods from company stores. And work days were 16 hours long. And then, when the depression of 1893 struck, Pullman cut everyone’s salaries 25%, but didn’t lower rents a dime. Fed up employees went on strike, and when their leaders presented demands, Pullman fired them on the spot. Then a young union organizer named Eugene Debs got involved. Debs was one of the leaders of the 150,000-member United Railroad Workers Union – these are the guys who work the trains and railyards – and Debs convinced them to support the Pullman strike by refusing to work trains that included Pullman cars – which ground freight and rail travel to a halt pretty much everywhere west of Chicago. George Pullman asked the Illinois governor to break the strike, but the governor refused, so Pullman came up with a plan to get the feds involved. Rail operators began attaching mail cars to all the trains that had Pullman cars. So then, when the strikers refused to operate those trains, they were also blocking the delivery of the mail – a federal offense. Cleveland’s attorney general deputized men to break the strike. When they arrived at railyards, confrontations turned violent. The Attorney General then convinced Cleveland to send thousands soldiers to Chicago, the nation’s rail hub, to break up the strike by force, despite the Illinois governor say “no, please don’t send those soldiers here.” When the soldiers arrived,violence broke out again and as many as 30 Americans were killed by U.S. soldiers firing into the mobs of laborers. Eugene Debs, who had sent more than 4,000 telegrams urging his union members to act peacefully, was arrested and thrown in jail on conspiracy to interfere with U.S. mail. The strike was eventually crushed and the movement of trains restored, but only after 250,000 Americans had participated in related strikes or riots and millions of dollars had been lost by the rail companies. Debs spent the six months in prison, but we’re going to hear from him again. Because Debs spent that time in jail reading up on this new idea called socialism, annnnnnd he’s kind of about to form the Socialist Party of America, and then run for president five times from 1900 to 1920. That’s right, we’re about to see a genuine socialist party of the United States, and Debs will be the heart of it.
So that is the Panic of 1893 and the Pullman strike of 1894. As you might imagine, these two events crushed national support for Cleveland, who didn’t really accomplish much of note the rest of his administration.
Although… he did pull off one hell of a secret operation. Literally.
Shortly after entering office, Cleveland had noticed a lump at the roof of his mouth, which was soon diagnosed as cancer. Cleveland decided to hide the diagnosis from the public and underwent secret surgery on a yacht at sea to remove the tumor. The details of this operation are nuts. He was tied to the central mast of the ship to hold him steady as the doctors rushed through an operation before the weather could change and turn a calm sea into a rocky one. Parts of Cleveland’s upper left jaw and palate were removed and a prosthesis was created to make it appear as if nothing had happened at all. When a journalist learned about the secret operation and wrote about it, Cleveland and his team mercilessly attacked the writer’s reputation. It wasn’t until 1917 – a decade after Cleveland’s death – that the truth came out when one of the surgeons wrote an article describing the operation. Cleveland, a man who’s most popular quote is “Above all, tell the truth,” used lies and coercions to attempt to take this secret to his grave. We’ll hear a lot more about this operation in a couple episodes when I interview author Matthew Algeo on his book, The President Is a Sick Man: Wherein the Supposedly Virtuous Grover Cleveland Survives a Secret Surgery at Sea and Vilifies the Courageous Newspaperman Who Dared Expose the Truth
It's all pretty crazy. But there is one more story from Cleveland’s presidency I want to share with you. The time we almost went to war with Great Britain.
That’s right. You thought we were done butting heads with the british, but not quite yet. And it comes down to the Monroe Doctrine – that nearly 100-year-old idea that nobody but the Americans can putz around the Americas.
In this case, the row started with a territorial dispute down in South America, where Great Britain still maintained control of an old colony named Guana which bordered independent Venezuela. The thing is, nobody had ever bothered to map exactly where that border was because both sides thought surveying and negotiating a precise border would cost more than the land was worth – until a prospector discovered gold in the area in the 1880’s, and suddenly both sides were very interested in where the border lay.
As the U.K. swung its sword around, Venezuela asked the U.S. for diplomatic support keeping the Brits at bay, and the Americans came out strong on behalf of the Venezuelans, to which the Brits said “bite me” and then both Americans and Britons started talking about war.
But that war scare lasted only a hot minute before the Americans realized the large British navy could easily burn America’s ports, and the British realized America’s army could easily conquer undefended Canada. That wasn’t a trade anyone wanted to make, so tempers cooled on all fronts and a peaceful settlement was found – a border was established that gave the U.K. and Venezuela each something, but not as much as either truly wanted.
Oh, and as for that gold field? A 42-lb boulder of pure gold would eventually be dug up there – the largest gold nugget ever found. Sweet.
So that basically wraps up the second term of Grover Cleveland.
There was an economic collapse
A secret surgery
And almost a war with Great Britain.
Then, in 1896, Cleveland’s own party rejected his renomination at its national convention when a young man named Williams Jennings Bryan gave a powerful speech in favor of more silver-backed currency, not less. Bryan blasted the gold-favoring bankers by declaring, “You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns, you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.” – we’ll hear a LOT more about William Jennings Bryan in the episodes ahead, as he, will run for president three times over the next 20 years.
On March 4, 1893, Grover and Frances Cleveland left the white house for the last time, again. This time, there were no proclamations of “We’ll be back.”
So how had America changed during the 4 years of the second Cleveland administration? One new state had been added – Utah, in 1896.
Labor Day was created as a national holiday in 1894, basically as a “oops, sorry” for letting the army kill all those people during the pullman strike earlier that year. Though it initially only applied to federal workers. Everyone else would have to wait a few more decades.
