Saturday, August 25, 2012

Grover, A Study in Double Project Whammies

now finished (actually, finished a week ago): Grover Cleveland: A Study in Courage by Allan Nevins

President #22! The arrival at Grover Cleveland in my presidential bios project is a momentous occasion. It's the halfway point. It's the first bio that spends time in the 20th century: Cleveland finished his second term in 1897, and lived until 1906. And yeah, about that second term? This president marks the point in my project at which I split off from, oh, everybody in that I refuse to call any of the presidents who come after him (not Benjamin Harrison, who comes between him, but the presidents who come after) by the numbers that other people like to call them. You will say McKinley is the 25th president, and Teddy 26th, and so on up through Barack the 44th. But no! Because Grover Cleveland is only one president. He had the 22nd and 24th presidencies, and I will say that, but I can't say that he was the 24th president. Because he was the 22nd president. He was the 22nd person to become the U.S. president. He didn't become another person when he got elected again. This is a pet peeve of mine, and one about which I clearly have no hope of changing anyone's mind, ever. But seriously. There was even talk, later, of him running again, after McKinley started to irk people. So then he would have been the 22nd and 24th and 26th or something? Consider how ridiculous you sound.

Anyway. Grover. Besides his lovable name, what's there to note about Grover? Let's see:

  • Like my boy Millard (Fillmore, duh, #13), Grover came from Buffalo, New York,  to the national political scene. Buffalo was so totally important in the 19th century, and I, for one, would like today's Buffaloans (?) to know that I recognize the coolness in your city in all its (well, former) glory.
  • He was a lawyer. Soooo many lawyer presidents. He was also really hard working and he made me feel guilty for being such a good young man who worked hard without complaining and helped provide for his family. I totally disagree with him about not liking to travel to other cities/states for work, because he hated it and that is one of my favorite things to do, but I also probably never in my life work as hard as he routinely did.
  • He's mainly remembered for being the two non-consecutive terms guy, but it's kind of more interesting that he was the first Democrat in the White House since James Buchanan (#15, right before Lincoln). There was a serious Republican dynasty going on -- you know, back when the Republican party wasn't routinely hijacked by flag-waving-social-moral-conservative-abortion-hysteria freak shows -- and Grover was the breath of Democratic air in the midst of it all. 
  • Silver. Oh my god. If you ever want to spend time reading about national currency woes vis-a-vis the gold standard and whether or not there should be free coinage of silver? Grover Cleveland is your man. I personally felt my brain glazing over, and every time I thought we were done with the silver issue it would crop up again, years later. But if you're into that kind of thing -- well, then, actually you probably know all about Grover's role in the silver and currency crises already, if you're into that kind of thing. Right. Moving on.
  • Unfortunately, our boy Grover was a little creepy. Back in Buffalo, one of his BFFs died, and Grover was executor of the estate and took care to make sure the wife and young daughter were provided for and doing all right and stuff. Then time passes, Grover becomes governor of New York, he moves to Albany, and pretty soon he's president and heads to the White House. Young daughter of BFF, meanwhile, goes to college. Grover visits her. They're still friends -- until they're suddenly MORE than friends, and they get engaged and married. So. Gross. It's like, really Grover? The creepiness factor just skyrockets at this point. First wedding in the White House, though, so that's exciting. And apparently, it was a happy marriage, I guess? Five kids, contentment, lots of fun times. But really creepy there, Grove. Seriously. 
  • Other than that (I know, right? "Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?") Grover had integrity. He routinely pissed off people who wanted spoils and favors and insider treats and tricks by telling them where they could go. Which just makes me ask, again, as I so often do in this world, what is up with men? Especially men in positions of power, but really, all men. How can you have integrity that actually differentiates you from masses of your fellow politicians, catapulting you to a position of much needed leadership, and then just be so completely entitled and creepy about a young woman? And you know, Grover also had an "illegitimate" child. I am not one to judge the "illegitimate" part, because obviously I think that is the stupidest way to label a child and I could give two shites about marriage, wedlock, and all that, but I'm just pointing out that Grover in Buffalo had certain proclivities and he did NOT have a relationship with the mother of said child, although he paid for the child and didn't try to shirk responsibility, although he DID question whether he was, in fact, the father...but while he was all about being honest and good in his work, why didn't that carry over into respecting his intimate relations instead of objectification behavior? It's just interesting to consider. 
  • But you know, nobody's perfect. (Least of all middle-aged men who date 20-year-olds.) And our boy Grover was honest, a good friend, and boy did he like to go fishing. He's someone that a lot of people liked. His presidencies (there's that plural you love!) are filed under not terrible.
And now, about the book.  Not only was this part of my prez bios project, but Grover Cleveland: A Study in Courage is also a Pulitzer winner in the Biography category (1933), so I got to check off an item on another of my little lists as well. However, I'm a little sad to say that I didn't love it. I liked some things about it. For one thing, Allan Nevins, the author, writing in the early 1930s interviewed many people who actually had known Grover Cleveland, so the biography and sources of much information were fascinating in that sense. Also, you could tell that Nevins, coming from a totally jacked-up economic time in the U.S., really felt that importance of the whole 1880s-1890s currency/silver/hard money/economic issues, which, as I mentioned, he writes about for pages and pages and pages and pages. He just had a very immediate sense of his subject, it seemed, which was cool. And he's obviously quite the historian, and there's even an Allan Nevins prize for scholarly historical writing something good for him.

But there were occasional weird choices in the book. Here's one: how do you not mention McKinley's assassination at ALL? I mean, part of the fun of prez bios is reading the post-presidency chapters, when the presidents live to the post-presidency that is. And if something hugely significant happens in that next president's term, of course it is mentioned. And Nevins even talks about Cleveland traveling to my (other) boy Rutherford B. Hayes' (#19) funeral. So, what the hell? How does he not even MENTION McKinley? He talks about Grover and  William getting along famously at the latter's inauguration, and about how the Democrats were dissatisfied with William and thinking of having Grover run again, and then all of a sudden a few pages later President Teddy Roosevelt does something or other and it's like, what the hell?

So that's that. On to president #23, Benjamin Harrison, the one who came between Grover I and Grover II. And then, McKinley, the 25th presidency, but only president #24, who is called president #25. And so on. Sigh.

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