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H. Paul Jeffers
H. Paul Jeffers
An Honest President: The Life & Presidencies of Grover Cleveland
ISBN: 038097746X
An Honest President: The Life & Presidencies of Grover Cleveland
Best known as the only president to be elected to two non-consecutive terms, Grover Cleveland also impressed with his record as a staunch reformer. This book provides the first full look at a president whose moral timber and courageous administrations have more to say to today's politicians than perhaps any other leader in American history.
—from the publisher's website
An Honest President: The Life & Presidencies of Grover Cleveland
Program Air Date: August 6, 2000

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: H. Paul Jeffers, why do you call Grover Cleveland an `honest' president?
Mr. H. PAUL JEFFERS, AUTHOR, "AN HONEST PRESIDENT: THE LIFE AND PRESIDENCIES OF GROVER CLEVELAND": Because that's what he was. When he was running for president in 1884, Joseph Pulitzer wrote an editorial endorsing him, and he gave four reasons for wanting Cleveland to be elected. He said, `One, he's an honest man; two, he's an honest man; three, he's an honest man; four, he's an honest man.'
LAMB: Where was he born?
Mr. JEFFERS: He was born in Caldwell, New Jersey.
LAMB: Why there?
Mr. JEFFERS: His father was a minister--Presbyterian minister assigned there, and I think Grover spent about four years there, and then his father, Richard Cleveland, was transferred to New York state, and that's how Grover wound up as a New York politician.
LAMB: What were the jobs that he had in his life--all the political jobs?
Mr. JEFFERS: His first political job was as an alderman. He ran for alderman, and then he was appointed assistant district attorney in Erie County, served for two years; ran for district attorney and lost; and then some years later, by default because no one else would run for the office, he ran for mayor of Buffalo and was elected, a Democrat elected in a Republican city. And he made such as impact there--his nickname was `The Veto Mayor' because he vetoed any bill that he thought was a blatant raid on the public treasury. And in 1884--I'm sorry, 1882, the Democrats in New York were looking for someone to run for governor, and they said, `Why not this governor--this mayor of Buffalo?' And he got nominated and won in a landslide.
LAMB: How'd he get to be sheriff up there near Erie?
Mr. JEFFERS: He...
LAMB: Or down near Buffalo.
Mr. JEFFERS: He ran for the office and was elected and served two years, I think. And he's the only president of the United States who personally hanged two men--two murderers. But he--as sheriff, he was so concerned that somebody else on the sheriff's staff would do--was assigned to hang people. He asked his mother whether or not it was morally right for him to let someone else do this terrible task, and she said, `Yeah, it's fine,' but he just couldn't bring himself to do it, so he hanged the two guys himself.
LAMB: What impact did that have on his political career?
Mr. JEFFERS: None. None. You know, it was not unusual in the 19th century, for people to be hanged. And I think the fact that he did it himself probably enhanced his reputation. However, hangings, of course, were public, and huge crowds came to see these hangings, but Grover had canvassed barricades set up so the public couldn't see it. They were there and they knew what happened, but they weren't able to watch the two guys drop.
LAMB: Why a book on Grover Cleveland at this time?
Mr. JEFFERS: Well, first, there hadn't been one real full biography of him since Allan Nevins did one in the 1930s.

LAMB: By the way, how old is he in this picture?

Mr. JEFFERS: He's, I think, he's in his 20s, perhaps 20. Considerably slimmer there than he was when he was president of the United States. He liked to eat, and he very, very quickly put on weight.

So I had done two books on Theodore Roosevelt, and an editor at Avon Books, Steven Power, happened to read them and liked them, and he happened to be a Grover Cleveland fan and got in touch with my agent, asked whether or not I'd be interested in doing Grover Cleveland, and I said, `Why not?' Because I'd kept running into Cleveland when I was doing my Theodore Roosevelt books anyway, and, of course, they're the same time period. So that's how the book came about.
LAMB: What were the terms that he served? What were the dates? And, also, tell us a little bit about what was going on in that time?

Mr. JEFFERS: OK. He was elected in 1884, he was then the governor of New York; had been governor for less than a year--for about a year and a half. So he was elected first time in 1884, was defeated for re-election by Benjamin Harrison in 1888. It was the Electoral College thing. Grover had the popular vote, and Harrison had the electoral vote. So he's the only non--president to serve non-consecutive terms. And he--he came back and ran again in1892 and got elected again.
LAMB: Is there anything new in this book?
Mr. JEFFERS: I don't think so. I think the difference between this and other books is that I wanted to put the emphasis on Grover Cleveland, the man, and less on the politics and the analysis of policy and so forth that had been the subject of a couple of books that came out in the 1950s and '60s. But I wanted to find out, as I'm sure you learned when you were in school--so did I-there were certain things you knew about Grover Cleveland: He was fat; he was the 22nd and 24th president of the United States; he got married in the White House; he had a daughter named baby Ruth, he had a child born in the White House and that was about it.

And it had been so, so long since anybody'd done him, I just fell in love with the guy as I started getting into this because it turns out--I mean, if you look at his pictures, I mean, he's just this huge man, and he's got this walrus mustache. He looks very stern and off-putting. But he was quite a warm and even funny guy when you got to know him. Quite a wry sense of humor.
LAMB: Here's a photograph of him in 1884. What was he doing then?
Mr. JEFFERS: That's when he was governor of New York, and that's when he ran for president of the United States as a Democrat.
LAMB: If you were around him, what kind of a person would he have been?
Mr. JEFFERS: Well, if you were around him--it depends when you were around him. If you were with him in Buffalo, when he was a young man and an attorney, prior to him becoming mayor, and even when he was mayor, you would have spent a lot of nights in saloons and in German beer halls. You would have eaten a lot of sausage and sauerkraut, and you would have played cards throughout most of the night, and there would have been a lot of bawdy jokes, and there would have been hunting and fishing expeditions in the Buffalo area.

