ONTD Political

New Book Reveals Grover Cleveland's Sexual Assault Scandal

3:42 pm - 05/24/2011
Time to put the ONTD back in this place!!

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Arnold Schwarzenegger. John Edwards. Grover Cleveland?
It's true. In the annals of illegitimate children born to powerful politicians, President Grover Cleveland must rank uppermost. While Schwarzenegger made it with the maid and John Edwards betrayed his wife with a woman who picked him up in a bar, neither can touch the awful acts of Grover Cleveland.

Cleveland's claim to fame is as the only American president to serve two non-consecutive terms in office, and he's remembered as a courageous and pugnaciously honest statesman. But I've spent three years investigating Grover Cleveland for my new book, A Secret Life, tracing the ways in which Cleveland and his keys aides lied about a sex scandal to save his presidential campaign from the career-ending allegations. It's time to correct the record. Cleveland's sex scandal was well buried, but I found the long-forgotten affidavit from Maria Halpin, about the violent sexual assault that resulted in the birth of Cleveland's illegitimate child.



On the evening of Dec. 15, 1873, Halpin, an attractive 38-year-old sales clerk working at a department store in Buffalo, New York, was on her way to a friend's birthday party when she ran into Cleveland strolling down Swan Street. Cleveland was a chunky 37-year-old bachelor whose six-foot frame projected a figure of might and vitality. He had been courting Halpin for several months and they exchanged greetings. Cleveland invited her to dinner at the Ocean Dining Hall & Oyster House. He was pretty "persistent" about it, Halpin would later recall.
Their meal together was a pleasant one. Cleveland escorted Halpin back to her room at a downtown boarding house. What happened next, according to Halpin's affidavit, would in another era be classified as date rape.

Cleveland sexually assaulted her "[b]y use of force and violence and without my consent," Halpin reported, adding that when she threatened to notify the authorities, Cleveland "told me he was determined to ruin me if it cost him $10,000, if he was hanged by the neck for it. I then and there told him that I never wanted to see him again [and] commanded him to leave my room, which he did."

Six weeks later, Maria became aware that she was pregnant.

The boy was born on September 14, 1874, in a hospital for unwed mothers in Buffalo. He was named Oscar Folsom Cleveland, after Cleveland's best friend (Cleveland would later marry Folsom's daughter despite a 27-year difference in age, and she became America's youngest first lady. But that's another story.)
What happened to Maria Halpin next was a cruel injustice straight out of a Charles Dickens novel. Cleveland arranged to have the child forcibly removed from his mother and placed in the Buffalo Orphan Asylum. Maria Halpin was thrown into the Providence Lunatic Asylum, although the facility's medical director quickly released her after an evaluation, concluding (correctly) that she was not insane and that her incarceration was the result of an abuse of power by political elites.

Cleveland won election as mayor of Buffalo on a clean-government platform in 1881. A year later, he became governor of New York. As "Grover the Good," he won the Democratic nomination for president in 1884. Once he was named to the national ticket, it didn't take long for the media to expose the existence of his illegitimate son. What followed next was a malicious smear campaign: Cleveland's people got the word out that Halpin was a sexual plaything who drank to excess and was intimate with at least three (and possibly four) married men, all of them cronies of Cleveland. Cleveland, it was said, took responsibility for the child's conception because he was the only bachelor among Maria Halpin's gentlemen callers. Cleveland saw the matter through in the most "courageous way," the PR spin went, explaining that his indifference to the boy was due to "doubts about his fatherhood."

Utter nonsense. My research has established that this time-honored version of the Cleveland scandal is fundamentally dishonest—almost entirely a fairy tale. Maria Halpin was no harlot. She was a widow with two young children, a church-going woman held in high esteem by all who knew her. From everything I could discover about her life, she was what in the 19th century would be termed a chaste woman.
Maria Halpin died in 1902 at age 66, with $200 to her name, forever linked to scandal and shame. On her deathbed she reportedly said, "Do not let the funeral be too public. I do not want strangers to come and gaze upon my face. Let everything be very quiet. Let me rest."

I don't know how history will treat John Edwards' ex-mistress, Rielle Hunter, or Arnold Schwarzenegger's maid. But if Maria Halpin's experience is any standard, they'd better brace themselves.

By the way, the next time you're at a cocktail party and somebody asks you who's the biggest lowlife—Arnold Schwarzenegger or John Edwards—you can tell them the worst villain of all was Grover Cleveland.