The world’s first Ferris wheel opened on June 21, 1893, at the Chicago World’s Fair. The Fair’s organizers had been trying to find a grand American marvel to serve as the fair’s centerpiece that could rival the Eiffel Tower, which had been built four years earlier for a World’s Fair in Paris. That’s when George Farris reached out and said, “I have this wheel idea,” and bam, Ferris wheels are now a staple at festivals worldwide.
The third big american development of Cleveland’s term was a legal one, and it’s another one that has you saying ‘what the heck is wrong with the supreme court?” In 1896, the supreme court ruled that racial segregation laws were constitutional so long as each race had facilities of equal quality – this is the origin of the “separate but equal” standard that existed until the 1960’s – a standard that heavily emphasized the “separate” part and ignored the “equal” bit. This case, by the way, was sparked when a man who was one-eighth black – as one, one black grandparent, 7 white grandparents – was arrested for boarding a white’s only Pullman sleeping car. Yeah, this all kinda goes full circle, doesn’t it?
As a result of this ruling, the United States is about to get more open in its racism over the decades ahead. Whites will get new schools, minorities will get shacks; whites will get nice rest rooms, minorities will get buckets; Whites will get to ride in the front of the bus, minorities will be sent to the back. This is easily up there on this show’s growing list of “worst supreme court decisions ever.”
Internationally, Swiss entrepreneur Karl Elsener invented the first Swiss Army knife in 1894, the Lumier brothers hosted the first public showing of a motion picture in Paris in 1894, the Olympic Games were revived in Athens in 1896, and the first sino-japanese war was waged from 1894 to 1895. This war between Japan and China resulted in the Japanese occupation of Taiwan and political domination of Korea.
It’s been a while since I talked about Japan. I last mentioned them in 1868 when Japan was fighting a civil war known as the Boshin War, which installed a forward-looking emperor who wanted to rapidly modernize Japan. To do this, Japan sent a series of missions out into the world to identify the best ways to modernize its constitution, economy, army, and navy. They modeled the constitution on the Russians, the army on the Germans, and the navy on the Brits. By 1894, the reforms had taken hold. When Japan went to war with China in 94, it inflicted 7 times as many casualties as it suffered despite being outnumbered 2-to-1 on the battlefield. With this victory, Japan was ready to embark on a 40-year streak of taking names and kicking ass that will basically start here and run unchecked until it collides with the Americans in world War II, but we’ll get to that in time.
After leaving office, Cleveland was actually happy when Republican William McKinley defeated Democrat William Jennings Bryan in the presidential election of 1896 – a reflection of how far the party was running from Cleveland’s unpopular policies and presidency. Cleveland spent his final years living around Princeton, where he actually interacted with the man who would be the Democrat’s next President, Woodrow Wilson. The two didn’t get along, spending most of their time squabbling over minor academic issues, which is soooooo Woodrow Wilson.
11 years after leaving the presidency, Cleveland’s health took a turn for the worst. On June 24, 1908, he died of a heart attack at the age of 71, His last words were, “I have tried so hard to do what is right.”
So what do I make of Grover Cleveland? Well, if I were to name three things he should be named for, I’d suggest:
One – He’s the only president to serve two non-consecutive terms
Two – “Ma Ma, where’s my pa!” The 1884 election is a master class in turning bad PR into good PR. I still can’t believe an alleged rape sex scandal was turned into moment of strength when Grover’s campaign asked him how to respond and he allegedly said, “Above all, tell the truth.” There’s a lot to learn there in how to respond to bad press.
Three – Cleveland was the last small government democrat. Remember, Grover was King Veto issuing more vetos per year than any other president in American history. And he believed the government held no role in helping struggling americans, saying at one point, quote “Though the people support the government, the government should not support the people.” And then during the economic panic of 1893 and the Pullman strike of 1894, Grover did nothing to help struggling americans, except sending more bayonettes their way, pointy-ends first. Our next two democratic presidents will be Woodrow Wilson and FDR, two of the biggest big-government presidents we’ve ever had. The Democratic Party is about to change in a big, big way.
And, quick aside, if you don’t mind. I can’t help but be struck by the Cleveland quote I just shared “Though the people support the government, the government should not support the people.” And how similar the sentiment is to one of John F Kennedy’s most famous quotes, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” This is just a striking lesson in rhetoric on how you can have two quotes that basically say the same thing, but one sounds incredibly callous, while the other sounds so inspirational. I would love to attend a rhetoric lecture that just analyzed those two quotes.
Ok, so, what lessons in leadership can we learn from Cleveland? I’m going to say equanimity. When he won the popular vote, but lost the electoral college in 1888, he didn’t fight the results or threaten violence or civil war. And because he took this higher road, nobody was concerned about him being an unhinged crock when he ran for reelection for years later, allowing him to recapture the presidency. If you focus on what’s ahead of you instead of what’s behind you, you’re more likely to get where you want to go.
Thank you for listening to today’s episode of Abridged Presidential Histories.
If you enjoyed it, please subscribe and leave a 5-star review on your podcast-listening platform of choice. I so, so, so love to read your 5-star reviews.
You can also follow the show on Facebook, at abridged presidential histories, or on Twitter, at APHpodcast.
If you’d like to support the show, you can look it up on Patreon, or go directly to www.patreon.com/abridgedpresidentialhistories. It helps me buy books and pay to host the show.
The music in today’s podcast is a public domain recording of the United States Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps. The intro music was a recording of Isaac Brands from Smithsonian Folkway Records.
The primary biography for today’s episode was Grover Cleveland, by Henry F Graff.
In our next episode, I’ll talk with historian Mark Summer about how Cleveland won the election of 1892, and whether we live today in a second Gilded Age.
That’s next time, on Abridged Presidential Histories.