When he became mayor, there was less of that because he was busy, and he spent long nights working as mayor. So he wasn't out carousing quite as much. When he got to be governor of New York, he suddenly had a whole new cadre of friends. The politicians he met in Albany were a lot different than the ones he met in Buffalo. In Buffalo, you worried about water treatment and whether the sidewalks were broken and that sort of thing. In Albany, suddenly you're talking about taxes and the place of New York state as the primary state in the Union. So there was a lot less carousing.

He was not a big social guy. He went to--for instance, in Buffalo, went to very, very few dances, or cotillions as they called them. And he wrote a letter to his brother, when he became elected governor, worrying about the requirements that were going to be imposed upon him for socializing, and he did as little of that as possible. And then that--of course, that became even more exacerbated when he became president of the United States, with a lot of formal dining for ambassadors and ministers and so forth. And he was a bachelor; there was no first lady. That's him when he first became president of the United States in 18--he took office in 1885.
LAMB: What year did he get married?
Mr. JEFFERS: 1886.
LAMB: So first term in the White House.
Mr. JEFFERS: Yes. Yes.
LAMB: How old was he?
Mr. JEFFERS: He would have been--he was born in 1837, so he would have been--What?--40...
LAMB: Forty-nine?
Mr. JEFFERS: Forty-nine, yeah.
LAMB: Who did he marry?
Mr. JEFFERS: Oh, that's a story. He married Frances Folsom. Her nickname was Frank. Frances Folsom was born to Grover's friend and law partner, Oscar Folsom, in Buffalo in 1864, so Grover was considerably older than her. Oscar Folsom was killed in a--thrown from a--wagon and killed. Grover became the executor of his estate and the ward to Frances Folsom: bought her first baby doll carriage; let her help write out some of the papers that he was working on when he was in his political offices and, basically, raised her.

And everybody thought when he finally came to Washington, as president of the United States, that ultimately he would marry Emma Folsom, Oscar's widow. And Grover said to his sister one day, `Why does everyone keep trying to marry me off to old women? Why don't they think that I might be interested in marrying the daughter?' And, in fact, that's what he did.
LAMB: Here's a picture of her in 1887.
Mr. JEFFERS: Right.
LAMB: How old was she when she...
Mr. JEFFERS: She was 20, 21 when they married. She had just gotten out of college.
LAMB: Do you have any sense of how it happened?
Mr. JEFFERS: He had proposed to her in a letter the year before that. She was visiting friends in Scranton, and he wrote a letter proposing marriage. But very early on, when he was still in Buffalo and people were asking him, `Well, when are you going to get married?' his usual answer was, `I don't think I'll get married at all.' But somebody asked him one day, `Grover, when are you going to get married?' And Frances was in the room, and he looked at her and he said, `Well, maybe I'm waiting just for my bride to grow up.'

So I think he was--you know, he fell in love with her at some point and stayed in love with her, and they got married. And they had a very, very successful marriage, had five children, and she turned out to be a really dazzling first lady, although he didn't like the idea of her being called First Lady of the nation. He just wanted her to be Mrs. Cleveland. But she took Washington by storm, pretty much the way Jacqueline Kennedy did in the 1960s.
LAMB: Did you go back and look at any of the newspapers in that era?
Mr. JEFFERS: Quite a lot, yeah, yeah.
LAMB: What'd you see?
Mr. JEFFERS: Well, I'm an old journalist, and I love going into the old newspapers and not just for the material that I'm writing about, but the sidebars and the other stories. And newspapers, I think, are a magnificent window into the past.
LAMB: Well, what did they make of him marrying a 21-year-old?
Mr. JEFFERS: Everyone, of course, was surprised. Some weren't. Some thought that it was in the cards. But whatever they may have thought of it, she just charmed everybody. There were a lot of rumors that went around that he was a brute to women and that--mostly circulated by his political enemies--that he beat her regularly and so forth. But she wrote letters to people excoriating people who spread those stories. He was very tender and loving towards her. In fact, when they were married, he changed her marriage vow and took out the word `obey' and put in `honor.' So all this stuff about Cleveland having been not very nice to women, I think, just wasn't true. But he certainly loved her.
LAMB: Did they live anywhere else outside the White House?
Mr. JEFFERS: Yes. He was very concerned about the publicity she was getting. He was furious whenever her picture would appear in a newspaper. So he bought a property northeast --far north in Washington in what is now Cleveland Circle, I guess it's called, in Washington, up near the Washington Cathedral. They bought an old house and had it renovated and turned it into a farm called Oak View and had a red roof, and the newspapermen called it Red Top. And that's where they spent--whenever they could get out of the White House, that's where they went.

