Sunday, January 25, 2009

Former Presidents 6: Baby Ruth

Continuing the story I left off here, Grover Cleveland joined a New York law firm after he first left the White House in 1889.

Then, in 1891, Cleveland, and his young wife Frances, did something that ended up giving them an odd sort of immortality. Their daughter, Ruth, was born. According to the some accounts, at least, that inspired a widely-misunderstood name of a candy bar. A website that markets the candy carries the following explanation:

Introduced in the early 1920s by Curtiss Candy Company, Baby Ruth was said to be named after President Grover Cleveland's daughter, Ruth. At the time, the child was endearingly referred to as "Baby Ruth". The trademark was patterned after
the engraved lettering used on a medallion struck for the 1893 Chicago World's Colombian Exposition. The image pictured the President, his wife, and young daughter Baby Ruth.

Some, however, are skeptical. Either way, their family is still talked about, more than a century after Ruth's untimely death.

But, I digress.

In 1892, the parties set up a rematch between Cleveland and the Republican incumbent President Benjamin Harrison.

One aspect of that 1892 campaign that intrigues those of us in the Minnesota diaspora who are interested in political history, is that that year's Republican National Convention was the only one held in that state, until that party returned in 2008, and gathered in St. Paul. I wrote about that, here and here. Is it mere coincidence that both candidates nominated in the Gopher State, Harrison in 1892, and John McCain in 2008, lost the general election?

Tariffs were an issue in the 1892 campaign. At that time, the Democrats were the free-trade party, while the Republicans led the charge for protectionism. By now, that situation has largely been reversed. Congressional votes on international trade don't tend to fall exactly along party lines but, for the most part, the Republicans are now the free-trade party.

Advocates of an inflationary monetary policy, an issue that would get even more attention four years later, were fighting against supporters of the status quo, i.e., the gold standard. James Weaver ran a strong third-party campaign on the Populist ticket, largely on an anti-gold standard, a.k.a. free silver, platform.

Cleveland won a plurality of the popular vote, as he had in 1884 and 1888. But, unlike 1888, he also won an Electoral College majority in 1892. Cleveland took back his home state of New York, which Harrison had carried four years earlier.

Weaver won 22 electoral votes in some western states, but that was not enough to deadlock the Electoral College.

It was all downhill from there, for the once and future president. The so-called Panic of 1893 ushered in an economic depression. Apparently, the phenomenon of presidents getting too much credit for a good economy, and too much blame for economic problems, existed as much then as it does now. Unemployment was still in double digits at the time of the next presidential election, in 1896, and the Republicans, under William McKinley, took back the White House, which they would not relinquish until 16 years later.

Cleveland lived in retirement in New Jersey, until his death in 1908.

He is the only president to have served non-consecutive terms, and he set a record for consecutive popular-vote victories (three) that stood until Franklin Roosevelt won four consecutive popular and electoral vote majorities, between 1932 and 1944.

This website (and, if you see it on the Internet, it must be true) says that an Act of Congress settled the question of whether Cleveland would have two presidential numbers, i.e., that he would be called both the 22nd and 24th president.

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