SOURCE
ONTD version

As a history major, this shit is blowing my mind.
kiri_l 24th-May-2011 07:47 pm (UTC)
Thanks. I knew there was something hinky there (if you've ever studied Cleveland). I look forward to reading this. =)
bluetooth16 24th-May-2011 07:49 pm (UTC)
I'm an early Americanist, but this is still really interesting to me. I want to read this book now.
kiri_l 24th-May-2011 08:07 pm (UTC)
I did a dual semester set of courses that focused on the American presidency. While it isn't my focus I learned a lot. Fascinating.

is was a methods adjunct. might make the above clearer

Edited at 2011-05-24 08:09 pm (UTC)
bluetooth16 24th-May-2011 08:09 pm (UTC)
That sounds really interesting. My school was too focused on social/cultural history, so classes like that weren't really offered.
kiri_l 24th-May-2011 08:14 pm (UTC)
Oh sorry to hear that. The socio/cultural aspects are important but not to the exclusion of the other facets. (even if I find the old style military history focus in need of serious reform)

It was. After we completed our methods criteria we had the option to use it in applied courses (this was one) which were a special adjunct and required written permission (i.e. based on how well you'd done in the methods courses). Hard work but very rewarding.
mahasin 24th-May-2011 07:48 pm (UTC)
I was under the impression that one of the Anti-Cleveland slogan was of a "bastard" child with a sign that says "Wa, Wa, I want my Pa".
bluetooth16 24th-May-2011 08:00 pm (UTC)
Ma, Ma I Want My Pa was pretty famous back then but it's been ~lost to time~.
mahasin 24th-May-2011 08:01 pm (UTC)
I knew it was something like that, it's been a while since I studied Grover Cleveland.
bluetooth16 24th-May-2011 08:08 pm (UTC)
Same here. That stuck out to me because it was so ONTD-esque.
soma910 24th-May-2011 08:11 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I think it was something like "Ma Ma Where's my Pa," and after he won the ballot, supporters chanted back, "Gone to the White House, ha ha ha!"
wrestlingdog 24th-May-2011 08:47 pm (UTC)
Yep, that's it. (Or at least that's how I learned it.)
browneyedguuurl 24th-May-2011 07:59 pm (UTC)
Wow! What an shit human being. That poor woman and her poor family.
bluetooth16 24th-May-2011 08:02 pm (UTC)
Unfortuately, so many powerful and not powerful men got away with this back then due to the combination of sexism and ableism (ie throwing "hysterical women" into insane asylums)
browneyedguuurl 24th-May-2011 08:05 pm (UTC)
I know, it is truly awful. My roomie is an ex lobbyist and the stories she has told me... There aren't enough showers in the world.
bluetooth16 24th-May-2011 08:07 pm (UTC)
I would ask for more details, but I'm pretty sure it will trigger nightmares for months.
browneyedguuurl 24th-May-2011 08:08 pm (UTC)
Trust me, you don't want to know.
vanillakokakola 24th-May-2011 10:31 pm (UTC)
if you're willing to write about it, i'd like to know. albeit with my eyes peeking through my fingers, but still.
vanillakokakola 24th-May-2011 10:32 pm (UTC)
that seems like really bad grammar fail. i blame dayquil.
erinpuff 24th-May-2011 08:08 pm (UTC)
D: D: D: How fucking gross.

My research focuses on the first half of the 20th century, which means the people I study sometimes have children still living, and I just know there's fuckery that's being covered up. I'm hoping I don't find anything worse than consensual affairs or similar, or I might smash everything.
klutzy_girl 24th-May-2011 08:13 pm (UTC)
Wow, that is horrifying. (History major here too, but I want to focus on the Civil War.)

And you can't forget Thomas Jefferson had kids with one of his slaves.
mindrtist 25th-May-2011 01:05 am (UTC)
Yeah, I was wondering about the lack of Jefferson in this post.
bluetooth16 25th-May-2011 01:20 am (UTC)
The author should have mentioned him.
mhael *JAW IZ DRPPED*24th-May-2011 08:14 pm (UTC)
I have more than a few Civil War documents laying around here that mention Grover Cleveland (he paid a substitute to go fight for him rather than get drafted himself). I'm going to have to start giving those more than a cursory look when I get done with my current stuff.
saoru 24th-May-2011 08:35 pm (UTC)
It was already pretty gross being sort of related to this guy, but wow.
rauduskoivu 24th-May-2011 08:54 pm (UTC)
I FUCKING KNEW IT.

And what a rapist douche.
supermishelle 24th-May-2011 08:58 pm (UTC)
what an asshole. i hope he's burning in hell right now.
eveofrevolution 24th-May-2011 09:01 pm (UTC)
Daaaaaaaaaaamn. What a shitbag. As a history major, I already didn't like him, but daaamn.
tmlforsyth 24th-May-2011 09:17 pm (UTC)
I rather liked Cleveland...well his reforms, especially running against Republicans who make Cheney like honest, and how the Democrats threw him under the bus (a big bus) to back William Jennings Bryan, a religious fanatic and the Palin of his day.