But in-and then later, he was invited to visit a friend in Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts. Cleveland was a great fisherman, and there's great fishing up there. He fell in love with that, and he bought a--bought some land to build a house, and that became basically his summer White House mostly in the second term. But they spent as little time in the White House as possible.
LAMB: Wh...
Mr. JEFFERS: The White House then, you know, was not like it is today. I mean, Cleveland--Cleveland's office was on the second floor, which is where the living quarters were. And when he decided to marry, he took one of the rooms that had belonged to his steward and had it made into a sitting room for Frances so that she would have something to do during the daytime. But once they got Oak View, they spent a lot of time there largely, because he wanted to get away from the press, which he hated.
LAMB: You have a chapter called Ma, Ma, where's my Pa.
Mr. JEFFERS: Right.
LAMB: What's that about?
Mr. JEFFERS: That's the famous campaign of 1884 when Grover ran for president. A political enemy of his in Buffalo, who happened to be a minister, Reverend Ball, wrote a piece for one of the Buffalo newspapers revealing the fact--and it was a fact--that 10 years earlier, in 1874, a woman named Maria Halpin gave birth to a son, whom she named Oscar Folsom Cleveland, and she claimed that Grover Cleveland was the father.
LAMB: Why'd she put Folsom in the middle name?
Mr. JEFFERS: Well, that's very interesting because Oscar Folsom was Grover's best friend. Now, Maria Halpin was a widow, had come from--to Buffalo from New Jersey, and to put it delicately, she was a very friendly lady, and she knew a lot of the gentlemen of Buffalo, including Grover, who was a bachelor, of course; Oscar Folsom, who was married, and a number of other of Cleveland's friends. There is--was a lot of speculation that, in fact, the child was Oscar Folsom's child and that Grover, being a bachelor, and Oscar Folsom, being his great friend and married, basically, stepped up to the plate and said, `The child is mine.' The other story is that Maria Halpin really wanted to marry Grover and used the child as a--hoped to use the child as a--as a way of coercing him into marrying her.

So, at any rate, all that happened in 1974, and nothing was said about it, or the issue was never raised anytime when Grover was mayor of Buffalo or when he was governor of New York. But when he ran for president, the story broke, and it was a big scandal. And the question was whether or not it would keep him from being elected president of the United States. And when his political advisers came to him and said, `What's this all about? What's going on here?' he said, `Well, yes, it's true. And whatever you do, tell the truth.' So there was no attempt at cover-up, no evading it. He said, `Yes, I was the father of the child. But in all these 10 years, I've been paying for its upkeep.'

So some Cleveland supporters went to Buffalo, sort of an investigating committee, self-appointed, to look into this story and to prove certain aspects of the allegations were not true, namely that Grover had promised to marry her and then reneged on it. They dug all that information up, and they got the Reverend Ball, who first broke this story, to retract almost all of it. So, in the end, while it caused quite a sensation, it really had no effect on Grover being elected president of the United States.
LAMB: Did he ever really admit having fathered the child?
Mr. JEFFERS: Yes, he did. He said--now another friend of his, who was an editor of a newspaper in Buffalo, broached the idea that, actually, Grover claimed parentage in order to save the reputation of Oscar Folsom. Grover rejected that out of hand. But there's--you can look at it even--you can look at two ways: either he was the father, or he accepted the responsibility in order to save the reputation of his dead friend of whose daughter he was the ward.
LAMB: What ever happened to Oscar Folsom Cleveland?
Mr. JEFFERS: He was, for a period of time, put in various orphanages, and he was ultimately adopted by another family, changed his name and went on to live his own life. And Maria Halpin just sort of vanished into the myths of history.
LAMB: You often, in your book, call him Grover by name--first name.
Mr. JEFFERS: Yeah, I do. All through, as a matter of fact. Matter of fact, my--the original title--the title that I wanted for this book was, "Grover, the Good," which was the nickname applied to him when he was governor of New York. But the original editor, Steve Power, liked "An Honest President," and more importantly, the salesmen, the sales staff, at the publisher said, `Well, we think we can probably have more luck selling the book with "An Honest President" than "Grover, the Good,"' which they thought maybe sounded a little too flip or something like that.

But another--one of the reasons I wanted-I called him Grover, not Cleveland, throughout is I wanted to bring him to life and to personalize him, and I don't think you can do that by calling somebody throughout by their last name. And I thought I got to know him so well that he was just sort of Grover to me. Now what most people don't know is that Grover was his middle name. Most--all growing up, until he was in his 20s, he was known as Stephen Cleveland, Steve. His nickname was Big Steve, and all his Buffalo friends called him that. But, for some reason, which I wasn't able to find out, maybe because he was getting more serious in terms of his political life, he decided he wanted to be called Grover, and that's what it was thereafter.
LAMB: He ran...
Mr. JEFFERS: He also had a beard prior to that, which he cut off.
LAMB: He ran three times.
Mr. JEFFERS: Three times for president...
LAMB: Did he...
Mr. JEFFERS: '84, '88 and '92.
LAMB: Did he win the plurality ever in those...
Mr. JEFFERS: Basically, he won all three elections.
LAMB: He did?
Mr. JEFFERS: Yeah, in the popular vote. He lost to Harrison because he lost the state of New York, his own state, which threw it, in the Electoral College, to Harrison.
LAMB: How could he lose his own state?
Mr. JEFFERS: Well, he was never a party machine man and, in fact, had been greatly opposed throughout his career when he ran for governor and as governor by Tammany Hall, the New York City political machine. He was never friends with them. They never liked him, and they wanted him defeated. And another reason why he lost New York when he was running for re-election had to do with positions he'd taken as president on the gold standard and particularly on the tariff questions, which were important to New York, and they voted against him.
LAMB: Could... Mr. JEFFERS: He lost narrowly, but he lost.
LAMB: Could he be a Republican today?
Mr. JEFFERS: He would--he loved the Democratic Party, and he considered himself a Democrat, and I don't know whether he could ever give up that label. But what he stood for, as president of the United States, is 180 degrees from what we think of the Democratic Party for today. I mean, particularly social welfare programs and so forth.

