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The Life and Presidencies of Grover Cleveland

by H. Paul Jeffers

Pub Date: July 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-380-97746-X
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

In an effort to bring to Grover Cleveland the public acclaim he has not had since the 19th century, popular historian and crime novelist Jeffers (Who Killed Precious?, 1991, etc.) tells the story of this honest, decent, and somewhat boring Chief Executive.

The only US president to serve two non-consecutive terms and to marry during his tenure, Cleveland was known in his day for his forthright honesty and determined integrity. From his stints as veto-happy mayor of Buffalo, corruption-fighting governor of New York, and reform-minded president, Cleveland emerges as an ethical man who followed his convictions despite the corrupt enticements of the Gilded Age. Jeffers's biography moves briskly along, but the occasionally turgid prose creates a few stumbling blocks. Also, it seems at times that the author has not fully assimilated his research: at one point Cleveland's father is described as a “brilliant student” at Yale; later, Jeffers states that the senior Cleveland was considered “studious but not brilliant.” The incessant praise of Cleveland often reaches fulsome levels; Grover is lauded for publicly confessing that he fathered an illegitimate child, yet Jeffers never criticizes his hero for tucking the boy away into an orphanage when his mother was confined to a mental asylum. An Honest President opens and closes with attacks on Bill Clinton for his sexual peccadilloes, and by the end of the biography readers may wonder if the author’s primary objective is to lambaste Clinton by comparing him to this supposedly sterling presidential figure. In the end, Jeffers fails to significantly improve Cleveland's image, because his text adequately reflects an honest yet uninspiring politician.

A readable history of a man who tried to do his best, handicapped by the subject's limits and the author's ulterior motives.