Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Happy Birthday, Sweet Talkin’ Grover Cleveland

Stephen Grover Cleveland was born on this date (March 18) in 1837. If he was alive today, he would be 177. But I bet he wouldn’t smell very good. 

When he was elected to the first of his two (nonconsecutive, of course) terms as president in 1884, Cleveland was a 47-year-old bachelor. During his first year in the White House, however, he began corresponding with a young woman named Frances Folsom, who was the daughter of his late law partner. Frances was 28 years younger than Grover. She’d known him all her life. But, as I explain in The President Is a Sick Manand, no, the title doesn’t have anything to do with his relationship with Frances!as Frances matured, their feelings for each other blossomed into romance.

This remarkable letter from Grover to Frances was written in December 1885, when their relationship was still very much a secret. (They would wed in the White House the following June.) In it, Grover pours out his heart to Frances in a way that belies his reputation for gruffness. Grover was known for his occasional coldheartedness (see, e.g., the Pullman Strike of 1894), but in this letter he comes across as an old softy. 

Happy Birthday, Grover—or, as his friends called him, Steve.

(Special thanks to the Shapell Manuscript Foundation)