In his first term, he was asked to sign a bill called the Texas Seed Bill. There'd been a drought in Texas, and a lot of the farmers down there got wiped out, and Congress enacted what we today would call a bail-out, legislation to buy seed for them so they could get back in business. Grover vetoed it. He said, `The people support the government. The government does not support the people.' And he vetoed it also because he said it was not the responsibility of the federal government to aid individuals when those individuals had, basically, nothing to do with the welfare or future of the United States government.' So he was not a welfare man, so it would make him very hard today, I think, to be a Democrat and maybe even a Republican, in some instances. He might be a Libertarian. I don't know.
LAMB: You say that he did not accept blacks as equal to whites.
Mr. JEFFERS: No, but very few people in the 18--white people in the 1890s did.
LAMB: How did you find out that he didn't accept them? What...
Mr. JEFFERS: Oh, it's in his own letters and--you know, they're written public record. He was against slavery. Well, he wasn't--he was just a child, really, when the Civil War occurred, but he thought that once blacks were emancipated and given citizenship, that act in itself gave them all that the federal government was entitled to give to them, namely citizenship, and how they got on in their lives was up to them. But he looked around and from his own experience, he viewed blacks as lazy and shiftless and not motivated and unambitious and was very unwilling to admit that blacks could ever find equal footing with whites because, A, blacks were incapable of it, and, B, whites didn't want it.

He had the same view on Chinese. There was a bill on Chinese immigration, and a lot of Chinese had come to this country, particularly in the West, to build railroads. And Grover thought that--and he was certainly woefully wrong on the black issue as--and woefully wrong on the Chinese. He said he didn't see at any time when the Chinese could ever basically assimilate into American society.

I live in New York City, where there's a Chinese restaurant on every corner and Chinatown in San Francisco, and, of course, they're fully integrated into American society. But he believed whites would never accept them.
LAMB: What book...
Mr. JEFFERS: But he was a man of his time. I mean, most white men in the 1890s felt that way.
LAMB: What book is this for you?
Mr. JEFFERS: This is my 42nd book.
LAMB: How long have you been writing books?
Mr. JEFFERS: Since--well, I've been writing them--I've written a lot--many more than were published, but I've always--always wanted to be a writer and a journalist. So throughout my life, I was--there was always a book of some kind that I was working on. My agent, Jake Elwell, says I have to keep doing this until I get it right.
LAMB: What was the first book that you ever wrote--published?
Mr. JEFFERS: First one published was for young adults in 1966. It was called "Gallant Men," and it was stories from American history. And the introductions were written by Senator Everett Dirksen, and that happened because the year before that, I wrote and produced a record album that Senator Dirksen made, which you and some of your viewers may remember, called "Gallant Men."
LAMB: I remember it well.
Mr. JEFFERS: Everett Dirksen with an orchestra behind him and a chorus, and it won a Grammy for best spoken-word record. And if you pardon the pun, the book was a spinoff from the record. And that then led to my second book, which was called "Gallant Women," which was stories about--way ahead of the women's movement, by the way--of important and significant women in American history. And Margaret Chase Smith wrote the introductions to that.
LAMB: Where'd you get the idea for "Gallant Men" and doing the Everett Dirksen record?
Mr. JEFFERS: Well, you remember the great--well, he was one of the last of the great orators and that great mellifluous voice he had. He was--they called him `the wizard of ooze.' He had this great voice, and this was at the time of the Vietnam turmoil, and patriotism was sort of out.

And I was working at ABC News at the time, and it seemed to me that Everett Dirksen doing something patriotic on a record might be a good idea. And I was working, at the time, with Ron Cochran, who you may remember, who was an early anchorman and CBS reporter, who was then at ABC. And also in the same shop was Charlie Osgood, Charles Osgood. Charles is a musician and a composer; most people don't know that, but he writes song. And he had been doing some free-lance work for the government, and he had a little money in the bank. And I spoke to Ron. I said, `You know, I think it'd be great if Dirksen made a record.' And Ron Cochran said, `Well, I know him. I'll write him a letter.'

