Grover Cleveland: "Waving the bloody shirt"

Grover Cleveland was the sixth president to serve since Abraham Lincoln won the civil war and was shot to death in 1865. At this point, the nation was a little over twenty years removed from the end of the war, had been through the reconstruction period and was well into the gilded age. The reason he got elected was as much about his republican opponents failed strategy as it was about his own grasp of politics.

Since the north had won the civil war, the republicans who were predominately from the northeast and midwest had made blaming the democrats for the war an integral part of their campaign strategy.

The strategy made a lot of sense at first, southern politicians were mostly democrats and many northern democrats harbored some sense of loyalty or at least sympathy to the confederacy in the 1860's. It continued to work well when after the war, southern politicians who had served in the confederate government once again became the congressmen and senators of the reunited country.

The problem was that it worked so well to stir up the republican base that some politicians never stopped using it as a way to scare the voters into electing them. In many ways, even twenty years on in the 1880's, the civil war was like the 9-11 of its day. Just like republicans of today continue to brand Barack Obama (the man that killed Bin-Laden and scores of other Al-Qaeda terrorists) and all other democrats as 'weak on terrorism', the republicans of the 1880's continued to imply that voters who elected democrats were somehow disloyal to their country.

Voters got tired of this strategy for several understandable reasons. The foreign born population had exploded since the 1860's due to war and famine in Europe and that constituency was much less swayed by anger at the South than the older native born population that had actually lived through the civil war. In addition, twenty years after the civil war, a fair amount of the war population had passed on and the younger generation were either too young to remember the war or were not even born when it took place.

The Republicans realized that immigrants were much less likely to vote for them and sought to tar them as also being disloyal to the United States due to their 'Romanism'. The anti-Catholic and foreigner rhetoric was ironic, coming from the party of emancipation of slaves. Eventually, voters tired of this fear driven agenda and the republican party lost influence even in its stronghold of the northeast.


Grover Cleveland: "Ma, ma, where's my Pa?"

The campaign of 1884 got ugly, even by presidential election standards. Blaine was chosen to run over the incumbent President, Chester Arthur. This choice greatly divided the party in to factions and even drove some Republicans who declared themselves part of the 'mugwump' faction to break away from the party and vote for the Democratic candidate, Grover Cleveland.

Blaine was known as the "Plumed Knight" and served in the cabinet of many administrations from the time of Lincoln all the way up to the turn of the century. He had an uncanny knack for crisis management and survival evidenced by the fact that he somehow stuck around after letters were brought to light that he had taken over the equivalent of over $1.5 MILLION dollars in bribes from various industrial and rail road interests. And that's just what we know about! Just like I can promise you that there were more than one intern that Bill Clinton had his way with, it's safe to assume that in Blaine's day, there was other money from special interests that found its way into his pocket.

The letters Blaine wrote that were published as evidence of his corruption allegedly instructed the reader to 'burn this letter'. Therefore, the Democrat's campaign slogan became 'Burn this letter!'. In my opinion, that's a catchier slogan than 'We are the 99%' or 'Yes we can'.

The Republicans countered by having party plants make public statements that the Democrats supported 'Rum, romanism and rebellion'. Rum was a reference to the temperance movement that had reached a fever pitch by the mid 1880's, romanism referenced the teeming masses of immigrants that were overwhelmingly Catholic and suspected to owe their loyalties to Rome, rebellion was a nod to the fact that historically, the democrats had been the party of the South and the confederacy.

Their biggest gem however came when it was revealed that Cleveland had fathered a child out of wedlock and it was alleged that he had provided housing for the boy and his mother only at 'the point of a shotgun'. They even came up with a catchy slogan for his bastard child: "Ma, ma, where's my Pa? Gone to the White house, ha, ha, ha."

Ultimately, the Republicans ended up looking worse during the ugly campaign and Cleveland gained sympathy when he didn't try and deny his 'illicit' relationship with the woman who had his child and made clear that he had provided for both of them.

You would have thought that Republicans in the 1990's would have remembered this lesson when they held the sham impeachment trials of Clinton, only to have their own affairs come to light shortly thereafter.


#22 and #24: Grover Cleveland

In the mid 1880's, the Republicans were angry at Chester Arthur for not having their back once he became President. Arthur was a consummate machine politician that came up in the stinking pit of corruption of NYC. He was brought to power by being a party man and following the system of reciprocal political favors the New York machine had in place.

He was actually the collector of the port of New York for eight years before Hayes removed him as part of his early efforts to reform civil service. It's strange then that Arthur pushed through reforms and refused to make many political appointments to his cabinet and the many patronage positions that were available in civil service. The republican party thrived on those patronage appointments as ways to earn the votes and the money of their loyalists.

Whether the motivation for Arthur's principled stand was out of his true desire to be his own man, a desire to carry out Garfield's legacy after he was shot to death by an assassin (Arthur came to power as Garfield's VP) or self preservation to prevent being a murder suspect in the president's death, the Republican machine was angry at Arthur's change in heart.

They were so angry in fact that they adopted a suicidal policy of revenge. The public was on the side of reform (unless they benefited from the graft), so when the party decided to not put Arthur on the presidential ticket after his partial term was up and nominate his rival, the machine politician James Blaine, the move backfired on them.

Grover Cleveland, the Democratic nominee ran on a platform of continued reform. Civil service reform had taken place under the Garfield/Arthur administration, but Cleveland wanted to further it. Blaine and the wise old men of the Republican party wanted to reverse it and distracted the public by bringing up Cleveland's love child "Ma, ma, where's my Pa?" and base charges that the Democrats would bring "Rum, Romanism and Rebellion" to the United States if elected.

It's nice to see that they got punished for their cynical strategy and gives me hope that we could do the same in this country with our out of touch politicians.