A thorough examination of Cleveland’s life, focusing on his commitment to maintaining personal morality in the face of Victorian America’s notoriously corrupt power structure.
Cleveland’s political career reads like a guide to political oddities: he was both our 22nd and 24th president; he was one of only two Democrats elected to the presidency between the Civil War and WWI; and he won a plurality of the popular vote running for a second presidential term—yet lost the vote of the Electoral College. Book critic Brodsky (Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel) argues that these peculiarities arose from Cleveland’s stubborn and courageous stance against political pandering to special-interest groups. The author holds that such groups, including New York’s Tammany Hall political machine and the followers of William Jennings Bryan, worked tirelessly to advance policies that would serve mainly to enrich themselves. He demonstrates how Cleveland held true to his ethics in the face of tremendous pressure, keeping himself above the fray of mud-slinging political bosses during elections and refusing to compromise his belief in a gold-based monetary standard for short-term political popularity. These decisions resulted in the momentary vilification of Cleveland (especially when he turned against his own Democratic party to ensure that Bryan would never reach the White House); however, within his own lifetime he was recognized as an icon of integrity in an age where corruption was the norm. (Also included are two short essays that place Cleveland’s racial attitudes toward African-Americans and Chinese immigrants within a Victorian context for contemporary readers.) Brodsky, with strong, entertaining prose, presents Cleveland’s life as testimony that honesty and simplicity can overcome selfishness and knavery.
Engaging and persuasively argued, this serves both as an excellent introduction to Cleveland and his world, and as a worthy supplement to the scholarship already in existence. (16 pages b&w photos)