He wrote a letter, and Dirksen responded affirmatively. And I came down to Washington and met Dirksen. We shook hands. I went back to New York. And here were Ron and I, we have Everett Dirksen under contract, and no money, no recording company, nothing, no script. Charlie said, `Let's go to lunch,' and we had a lunch. And he had written with a collaborator of his, John Cacavas, a song called "Gallant Men." And we put that in the album, and that little single of "Gallant Men" with Dirksen with the band behind him and all got to be number 13 on the top 40 records in 1966. So that's how it happened.
LAMB: How many albums did you sell?
Mr. JEFFERS: About a quarter of a million. It was unbelievable. We said--Capital Records did it, and we said, `Don't bother advertising this record because it'll sell itself.' And they said, `Oh, yeah. Sure.' Well, when it came out--it was released just after Thanksgiving in 1966--no one was in the Capitol. Lyndon Johnson was down on the ranch. Ev called a news conference to introduce his record. Everyone in the Washington media came; Roger Mudd in person. It was mentioned five times in Time magazine--above the fold in The New York Times Sunday News Review. Publicity was unbelievable. He was on "The Tonight Show." He was on every talk show--he was on "What's My Line?" Unbelievable amount of publicity, and it just sold like you wouldn't believe. And Ev got the usual artist's royalty, 5 1/2 percent.
LAMB: What else on this list? And I know you've got things like "Santa Claus."
Mr. JEFFERS: That's a book that's coming out in the fall, written in association with the A&E "Biography" program. And it's written, again, for young adults, and it's the story of how Santa Claus got to be Santa Claus, starting with St. Nicholas.
LAMB: "Corpus Christi."
Mr. JEFFERS: "Corpus Corpus" is a mystery.
LAMB: Oh, I'm sorry. I thought it said Christi.
Mr. JEFFERS: Yeah. It's a mystery.
LAMB: So...
Mr. JEFFERS: I also write mystery novels.
LAMB: many of these 42 or 43 books are mysteries--I mean, are novels?
Mr. JEFFERS: I think about 14 or 15.
LAMB: Which book has sold the most?
Mr. JEFFERS: The book that has sold the most is one called "The Good Cigar: The Art of Cigar Smoking." It came out just--it's all about cigars: the history of them, how to smoke them, rating--I smoke cigars every now and then--ratings and so forth, Cigar Smokers Hall of Fame. And it came out at the very peak of the cigar revival and went into five printings. There was a paperback of it. It just took off like I couldn't believe. Still out there somewhere, although some of the material's out of date because there are a whole bunch of new cigar brands that have been introduced.
LAMB: So have you made a living by just writing books?
Mr. JEFFERS: I have since 1988. Prior to that time, I was in broadcast journalism and writing books on the side. But in the past 12 years, I've pretty well managed, but one of the reasons is that I just don't write one book a year. I spread my--you know, I spread myself around. Fortunately, I'm able to work in various genres. I've--can do history and--and biography, as this book attests and the Roosevelt books; mystery novels.

And, basically, if someone--if I come up with or somebody comes up with a good story and I'm interested in it, I do it. And having been a broadcaster, as I'm sure you know, one thing in broadcasting: You're always up against a deadline. You yearn--learn how to assimilate information quickly and write fast, and for some reason, I have both those capabilities.
LAMB: Where have you spent your broadcasting career?
Mr. JEFFERS: I started in a small station in Pennsylvania, which is where I come from. I was a disc jockey back in the early 1950s. Then I worked in Boston in radio and television, Channel 5 up there, and came to New York. And in New York, I was with--initially with ABC, then went to WYNS, the all-news station after the Dirksen record. Then I went to teach for a year in Syracuse and worked at a television station there producing the news and came back to New York and spent time with NBC and CBS. I'm the only guy who was ever news director of both of New York's all-news radio stations; quit one and got fired from the other, in reverse order.
LAMB: You dedicate your book to Stanley Gordon.
LAMB: Who is he?
Mr. JEFFERS: Stanley's the father of a friend of mine. He's a gentleman of the old school, and he's a portrait painter and lives in upstate New York. And he's a big fan of mine and a brilliant portrait painter. He's done, I think, three portraits of President Bush, one of which hangs in the Yale club in New York. He's just a great old gentleman, veteran of the Second World War and so forth. And since Grover's from upstate and a New Yorker, it seemed right. So I dedicated it to Stan Gordon.
LAMB: In the two terms that he had as president, the 22nd and the 24th president, what was the--you know, there's the panic of 1893.
Mr. JEFFERS: '93.
LAMB: What was...
Mr. JEFFERS: His first term was, really, peace and prosperity in the 1880s, the Gilded Age. Things were fine.
LAMB: Who controlled the Congress?
Mr. JEFFERS: Congress, most of the time when he was president, was either totally controlled or one house was controlled by Republicans. I think there was one brief period where he had--he was fortunate enough to have Democrats in control of both houses.
LAMB: He was the first Democratic president...
Mr. JEFFERS: Since Buchanan. First one since before the Civil War, 24 years.
LAMB: ...since 1860.
Mr. JEFFERS: Yeah. Yeah.
LAMB: This was 1884.
Mr. JEFFERS: 1884. And even then, it was not sure that a Democrat could be elected because the country, basically, blamed the Civil War on the Democrats, on Buchanan and the policies that led up to it. And so he got elected in 1884, and the first term was pretty good. No problems. Second term, shortly after he took office in 1893, the stock market crashed, took a nosedive, the panic of 1893, and that led to a--what they called the Cleveland depression. And the second term was bad. Part of the--a lot of the blame was placed on him because of his position on maintaining the gold standard and on reducing tariffs.
LAMB: What does it mean to maintain the gold standard?
Mr. JEFFERS: The Congress, in this period, had enacted laws that required the federal government to buy and coin all the silver mined in the United States and that the silver could then be redeemed for gold. And there was another law that required the Treasury Department--this is going to sound really crazy--to maintain--considering the billion, trillion dollar budgets we have today--to maintain $100 million in gold as the underpinning of the American economy.
LAMB: We're not on the gold standard today.
Mr. JEFFERS: No. I think we went off--I'm not clear when we went off it, but in this century. But it was the Big Deal in the 1880s and '90s whether or not to have strictly gold or silver. So there were the gold standard people, and there were people in the silver rights. The problem was if you had silver, you could turn it in for gold, and a lot of people started doing that, particularly from overseas. And there was an outflow of gold, and the amount of gold in the US Treasury slipped below $100 million. And at the same time, a major manufacturer of rope, twines, the National Cordage Company in Philadelphia, went bankrupt, and that caused a panic on Wall Street, and the bottom dropped out of the economy in 1893.
LAMB: You say he was an honest president, but he did something in his second term that he never owned up to, the cancer operation.
Mr. JEFFERS: Oh, right.
LAMB: I mean, how can you be honest and then do this in secret and never tell anybody?
Mr. JEFFERS: Well, that's a good question. The reason he didn't want it made public was that the cancer was detected and the operation performed at the very time that the panic of 1893 was going and the bottom was dropping out of the economy.
LAMB: This is a picture here of him on the left and...
Mr. JEFFERS: Him on the left, his wife in the middle and a friend of his, Commodore--I can't remember his name...
LAMB: Going out on the yacht Oneida.
Mr. JEFFERS: ...who owned the yacht Oneida. What happened was Grover woke up one morning, and he had a--felt a sore spot on the roof of his mouth; thought maybe it was a bad tooth or something like that. And it persisted, and finally a doctor looked at it and said, `It's cancerous. If I were you, I'd have it out right away.' Well, the country's in a state of panic. No one in the White House or whatever you called it then, the President's House, the Executive Mansion--didn't want to put on top of an economic panic the fact that the president had cancer.

