The Democratic Party: My Third and Current Paradigm (Part 5)

I dedicate this series to the memory of divineorder, a special Caucuser whom all Caucusers will miss. I hope that he would not have minded this dedication.

Parts 1-4: ; ; ;


During a time when being religious was all but required, Radical Republicans were known for being religious: Indeed, it was their religion that had informed both their opposition to slavery and their advocacy for Radical Reconstruction. Democrats, however, were then known for their hegemony in the post-bellum South, with its Black Codes, Jim Crow laws and violent, lawless Ku Klux Klan. Not infrequently, public office holders, the vast majority of whom were Democrats, were also KKK members. During decades of Democratic rule in the South, many crimes against African Americans went unprosecuted or, if prosecuted, resulted in acquittal of the perpetrators. Conversely, crimes, real, falsified or imagined, allegedly committed by people of color brought severe consequences from government officials, the Klan and/or random white thugs.

Shortly after the Civil War ended, the first U.S. labor union formed, a consequence of the Industrial Revolution. Collectively, unions would become a major source of funds--and votes--for the Democratic Party and its candidates. Many early unions were racist and/or associated with "organized crime." So, both in the South and elsewhere, Democrats were associated with racism, corruption and lawlessness. During this time, there were, of course, Republican political machines and Republican racist politicians. However, I believe that the prevailing view was that the Republican Party was the Party of emancipation and more genteel citizens.

I have been tracing the history of the Democratic Party primarily (though not exclusively) through its Presidents because the Presidential nominee becomes the head of the party; the Presidential nominee has a great deal to say about the platform on which the Party's candidates run; Presidents are perhaps the strongest influence on how the Party is perceived nationally; and President is the one political office for which all American voters vote (also because this is a series of posts, not a multi-volume work).

In light of the foregoing, it is, I believe, telling that, during the fifty-six years between the 1856 election of racist Democrat James Buchanan (one of the worst U.S. Presidents) and the 1912 election of Democrat Woodrow Wilson, the only Democrat elected POTUS was Stephen Grover Cleveland.** (Democrat Andrew Johnson only served out the remainder of Lincoln's second term.) Word is, Cleveland was elected President because of his integrity. IMO, this view is based chiefly upon Cleveland's not getting caught taking bribes while in public office, as had Cleveland's Republican opponent in the 1884 Presidential election, James G. Blaine. In any event, I take a dimmer view of Cleveland and his integrity.

For one thing, Cleveland was up to his luxuriant stache in a #metoo-esque situation on steroids. For several months near the end of Cleveland's term as Sheriff of Erie County, the first post to which he was elected, he courted one Maria Halpin, then a church-going mother of two. Halpin claimed that S.Grover raped--and impregnated--her on December 15, 1873, two weeks before the end of his term as sheriff. In a hospital for unwed mothers, Halpin gave birth to a son. With Cleveland's "help," she named him Oscar Folsom Cleveland, after a friend of Cleveland. As father, she named Grover Cleveland, who by then had returned to the private practice of law.

I believe, but am not certain, that Cleveland may, at some point, have acknowledged paternity (while denying rape) and placed the boy with foster or adoptive parents and/or made some child support payments. (Because different sources either say or emphasize different things, piecing the story together quickly can be a risky business, no pun intended.)

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 that she was not insane and that her incarceration was the result of an abuse of power by political elites.

( (Did Cleveland consider Halpin's two other children before forcing their mother into an asylum and their little sibling into an orphanage?)

For another thing, Cleveland was involved in a Woody Allenesque situation. Cleveland's friend, and Halpin's baby's namesake, Oscar Folsom, died without a will in a carriage accident when Oscar's daughter, Frances, was only nine years old.(A fatal carriage accident? Talk about unsafe at any speed!) Cleveland administered Oscar's quarter million-dollar estate (about $6,154,570 in today's dollars) and, although not officially her guardian, Cleveland supervised (meddled in?) Frances's upbringing. Upon Frances's graduation from college, Cleveland, by then incumbent President of the United States, asked Frances's mother if he could court Frances. Frances and S. Grover married a year later, when he was forty-nine and she was twenty-two (pre-Viagra--just saying).****

Politically, Cleveland was a racist and a Bourbon Democrat. For his second term, Cleveland ran for President, with running mate Adlai Stevenson I (grandfather of the Democratic Presidential candidate and U.S. ambassador to the UN during the "Cuban missile crisis") on slogans designed to appeal to segregationists. As Assistant Postmaster General, Stevenson had earned Cleveland's favor by firing Republicans and replacing them with Southern Democrats. (Had this been purely political rivalry, Stevenson, who had made his home in Chicago, which he had represented in Congress, would not have focused on Democrats from the South.) As a group, Bourbon Democrats were pro-business (and perhaps therefore anti-labor?) conservatives, although they did oppose corporate welfare and imperialism. (Sounds most like today's right wing Libertarians?) A racist, pro-business political conservative as POTUS! What's not for a leftist to love? /s

Finally, Cleveland was the President who, after pressure from labor organizations, agreed to a federal holiday celebrating America's workers. However, he fixed Labor Day in September, so that it would not be associated with the Haymarket Affair of 1886, sometimes referred to as the Haymarket Massacre. This last, I take very personally, as a devout believer in the great need for collective action by workers, unionized or not; as the offspring of two very proud and loyal union members; as a former member of, first, the AFL-CIO and, next, the SEIU; and as the sibling of a member of the Writers' Union whose son belongs to the Camera Operators' Union. (Speaking of whom, please watch Manifest!) Of course, the rest of the world celebrates Labor Day on May 1, in honor of the martyred workers of the Haymarket Affair: "May Day-Born in the USA."


Early labor demonstration (not sure if this demonstration was in 1886)

Depiction of the outrageous Haymarket Affair hangings

Campaign poster, created December 31, 1883

Frances Folsom Cleveland Preston, c. 1886

"Egghead" Adlai Stevenson's "Cuban missile crisis" laugh line

*I don't know that the South ever fully recovered: As of 2017, the states in the nation with the highest percentages of poverty were: Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, West Virginia, Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, South Carolina, Arizona, and Georgia.

**The information that Cleveland is the only U.S. President to have served non-consecutive terms often appears in a footnote, as it does here. Hence, I sometimes refer to him as "the footnote President." He defeated the corrupt Blaine in 1884; lost in 1888 to Republican Benjamin Harrison; and, in 1992, defeated incumbent Republican President Harrison, whose administration was considered unsuccessful.

***One of my sources for the Halpin story was the Daily Beast, which is a subsidiary of IAC, a large holding company. Chelsea Clinton sits (or sat?) on the board of both IAC and the Daily Beast. The article about Cleveland and Halpin name checks former Republican Governor Arnold Schwartzenegger and former Democratic Senator and Presidential hopeful, John Edwards, but does not mention Bill Clinton. Perhaps that was because, as best we know, Clinton never fathered a child born out of wedlock. However, neither Schwartzenegger nor Edwards became President, so they are not exact matches for Cleveland, either. After all, Clinton was, like Cleveland, a President who was the subject of gossip about his sexual activities. In any event, yet again, plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

****For trivia buffs: The Cleveland wedding was the first White House wedding and Esther Cleveland became the only infant ever born in the White House. The Curtiss Candy Company made a dubious claim to have named the Baby Ruth candy bar after another of the Clevelands' daughters, Ruth, who died of diphtheria in childhood (and not after Babe Ruth, who was in his pro baseball heyday when Curtiss introduced the Baby Ruth).

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