A presidential sex scandal, 1884-style
journalist Charles Lachman argues that former US President Grover Cleveland once raped a young woman but successfully covered the scandal up.
Ask a history buff about Grover Cleveland, and three things might come to mind: He was on the $1,000 bill, he served two non-consecutive terms, and there was a fuss over an out-of-wedlock baby.Skip to next paragraph
End to an era at legendary Paris bookshop Shakespeare and Company
'Daughter of Smoke and Bone' film rights acquired by Universal
Better World Books' bestseller list: more classics than new titles
More books, more choices: why America needs its indies
Is Slate's Amazon-defending blogger really a 'moron'?
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
"Ma, Ma, where's my Pa?" his opponents chanted as he first ran for president. "Gone to the White House, ha ha ha!" his supporters responded when he won.
Other than that, he seems like just another one of those dull-as-dishwater chief executives from the late 19th century. Cleveland, Hayes, Harrison, the guy with the walrus mustache and the… ZZZZZZ.
Well, wake up, dear readers! There's a lot more to Cleveland than yet another big mustache, as journalist Charles Lachman reveals in a new book. He believes, as many in the 1880s did, that Cleveland didn't have a consensual fling that produced an inconvenient child. He claims the future president actually raped a young woman, conspired to take the resulting baby from her, and covered the whole thing up.
Whatever the case, the scandal nearly cost Cleveland the presidency. Only in the final weeks of the 1884 campaign did the tide shift thanks to a minister's amazingly ill-timed jibe about Cleveland's immigrant-heavy Democratic party being one of "Rum, Romanism and Rebellion."
Lachman, executive producer of TV's "Inside Edition," proved his writing chops in his 2008 book "The Last Lincolns," a fascinating chronicle of the sad decline of you-know-who's descendants.
A Secret Life: The Sex, Lies and Scandals of President Grover Cleveland (which comes out on Monday) is another success, a blend of sharp detective work – he even finds out what happened to Cleveland's supposed son – and history that reads like a gripping novel.
This week, I asked Lachman about the truth behind the scandal, his own desire to set the record straight, and a president's surprising relationship with a glamorous young woman who didn't believe the rumors (or at least never said she did).
Q: How big of a deal was it that the women at the center of the scandal came forward and described the alleged assault?
A: It was unheard of for a woman who had been, as she says, raped, to speak about it in a public way. She submitted an affidavit. It was quite remarkable.
Q: What risk did she face by coming forward?
A: Her reputation had already been defamed. Cleveland's allies concocted this story that she was – in the phrase we'd use today – a slut. That she had between two and four relationships with leading men in the city of Buffalo, NY, and didn't know who the father was, that it could have been any of these four guys. That Cleveland, as the only bachelor in the group, "bravely" came forward because he wanted to save his married buddies from the shame of it being revealed that they'd had an affair with this woman.
Q: In fact, you believe she was sexually assaulted at her home.
A: Two people know the truth, and they've both been dead for more than a century. We'll never know what really transpired in that room. We do know that she was the only one to swear in the form of an affidavit, witnessed by a lawyer and her son, as to what happened. I find her a totally believable woman.
Q: How did the media of the time report on the allegations against Cleveland, which appeared during the presidential campaign of 1884?
A: A lot of newspapers felt that the details were too salacious to even report on. Some of those decisions were based on politics; a lot of the Democratic newspapers never ran a word about the scandal. When they did, it was only when their supporters conducted internal investigations that "cleared" him.