So they arranged for an operation aboard the yacht Oneida as it sailed from New York City, the East River. Operation was actually performed on the East River. He was on his way to Buzzards Bay, presumably, for his summer vacation. The operation was performed, the cancer was removed. Portion of his jaw, a rubber prosthesis was put in. And except for the fact that, shortly after that, he lost a little weight and he looked a little wan every now and then, no one knew what was going on. And the fact that he'd had this cancer operation was not revealed for another 24 years. And it was finally revealed after he died by one of the doctors, I think, who was involved in it.
LAMB: I've never understood, though, how could you have this cancer the size of--What did you say?--of a quarter or something like that removed...
Mr. JEFFERS: Yeah.
LAMB: ...and how many teeth?
Mr. JEFFERS: Two or three, I think. Well, it wasn't noticeable from the outside. It was in the roof of the mouth, the palate. And there were no visible outward signs of it. He boarded the yacht Oneida and spent the night on the yacht. The next morning--I mean, people could see him from Pier A, sitting out there on the boat, having his breakfast, smoking his cigar. Cigar's the last thing you want to think of...
LAMB: Still smoking with the cancer in his mouth?
Mr. JEFFERS: Yeah, mm-hmm. And he continued to smoke after that, so far as I know. And the boat took off, and at one point the doctor said to the captain, `Captain, if you hit a rock, hit it hard and take us all to the bottom.' But it came off; took about a half an hour. They gave him--they tried nitrous oxide first--wouldn't put him asleep; gave him ether. And when they got to Buzzards Bay, he walked off the boat. He walked to his house.
LAMB: But they had to do it--they didn't get it the first time.
Mr. JEFFERS: A few days after, they took a look at it, and they removed a little more of the material from the top of his mouth, but it never recurred.
LAMB: And they kept that quiet the whole time.
Mr. JEFFERS: Kept it quiet, yup.
LAMB: And didn't he have to speak right after that at a session of Congress?
Mr. JEFFERS: No, not immediately. He didn't make that many speeches, unless he was campaigning or something like that. But, no one noticed.
LAMB: One of the interesting things you point out is that he did not have a text; that is, inaugural speech.
Mr. JEFFERS: Astounding. He had this ability to memorize his speeches. He never gave an inaugural speech as governor or president where he read from either a script or notes. Totally memorized and flawlessly from the text, from the script. And some of them were long speeches; one of them, I think, runs like five printed pages in a book. Totally from memory.
LAMB: And all from memory.
Mr. JEFFERS: Mm-hmm. Part of that's because he wrote them himself.
LAMB: One of the things I also noticed you did in the book, and you did it a lot, is you would quote directly in the text of your copy other historians.
Mr. JEFFERS: Other biographers, right.
LAMB: Now was that a conscious decision?
Mr. JEFFERS: Yeah. Yeah.
LAMB: And, I mean, I wrote down Allan Nevins, who you spoke about earlier, Professor Robert McElroy, Richard Welch, George Parker.
Mr. JEFFERS: Rexford Tugwell.
LAMB: OK, Rexford Guy Tugwell, Horace Samuel Merrill. I don't know that I've ever seen it quite like that. What--explain that...
Mr. JEFFERS: Here's my thinking on that. If you're writing a biography of somebody, you're writing someone's life. The life you're writing about--if--other people have written about him, have written biographies, those biographies became part of that life. And what other historians or biographers had to say about this guy that I'm writing about I think is important and significant and should be included in the book, what their assessments of him were. And in a couple of instances--Allan Nevins, for instance. I mean, he said some things far more eloquently than I ever could, so why should I try to paraphrase him? Why not quote the guy? And that's what I did.