I always thought he took responsibility for his kid, but I'll have to read the book and admit I was wrong. I just hope Calvin Coolidge doesn't turn out to be a wild and crazy womanizing party animal.
staringiscaring 25th-May-2011 04:55 am (UTC)
Calvin Coolidge killed a man in Reno just to watch him die.
tmlforsyth 25th-May-2011 05:45 am (UTC)
That's a good one. Though back then, it would have been Roxbury :)

… an old joke about Calvin Coolidge when he was President … The President and Mrs. Coolidge were being shown [separately] around an experimental government farm. When [Mrs. Coolidge] came to the chicken yard she noticed that a rooster was mating very frequently. She asked the attendant how often that happened and was told, “Dozens of times each day.” Mrs. Coolidge said, “Tell that to the President when he comes by.” Upon being told, President asked, “Same hen every time?” The reply was, “Oh, no, Mr. President, a different hen every time.” President: “Tell that to Mrs. Coolidge.”

HASH
Dwight Morrow was a classmate of Coolidge's at Amherst and the father of Anne Morrow, the wife of Charles A. Lindbergh. (Coolidge later appointed Morrow as Ambassador to Mexico.) Morrow used to like to tell the story of when he and Coolidge went to the same boarding house to take their meals. Hash was served frequently. When it was served, Morrow said Coolidge turned very grave. The landlady had a dog and a cat. As the hash was being served, Coolidge would ask "Where's the dog?" and the dog would be brought in. Then he'd ask "Where's the cat?" -- and the cat would be called in. Only then would he help himself to the hash.

eversofar 24th-May-2011 09:40 pm (UTC)
i am really over seeing rape classified as a sex scandal.
kyra_neko_rei 24th-May-2011 10:14 pm (UTC)
This.

Not to mention child abduction and false imprisonment.
eversofar 24th-May-2011 10:25 pm (UTC)
let me break out the popcorn for this ontd-esque scandal!
vanillakokakola 24th-May-2011 10:33 pm (UTC)
right? when i saw "sex scandal" and "bastard" i was like ...meh, but then i saw that the "sex scandal" was that she was raped and i was like

eversofar 24th-May-2011 10:34 pm (UTC)
yeah, i was expecting something completely different too.
bluetooth16 24th-May-2011 10:54 pm (UTC)
I'm not sure how much of your complaint is due to the author failing and how much is due to societal norms at the time the incident occurred.

ETA: I also branded it "ONTD-esque" because that's where I originally saw it. In hindsight, maybe I should have changed my headline.

Edited at 2011-05-24 10:57 pm (UTC)
eversofar 24th-May-2011 11:08 pm (UTC)
i was thinking about the author since he was the one that chose to characterize it as a sex scandal. while rape and forced institutionalization might have been treated with some flippancy back then, that doesn't mean we have be flippant in our own discussion of it.
bluetooth16 24th-May-2011 11:11 pm (UTC)
I see. I was making sure I didn't mess up. I totally agree by the way. There needs to be more discussion about rape culture and ableism in this case.
eversofar 24th-May-2011 11:13 pm (UTC)
i think you should at least put a trigger warning if you're not going to change the headline, which is flippant btw, because i probably wasn't the only person who started reading the article expecting something totally different.
bluetooth16 24th-May-2011 11:18 pm (UTC)
I changed the headline and added a trigger warning. It shouldn't mess with the Twitter feed because this was posted several hours ago. I hope I reduced the fippancy and erased confusion.
eversofar 24th-May-2011 11:38 pm (UTC)
thank you
mercat 24th-May-2011 09:50 pm (UTC)
Love this comment at ONTD:

but at least he respected Hawaii's sovereignty, am i right?


I've taken a few Hawaiian/Pacific history courses and I plan on taking a few more, this made me lol.
bluetooth16 24th-May-2011 10:58 pm (UTC)
Whoever said that needs to be slapped with a Clue By Four.
mercat 25th-May-2011 03:05 am (UTC)
Haha, I had to go look it up, I didn't know he was anti-annexation but that it was Congress rather that supported the idea. More of what I know is the Hawaiian perspective. =/ It's an interesting juxtaposition, however.
evildevil what a monsters.24th-May-2011 10:58 pm (UTC)
times may change but some things remain the same.
othellia 25th-May-2011 12:32 am (UTC)
Aww... for a second I thought this was going to be another time warp post.

I am disappoint.
bluetooth16 25th-May-2011 01:25 am (UTC)
I'm making a Time Warp soon.
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