In this volume, renowned presidential historian Henry F. Graff traces the life of an exceptionally significant chief executive who never curried the people's favor, yet won it just the same.
When Grover Cleveland took office in 1885, one world was ending and another one emerging. The signs were everywhere: transcontinental railroads were still being built, the telephone was still a novelty, the light bulb had just been invented. In the political arena, Cleveland bridged the time between the old and the new—from the age when Congress dominated national affairs to the modern era, when affairs became more sharply focused around the president.
If Cleveland is less well-remembered today than he ought to be, it is because he brought to the White House not flamboyance and bluster but quiet dignity and integrity. He came to office with no program, no pretence, no military record—and no wife. Self-reliant to a remarkable degree, he was the kind of man, a friend said, "who would rather do something badly for himself than to have someone else do it well." If his public presence was ordinary and even colorless, his fellow citizens found these characteristics to be just what they wanted. He was, in fact, the only Democrat elected twice in the three-quarters of a century between the tenures of Andrew Jackson and Woodrow Wilson. Cleveland fitted perfectly his decade in power, conducting the presidency with one telephone and only rudimentary electric lighting, and sometimes answering the door himself. He ignored the press—the last president who dared to do so—and went his own way, relying on his instincts and his political courage to define his public policies. In an era marked by harsh economic times and labor disputes, Cleveland struggled mightily against the political culture of his time, and his policies are often viewed as severe by modern critics.