Allan Nevins, American history, biographies, Grover Cleveland, H Paul Jeffers, presidential biographies, Presidents, Pulitzer Prize
Throughout the history of the United States there has only been one person to serve as president for multiple – but non-consecutive – terms. That person is Grover Cleveland and he has uniquely complicated the presidential math.
Although nearly everyone knows there have been forty-four presidents so far, there have only been forty-three people to have ever been president.
I may be the only person bothered by the fact that Grover Cleveland gets double-counted, and that’s fine. But for all that statistical trouble I currently have just two biographies of Cleveland in my library.
The first biography of Cleveland I’m reading is “Grover Cleveland: A Study in Courage” by Allan Nevins. This 1933 Pulitzer Prize winner is a two-volume study which I own in the form of a single, lengthy book. In my edition it isn’t even possible to tell where one volume ends and the other begins.
This is the definitive biography of Cleveland and also the oldest of the nine Pulitzer-winning presidential biographies I will have read so far. (Coming up in just a few just weeks: the oldest of the twenty Pulitzer-winning biographies in my library which is Henry Pringle’s 1931 biography of Theodore Roosevelt…)
My second biography of Cleveland is “An Honest President: The Life and Presidencies of Grover Cleveland” by H. Paul Jeffers. Published in 2000, this single-volume biography is about half the length of Nevins’s and is more frequently read.
And *if* it arrives in time (I’m skeptical…it’s holiday season after all) I also plan to read Alan Brodsky’s “Grover Cleveland: A Study in Character.” Published just a few months after Jeffers’s biography, this is also a mid-sized and relatively frequently read single-volume study of Cleveland.
But if UPS is too busy delivering a 3-Axis DJI Phantom drone helicopter to every child in my neighborhood, I will add Brodsky’s biography to my follow-up list.
As of December 9, 2014 I have acquired not just one, but two, additional biographies of Cleveland to read as part of this first pass through the presidents. Thanks to those of you who brought these to my attention:
– Alan Brodsky’s “Grover Cleveland: A Study in Character” published in 2000
– Richard Welch’s “The Presidencies of Grover Cleveland” published in 1988
I now have Horace Merrill’s “Bourbon Leader: Grover Cleveland and the Democratic Party” as well, so I’ll be adding another biography to this batch before moving on to Benjamin Harrison. If it sounds like I’m delaying getting to president #23 (who apparently has the reputation of a frosty pane of glass) you might be right…
Yes, the non-consecutive terms complicates the math, but there are good reasons for counting Cleveland twice. Because he served terms in two different periods, his experiences were quite different. Term 1 — not too bad. Term 2 — utter disaster. But if you’re looking for other Cleveland books, Horace Samuel Merrill’s “Bourbon Leader” is a short and very readable interpretation. But I would also highly recommend Richard Welch’s “The Presidencies of Grover Cleveland.” It’s one of the University Press of Kansas series on the presidency — they are not all of equal quality, but the Welch book on Cleveland is quite good, readable — not a full-fledged biography (though he does give you a biographical sketch), but an excellent overview of the presidential years, free of undue praise.
I’m almost 3/4 of the way through Nevins’s biography so I can more fully appreciate the distinction between Cleveland’s two terms. And I’ve gone ahead and tee’d up Santa’s elves re: the Welch and Merrill biographies. Assuming at least one of them gets here before I’m on to Benjamin Harrison, I’ll go ahead and expand my Cleveland list now rather than later-
The beauty of reading about Grover Cleveland is that you can read about him both before and AFTER Benjamin Harrison……..
Reblogged this on Practically Historical.
I’ll be curious to hear your take on Grover Cleveland. I don’t really know much about him or his Presidencies, but he is one of my husband’s descendants! Jon’s middle name is Cleveland, in tribute.
Now that’s probably the most interesting thing I’ve heard in a long time! So far Grover seems a bit boring and stubborn but highly principled. I won’t ask whether those traits have been passed down the line 🙂
If you’re not sick of Grover after three biographies, I recommend Matthew Algeo’s “The President is a Sick Man”.
It’s a quick read that gives a decent amount of biographical context (from what I remember), but focuses on the secret and risky surgery that was preformed on him at the beginning of his second term. There’s a lot of interesting details that gave me an appreciation for the last century’s medical advances.
Happily, the second biography I’m currently reading on Cleveland is giving me a new dose of enthusiasm for him. Thanks for the recommendation – no one has mentioned Algeo’s book so I’ll have to look into it. My crop of Cleveland bios has indeed expanded from two to three already and may be headed to four (oh my) so a fifth might be too much. But if there’s anything I love, it’s context and color, and it sounds like the book you mentioned might hit the spot so let me see what I can do 🙂