Sunday, November 02, 2008

'Grover the Good'

This memoir is taken from "Random Reminiscences of an Old Political Reporter" (1911) by William C. Hudson of the Brooklyn Eagle. At the time, Cleveland was governor of New York and Daniel Lamont his secretary. Lamont would go on to be Secretary of War in Cleveland's administration. Hudson, a reporter for the Eagle in those days of the partisan press, was on a sort of detached service to work on Cleveland's campaign. Cleveland was running against James G. Blaine and the "Halpin scandal" alluded to is the famous scandal of the illegitimate child which Cleveland disarmed by simply admitting it (and having behaved honorably when it occurred.) It's offered here as the current election cycle winds down as an antidote of sorts.

The mail of Grover Cleveland, immediately after his nomination for President, at Chicago, on July 11, 1884, swelled into enormous proportions. It came pouring in literally by the bushel.

In order that he might look over this mail free from undue interruption, as the Private Secretary of the Governor, Colonel Lamont seized on a desk in the last room of the gubernatorial suite to which visitors, even if they were intimate friends of the Governor, rarely if ever, penetrated.

While engaged in the preparation of the "Open Record of an Honest Man" document, on the title page of which appeared the words "Public Office Is a Public Trust," as previously described, I was given a desk in the same room, adjoining that occupied by Colonel Lamont.

One morning in the third week of July, on entering to my work, I saw Lamont at his desk with a frown of perplexity on his face, evidently much disturbed. He was studying a letter and some accompanying documents and was so much absorbed that he was hardly conscious of my entrance.

But in a moment or two, looking up, he saw me. There was an eager tone in his voice as he said: "I'm glad you've come. I want to talk to you about a perplexing matter."

He went to the door and turned the key. Coming back, he stood for some time looking down on the papers that had absorbed his attention, and then said:

"I don't know what to do with these papers. If I show them to the Governor I fear he will put his foot on them. If I conceal them from him and turn them over to the managers of the campaign and he comes to know of it, he'll be angry. If I do show them to the Governor and he does put his foot on them and they are concealed from the managers, they will be angry, as they would have a right to be, since they are entitled to have all the weapons we can put in their hands for use in this campaign."

Knowing Lamont as well as I did, I neither asked him the nature of the papers that troubled him nor made remark. Lamont did not give his confidences easily. Any attempt to draw him out excited his suspicions and usually resulted in an extreme case of reticence. If he intended to give me his confidence in this matter I knew that it would be given without the asking. So I waited. It was at a time when what subsequently became known to history as the Halpin affair was having its first swing and I supposed the papers in Lamont's hands related to that.

Such, however, was not the case, as was plain so soon as Lamont began to talk of the matter vexing him. It appeared that a correspondent residing in Kentucky, I think, whose name I have now forgotten, had written to Governor Cleveland relating what he alleged to be certain incidents in the private life of James G. Blaine, the opposing candidate.

These he offered as more than an offset to the Halpin affair. He asserted his ability to furnish conclusive documentary proof of his allegations and had forwarded copies of certain documents as indicating the nature of the proof.

Although the matter in great part found its way to publication, I shall not attempt to indicate here the nature of the allegations because, first, I never read the proof or what purported to be the proof of them; second, because I have every reason to believe that there is not to-day in existence any proof or the possibility of it, and, third, that all the parties to the story are under the sod, unable to make a defense, while those left in the guardianship of their fame can meet the allegation made at this late day only by a denial.

In this third week in July, 1884, the allegations as they appeared in the mail of Governor Cleveland seemed to be very real and the writer offered, if his communication was deemed to be of value, to travel to Albany and personally submit his proof and himself to examination.

Having informed me of the contents of the communication and his own thought on the matter, Lamont asked me what I would do were I placed in a similar position.

"Turn them over to the Governor, Dan," I said, "and let him deal with them."

"You know the Governor," said Lamont, "and what he is capable of doing—tossing them into the waste basket."

"Possibly," I replied; "but in view of the relations of the Governor and yourself I cannot see that you can do anything else."

"That is my inclination—indeed, was my first impulse, but afterward I thought of the use that might be made of it to fight this other devilish thing," replied Lamont. After a moment he added: "It is a question of how I can best serve him." After another moment of thought he continued: "Well, I'll lay the matter before the Governor now, before anyone else can hear of it. I'll ask him to come into this room to read these papers."

He went out and almost immediately returned with Cleveland, directing the latter's attention to the papers without comment.

Cleveland sat down in Lamont's chair and read the papers very deliberately, giving no sign of the impression they made on him. Finishing his reading of them he leaned his elbow on the desk and looked out of the window to the park in front of the Capitol for a long time, the while we waited, ostensibly busy with our work, but covertly watching the presidential candidate.

