Inappropriate, immoral, improper sex has occurred in the lives of many modern day Presidents. Presidents of old not so much. They apparently were very virtuous or the press failed to investigate and reveal their sexual escapades. The latter true. Sexual play by Presidents of old were considered off base.
A sex scandal is claimed to have occurred the first time Grover Cleveland ran for President. One involving rape and violence. The year 1884.
Cleveland was named Stephen Grover Cleveland by his Presbyterian minister father. His upbringing religious.
Cleveland’s political career prior to running for President was distinguished. Sheriff of Erie County, Mayor of Buffalo, and Governor of New York.
He was known for his honesty, self reliance, integrity, courage, independence and common sense. A political reformer. He was referred to as “Grover the Good.”
Cleveland was running against James Blaine of Maine. A distinguished political leader. He had served in the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate. He was Speaker of the House. His career also included two terms as Secretary of State under three different Presidents.
The election a close one. Cleveland narrowly won.
It was reported during the campaign that Cleveland had fathered an illegitimate child ten years earlier. Mr. Clean suddenly dirty.
Those supporting Blaine came up with a political ditty. One which caught hold immediately.
Ma, Ma, where’s my Pa?
Gone to the White House, ha ha ha!
A Buffalo newspaper broke the story. Either the Evening Telegraph or the Buffalo Evening Standard. The exact one difficult to identify. Whatever, the newspaper revealing the story was considered in those days a rag.
Cleveland’s political aides went crazy. How to cover/contain the story? Cleveland told them simply, “Whatever you say, tell the truth.”
The “Cleveland truth” was Cleveland had had an affair with a Maria Halpin ten years earlier. Cleveland was a lawyer at the time. His law partner was Oscar Folsom. Many were having an affair with Maria at the same time. Cleveland’s law partner Folsom as well as several of Cleveland’s political crony friends.
All those allegedly having sexual escapades at the time were married. Cleveland the only bachelor.
Maria was a 36 year old widow. Employed by the dry goods store Flint & Kent. A hard worker, she soon rose to head the cloak department. She spoke French. Known as a pleasant, soft spoken woman. A church goer.
She also was a slut based on the story told. Cleveland said he claimed to be the father to protect his married friends. He claimed to have supported the child for a year and then stopped. He stopped because paternity was questionable. He did not believe he was the father.
Maria claimed her life prior to the “Cleveland truth” was pure and spotless. There was no doubt in her mind as to paternity. The child was fathered by Cleveland, not the others. The incident described by Maria would today be considered date rape.
There was a court proceeding. A paternity suit. Maria’s position was Cleveland had sexually and violently assaulted her. The incident took took place in her room at a boarding house. Cleveland had earlier run into her while she was on her way home from work. He suggested dinner. They enjoyed a pleasant dinner at the Ocean Dining Hall & Oyster House.
Maria threatened to notify the authorities. Cleveland allegedly said he would destroy her, even if it cost him $10,000. He did not care. He would risk hanging by the neck to stop her.
She ordered him out of her room. He left.
Six weeks later, Maria realized she was pregnant.
Permit a momentary digression.
The “Cleveland truth” was printed in several newspapers at the time. Books were written thereafter that paid little attention to Maria’s claim of innocence.
The first novel supporting Maria’s position was published by Charles Lachman in 2011. The book took three years to research and write. A Secret Life: The Lies and Scandals of President Grover Cleveland.
Lachman suggests Cleveland was a nasty man. Truth to Cleveland was what ever protected his political career. Same as today.
Lachman writes Cleveland was the only one who had sex with Maria at the time. His law partner Oscar Folsom and others lied to protect Cleveland. In those days, there was no blood test to determine paternity. The defense in a paternity case was to show several men had intercourse with the woman during a particular time ,period.. It was therefore difficult to determine who was the father. By inference, the woman was labeled a slut who would have sex with anyone.
It is difficult to determine if the paternity case resulted in a court decision. What is known is that Cleveland gave Maria $500 and told her to go elsewhere and start over.
The baby was a boy. He was born at a hospital for unwed mothers. Interestingly, the birth certificate names Oscar Folsom as the father. Cleveland arranged for Folsom’s name on the birth certificate. Not Maria. The baby was soon forcibly taken from Maria. Kidnapped. The child was placed in the Buffalo Orphan Asylum. Maria was thrown into the Providence Lunatic Asylum.
The son was soon adopted by a respected western New York couple. He eventually became a well known New York City doctor. A gynecologist. His name, Dr. James E. King, Jr.
Maria never saw her child again. She never knew where he was initially placed, who adopted him, etc.
Maria was examined by the medical director of the Lunatic Asylum. He released Maria soon after examining her. He concluded she was not insane and her incarceration was the result of an abuse of political power.
What is the true story?
Difficult to ascertain. It appears Lachman dug into the matter more deeply than previous writers. He is a distinguished and reputable writer. He was acclaimed for an earlier work involving the Lincolns.
Lachman’s book was a best seller. Sold over one million copies.
What do I think?
I am inclined to believe the truth lies with Lachman’s version. Cleveland was the sole male who had sex with Maria. His friends lied for him. Remember, Cleveland was an active candidate for President of the United States. Grover the Good would not be so considered if Maria’s version was believed. Mr. Clean had dirtied himself. He had to bury Maria or his Presidential aspirations were buried. One or the other.
I suspect more books will follow. Others will analyze Lachman’s work ad infinitum, as well as the authors who came before him.
Presidential candidates and Presidents themselves have difficulty keeping their pants on or zippers up at the very least. What Cleveland covered up would not be possible in today’s media crazy world. In the end, everything hangs out.
Three earlier happenings in Cleveland’s life affect my judgement. I would be remiss if I did not mention them. Two definitely go to the character of the man, the third perhaps.
Cleveland did not fight in the Civil War. He was practicing law at the time. He was called to serve. He did not want to get into the fighting.
The Conscription Act became law in 1863. It permitted an individual called to serve to pay someone to fight in his place. Cleveland paid a Polish immigrant.
Another involves certain of Cleveland’s actions while Sheriff.
Erie County was without a hang man. A vacancy existed. No one had applied for the job. Three murderers sentenced to death awaited hanging. Sheriff Cleveland told the people of Erie County not to worry. He would do the job.
He pulled the lever opening the trap doors dropping the men to their deaths.
The final involves Cleveland’s marriage. Soon after Cleveland election, he married Oscar Folsom’s daughter. Cleveland was 48, Frances Folsom 21.