I think it's what--how someone was viewed and how an historian or a biographer has analyzed something that I'm writing about in my book, I think, is relevant. And the reader ought to know. How many people who want to know about Grover Cleveland are going to have to--are going to go out and dig up Allan Nevins' book? It's very, very hard to find. It's in the New York Public Library, but in the reserved section, which means I couldn't take it out. I visioned myself Xeroxing the 700-page book. But I found it on the Internet. Now I have my own copy of it.
LAMB: Who's this fellow, George Parker?
Mr. JEFFERS: George Parker was a guy who just sort of attached himself to Cleveland in the period between the two terms and became--sort of set up and ran the Clinton--the Cleveland political machine in 1892 and eventually became, for want of a better word--he may be the first one--a press secretary.
LAMB: But you compared him to Edmund Morris.
Mr. JEFFERS: Yeah, in that Parker, when he had this role of assisting Cleveland in the campaign of '92, had an office in the White House and worked out of the White House just across the room from Cleveland and had this up-close, personal experience with him, which--and then, of course, he wrote a biography about him, and--but nobody--no biographer, I think, until Morris, had that close of an exposure to a sitting, acting president.
LAMB: I don't know what the exact figure is, but between...
Mr. JEFFERS: Thank God he did because some of the things that Parker revealed were useful and illuminating, I thought.
LAMB: Starting to say that there's somewhere between two million and three million people who work for the federal government today. You say that when he came to Washington, there were 126,000.
Mr. JEFFERS: Yeah. And he had to appoint something like 100,000 of them.
LAMB: Well, the figure I have from your book was 16,000.
Mr. JEFFERS: Six--OK, right. Sorry. Sixteen thousand.
LAMB: And the reason I mentioned that is that today, I think, they always say the president only has 2,000 or 3,000 real appointments once he becomes president out of two million.
Mr. JEFFERS: Oh, yeah. Well, a lot of it has to do with some of the things that Cleveland and Theodore Roosevelt were involved in, namely civil service reform, getting rid of the patronage system and making government jobs professional rather than political.
LAMB: What was the relationship between Theodore Roosevelt and Grover Cleveland?
Mr. JEFFERS: Their relationship began when Grover became governor of New York and Theodore, TR, was then a member of the Assembly. Grover, a Democrat; TR, a Republican. And they formed an alliance on a bill called the Five Cent Fare bill, which was a bill pending in the New York Legislature, to force the transit companies in New York City to reduce their fare from 10 cents to 5 cents. TR was all for it because, you know, he regarded the guys that ran--like Jay Gould, the people that ran the transit companies as thieves and so forth. And he just wanted to stick it to them.

Grover read the bill and decided that if it became law, it was a violation of the US Constitution, and in fact, that it was no business of the state of New York to get involved in private contracts. So he vetoed it. And that just stunned everybody, including Roosevelt, who rethought his own position and said, `You know, the governor's right about this. I was acting out of spite and not from, really, the best interests of government.' So TR threw his weight behind upholding Cleveland's veto, and Roosevelt delivered enough votes for the veto to be upheld.

Cleveland almost immediately called TR in for a meeting to talk about other things that might be of interest, particularly civil service reform, and they formed this amazing alliance. The prologue of the book, as a matter of fact, is called The Big One and the Dude. The Big One was the nickname for Grover Cleveland, and The Dude was the nickname applied to a young Theodore Roosevelt when he landed in Albany.
LAMB: When Grover Cleveland landed in Washington, first time he'd ever been here?
Mr. JEFFERS: Yeah, he'd never been here.
LAMB: Elected president of the United States, never been in this state.
Mr. JEFFERS: Never been here. Longest train ride he ever took, and he'd only been to New York--well, he'd been to New York City when he was a young man. He worked for a year with his brother at an institution for the blind. But he was not a well-traveled man.
LAMB: What was his relationship to his vice presidents?
Mr. JEFFERS: First one was Thomas Hendricks, who died in office soon in the first year.
LAMB: 1885.
Mr. JEFFERS: Right. So in his first term, he didn't have a vice president, and then when he ran for re-election, his vice president was Allen Thurman. Since they lost, he never became vice president. And the second time was Adlai Stevenson.
LAMB: Was it his idea?
Mr. JEFFERS: No. Stevenson was--the vice president was chosen by the convention. The president then did not pick his running mate; the convention did. And, in fact, Stevenson was, like, the polar opposite on almost every policy that Cleveland was for, but Cleveland gave his OK. So Adlai Stevenson became vice president. And he was--what?--the grandfather of--or the great-grandfather, I forget which, of the Adlai Stevenson that ran against Eisenhower twice.
LAMB: Now...
Mr. JEFFERS: But the vice president was then--you know, had no input, no power, no influence.
LAMB: Did he campaign?
Mr. JEFFERS: No. The tradition then was pretty much that presidential candidates stayed home. They might make a speech now and then and grant interviews, but most of the campaigning was done by surrogates, and Grover made very few campaign speeches. He made some, but there was no whistle-stopping or anything like that. That came in later.
LAMB: When 1896 rolled around, why didn't he run again?
Mr. JEFFERS: In '96?
LAMB: 1896.
Mr. JEFFERS: Oh, he was burnt out. He was basically fed up with being president. He thought he was the most unpopular man in the country because of the Cleveland depression. And he thought, `Two terms is it for a president.'
LAMB: Where is this photo from?
Mr. JEFFERS: That's Cleveland's family. I think that was taken at their home in Princeton, New Jersey, after he left office, after his second term.
LAMB: What'd he do in Princeton?
Mr. JEFFERS: At first, he just retired, and then he was made a trustee of Princeton University and was quite popular.
LAMB: So when he's out and he's at Princeton, he's how old?
Mr. JEFFERS: He would have been in his mid-60s...
LAMB: And his wife?
Mr. JEFFERS: Thirty-seven. She was 20 or 25 years younger than him. She outlived him a long time, married again.
LAMB: What's the story on his daughter, baby Ruth?
Mr. JEFFERS: Baby Ruth was born between the two terms, born in New York City, and very popular; candy bar named after her, the Baby Ruth candy bar. But when she was 12 years old and when Cleveland was retired, she came down with diphtheria and died.
LAMB: What impact did that have?
Mr. JEFFERS: He was devastated. Some of his letters are very, very touching. He writes about trying very hard to envision Ruth in the arms of her savior in heaven, and all he could think of is--of her is her body in the ground. He ultimately recovered from it, but he didn't live that much beyond her death. He died in 1908.
LAMB: What about the other kids? They make any marks?
Mr. JEFFERS: No, not really. No. Esther's claim to fame is that she's the first child born in the White House.
LAMB: And when did he die?, and what were the circumstances? Where was he? Where is he buried?

