Grover Cleveland, the Man and the Statesman

by Robert McElroy, Edwards Professor of History, Princeton University. New York: Harper & Brothers. 1923. Two vols., 8vo. xi+427 pp. $10.00.
‘CLEVELAND is the noblest man that has filled the presidential chair since Lincoln.’ This verdict of Gladstone’s and the similar judgment of singularly competent men looking from different points of view are fully sustained by Professor McElroy’s biography. It would seem as if every honest American must lay it down with mixed feelings— admiration for the singleminded, brave, conscientious, and unselfish man whose story it is, disgust for the mean and small persons who opposed and maligned him, and amazement that a government so often controlled and always greatly influenced by such men as his defamers should endure so long.

Professor McElroy’s biography in its general plan resembles Pilgrim’s Progress. It does not purport to be a history of the times; but it gives us the descent, education, early life, and professional experience of Mr. Cleveland until he was chosen Mayor of Buffalo, and then carries him through his public life— not always chronologically, but taking up, one after another, the various questions that he encountered, and telling us how he dealt with them. What Grover Cleveland was and what he did is well told. It also shows us why men like Cleveland appear so rarely in our public life.

The condition of public affairs in this country when he entered public life was deplorable. The corruption which followed the Civil War and flourished under the administration of General Grant had been checked for four years under President Hayes, but the tide of evil was rising. The time was ripe for honesty, courage, and common sense. The hour and the man were ‘baith come.’ As Mayor of Buffalo from January 1, 1882, when he was not yet forty-five, he fought a ring composed of members of both political parties and beat them, to the great gain of the city.
The politics of the State called for reform, and his success in Buffalo turned men’s eyes toward him, with the result that he was chosen Governor of New York by a majority exceeding 150,000 votes before his first year as Mayor had expired, and he entered upon his duties as Governor in January 1883. While still Governor, he was chosen President in November 1884. As Mayor and Governor he had won a great reputation for honesty, courage, and wisdom, and he had also earned the enmity of Tammany and those who supported its doctrines and practices all over New York.
Within the limits of this notice it is impossible even to catalogue his battles, but by every one he increased his enemies. Through good repute and ill repute he fought and suffered. He left office apparently discredited, but in four years his fellow countrymen called him back to command. Four years more passed and he could read in the Atlanta Constitution: ‘Grover Cleveland will go out under a greater burden of popular contempt than has ever been excited by a public man since the foundation of the government’; or, in the Kansas City Times: ‘The Democratic party . . . long ago stamped him as a political leper and cast him out as unclean.’ Yet all the while, though he did not know it, his countrymen trusted him; and his reputation has grown and will grow as long as American history is read.
Like his great predecessor, he lived to hear
. . . ‘the hisses change to cheers The taunts to tribute, the abuse to praise.’
His biography invites much comment; the contests in which he fought are not over, and each tempts the critic to speech; but space forbids, and everyone should read these volumes, if only—to borrow words from Mr. Root — in order to feel ‘a sense of satisfaction that his country can on occasion produce and honor such a man as Grover Cleveland.’