Finally he turned to the desk and, gathering up the papers, folded them neatly, after his habit, and, rising, said: "I'll take these. Say nothing about them to anyone. I say this to both of you. Dan, send for this man to bring his proof as soon as he can. Promise to pay his expenses."

He went out, leaving Lamont and myself to stare at each other. Apparently he was about to do what each of us thought he would not do. An instant later he was back again in the door.

"Dan," he said, "when that man does come bring him directly to me. I will deal with him."

He went away, leaving us to look at each other again.

"I'll be hanged!" I exclaimed. "He's going to use them after all."

"I don't know," replied Lamont, doubtfully. "Though he hasn't taken it as I thought he would."

Days passed and nothing was heard from Cleveland on the subject. Lamont had carried out his instruction and had sent for the correspondent. On entering the apartment early one morning five days after the scene described I found Lamont awaiting my coming.

"That man is here with the proofs," he said. "I have been waiting for you to come so that you could be present and be a witness that on receiving the package from him I did not open it."

He called the man to him and, receiving the package, said: "I will take this to the Governor at once. Come with me."

At the same time he gestured to me to follow. The three of us went into the executive chamber, where Cleveland sat alone at his big desk. Lamont went to him, saying in a voice loud enough to be heard by all: "The man is here with those proofs. Here they are."

He handed the package to Cleveland as he had received it. The Governor took it in his hand, asking at the same time: "Is the man here?"

"Yes," replied Lamont, "in this room."

"Bring him to me," said Cleveland, calmly, as he tore the wrapping from the package.

Lamont brought the man to the Governor, who asked him to be seated. Then, holding the documents in his hand, the Governor asked: "Are your proofs all here?"

"Yes, sir, all of them," replied the man.

"Do you substantiate by these papers or proofs all of the promises of your letter?"

"I am sure that you will say so if you will look the papers over," returned the man. "They are mostly certified copies of public records which, taken in their place, with one affidavit and three private letters, complete the whole story."

"Everything is here, then, and you are holding nothing in reserve?" persisted Cleveland.

"Nothing," replied the man, "and you will see that by running over the indorsements of the papers."

Cleveland did so and then he turned to Lamont and said: "Arrange with this man a proper sum for his expenses, the time he has lost and his good will in the matter, and pay him."

Apparently it was not a difficult negotiation, for the man soon departed with Lamont's check, apparently more than well satisfied. In the meantime, Cleveland again ran over the indorsements of the papers but without opening any of them.

When the man was gone from the room Cleveland laid the papers on the desk before him and, taking from the private drawer of his desk some others, handed them to Lamont, saying: "These are the ones you gave me the other day, are they not?"

Lamont said they were, giving them back to Cleveland, who held out his hand for them. Then, drawing a waste paper basket to him the Governor began to tear them into small bits, to the unbounded astonishment of Lamont and myself. When he had finished that lot he took up the proofs brought that morning and destroyed them in the same manner.

No words were spoken by any one until the Governor called a porter and directed him to burn in the fireplace the scraps of paper, standing over him to watch the process. When all were consumed he came back to where Lamont and I were standing, and said to Lamont: "The other side can have a monopoly of all the dirt in this campaign."

Then he talked about something else and so far as I am informed never referred to the matter again. Years after the event Colonel Lamont told me that Cleveland had never afterward alluded to the matter.

Some weeks after the man in question, preceiving that no use had been made of the matter which he had taken to Albany, through a mutual acquaintance, reached Senator A. P. Gorman, who was the chairman of the executive committee of the National Democratic Committee — that is to say, the campaign manager — to tell him of the communication to Mr. Cleveland. Senator Gorman knew nothing of it. He asked me if I had heard anything of the story.

Under the seal of confidence everything relating to the matter was told the Maryland Senator. He listened with intense interest to the conclusion of the tale. When it was finished he rose from his desk and, going to the mantelpiece, leaned on it in thought for a few moments.

Then he said: "The destruction of that proof was very noble and high minded in Mr. Cleveland. I don't know whether, in a similar position, attacked with slander as he has been, I could have reached the same elevated plane. Oh, but what a missed opportunity it was! In my hands, without publication or public exploitation of them, I could have used those papers diplomatically, to have made the other side eager to suppress the Halpin scandal, which has vexed us so and which will vex us to the end of the campaign."


Nostalgic for the Pleistocene said...

A true gentleman. I like Lamont, too, for acknowledging Cleveland to be the ultimate authority on such a campaign matter.

This really is a very nice antidote.

ronnie said...

Do such things ever happen still, I wonder?

After all, if they did, by definition we'd never know.

And yet I can't help believing that the chances of such a scenario unfolding like this today in a Presidential campaign is infinitesimal.

On the other hand, John and Cindy McCain did put out a very seemingly sincere sympathetic expression of condolence to Senator Obama today on the death of his grandmother. Perhaps this is the best we can expect from them these days. Not nobility in the face of temptation, but civility and some humanity in the face of tragedy.