Mr. JEFFERS: He died in 198--he was retired, living in Princeton, New Jersey. He'd been, I think, in Atlantic City on--whether he was speaking there on business, I don't remember, but he was ill. And he'd had heart troubles, and he finally died of gastrointestinal problems and kidney disease and a series of heart attacks.
LAMB: What did his wife, Frances, go on to do, and how long did she live?
Mr. JEFFERS: She lived quite a long time. I don't remember the year she died, but it was well into the 20th century.
LAMB: Did she remarry?
Mr. JEFFERS: She remarried, right.
LAMB: And when he was still alive, in retirement, what did people in the country think of him? How popular was he?

Mr. JEFFERS: He thought he was the most reviled and hated president in American history. People kept asking him to write his memoirs, his autobiography, and he would say, `Who would-- read it? No one cares,' until came the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis, the St. Louis World's Fair. You know, `Meet me in St. Louis.' He was invited to attend, and he went. And Theodore Roosevelt was president at the time, and Grover thought he would get a smattering of applause due to the--to an ex-president of the United States, more for the office than for him.

When he was introduced, there was this unbelievable ovation. I mean, it just dwarfed what Roosevelt got and sort of told him that he wasn't the unpopular man he thought he was.
LAMB: So, again, what did he stand for, in your opinion?
Mr. JEFFERS: His political phrase, the one that sticks to him, although it was put together for him by his journalist, `Public service is a public trust.' He believed that an executive, whether it was governor, president of the United States, was exactly that, an executive officer. And his job was to see that the organization was run efficiently and that the stockholders' money, namely the taxpayers, was not squandered or wasted. And he also believed, as he said, `The people support the government. The government does not support the people.'
LAMB: Was there a surplus in those days?
Mr. JEFFERS: There was, as a matter of fact. This is going to sound funny in view of the surpluses they're talking about today, but I think it was something like $94 million surplus. And Grover immediately wanted taxes cut, namely the tariffs, so that that surplus would diminish, in effect, be given back to the people. He wanted it returned to the taxpayers, in some form or other, because he was afraid that if it stayed there, Congress--this is going to sound familiar--would squander it.

Well, he lost the election, and Harrison came in. And, in fact, Congress squandered it. The next Congress got the nickname `the billion-dollar Congress' because of their rush to spend the surplus.
LAMB: Did the fact that he had bought his way out of the Civil War impact any of his political...
Mr. JEFFERS: The issue was raised in the campaign of 1884. What happened was he was subject to conscription when the conscription law was passed in 1863. His name, in fact, was pulled on the very first day to be called up for service. But he had two brothers serving in the Civil War, and he was directly responsible and was financially supporting his mother and two younger sisters. So he took advantage of an aspect of the law that allowed you to pay a bounty of up to $300 for someone to go into the Army instead of you. He found a guy who did it for 150 bucks, and so he didn't serve.

But it was perfectly legal. There was nothing wrong with it. A lot of people did it. And he had a legitimate reason; he was supporting his mother and two sisters. It was raised in the campaign of 1884, but with very little effect because people understood that that's what happened. And, you know, the Civil War had been 20 years ago.
LAMB: There anything you didn't like about him?
Mr. JEFFERS: Well, his racism, I think, was not very appetizing in view--I mean, in retrospect, 20/20 vision and hindsight and so forth. That's probably the only thing. I found him a very likable guy. I would have--I'm not a fisherman or a hunter, but I think it would have been fun to be up in the Adirondacks with him fishing and hunting and so forth.
LAMB: As you know, there's the home in Caldwell, New Jersey. Little else, though.
Mr. JEFFERS: Yeah, that's right.
LAMB: Why?
Mr. JEFFERS: He's tended to be largely forgotten, overlooked, underappreciated president. Basically, `Oh, yeah, that's the guy that had the two terms with another president in between them,' and that's basically it. Not a lot. So I--that's why I think this book was long overdue.
LAMB: What did it mean to you that Douglas Brinkley and James McGregor Burns endorsed your book?
Mr. JEFFERS: Oh, wow. When my editor sent me those quotes, I just couldn't believe it. I mean, --I just--astonished.
LAMB: James McGregor Burns, `A well-written and timely book.' Douglas Brinkley, `What a pleasure it was to read "An Honest President," a biography brimming with lively anecdotes.'
Mr. JEFFERS: Right. Mr. Brinkley particularly liked--in my section on notes at the end, I refer to the fact that I don't use footnotes, and I said, `The reason I don't do that is'--and I quote Theodore Roosevelt, who complimented someone on not using footnotes because TR thought footnotes interfered with the flow of the narrator. Mr. Brinkley thought so much of that he has now put that motto on the wall of his office.
LAMB: This is the cover of the book, "An Honest President." H. Paul Jeffers is the author. What does the H stand for?
Mr. JEFFERS: Harry, but I've never been called that.
LAMB: We call you Paul?
Mr. JEFFERS: Paul.
LAMB: Thank you for joining us.
Mr. JEFFERS: Thank you. It's been a pleasure.
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