Delightful Series of Letters from Former President Cleveland on Topics from Fishing to the Economy
GROVER CLEVELAND, Archive of five Autograph Letters Signed, to E. C. Benedict, 1902-1906, Buzzard Bay, Massachusetts, and Princeton, New Jersey. 16 pp., 4.5ʺ x 7ʺ. On personal stationery with original envelopes. Slight repair to top of one letter; excellent.
This wonderful collection of letters reveals much about former President Grover Cleveland, as he communicates warmly with his friend and financial agent E. C. Benedict.
August 24, 1902: “I suppose you are quite settled again, after the Yacht Club Cruise; and perhaps you have wondered why you have been so long without news from this end of the line. The fact is I have had no particular fishing news to impart that would be interesting to you.... I had grown sort of tired of that kind of fishing and have since then turned my attention to bottom and pond fishing and unsuccessful trips after birds.”
“I have been thinking a good deal lately about the busines and financial outlook. If the coal strike and some other matters don’t change soon, I believe there will be serious trouble before we are six months older. I don’t like to see so many things depending on one man’s nod.”
The Coal Strike of 1902 was led by the United Mine Workers in the coalfields of eastern Pennsylvania, threatening the winter fuel supply for major American cities. It began in May 1902. At the suggestion of J. P. Morgan, the federal government acted as an arbitrator, and the strike ended in late October with gains by both sides.
October 10, 1902: “As soon as possible after you receive this please sell all stock of the Reading Railroad which your firm or you hold for me. I cannot at this time give you all the reasons which influence me in giving this direction; but they are peremptory. I am trying to do some work, but am annoyed and perplexed by many things.”
J. P. Morgan held a principal interest in the Reading Railroad, which was a leading employer of coal miners.
October 20, 1902: “I am glad you have it in mind to clean house a little when prices recover somewhat. It seems to me you calculate on the right basis when you anticipate a fair appreciation in the immediate future and then—something else. Especially will this be the case I believe in securities dependent in any important degree upon coal operations and transportation. Of course there may be something you know and I do not which counterbalance what appears on the surface. Somehow I think U.S.S. may not be in the category so far as recession is concerned.”
J. P. Morgan formed United States Steel in 1901 by financing the merger of three leading steel companies and installing Charles M. Schwab as the president of the new corporation. It immediately controlled two-thirds of steel production.
March 19, 1905: “I was very much gratified by the kind remembrance of me indicated by your congratulatory telegram of yesterday. Somehow I am constantly thinking its fifty eight instead of sixty eight that’s written on this last mile post; and when I read the thing as it really is, it occurs to me that I have been traveling at a fast rate for the last few years.”
“I was told a few days ago by the lady at the head of my family and household, with considerable cockiness that she had received a dividend on her rubber preferred. I never expected to hear any such talk as that from her.”
February 16, 1906: “I want to thank you for the book you sent me giving an account of your Amazon cruise. I was so interested in it that I read it in bed last night and early this morning—finishing it at half past one A.M. It seemed to me that the man who wrote the introduction had hard work to restrain himself from running over the writer of the book; but the entire work was interestingly, and instructively done.”
Richard Arthur wrote Ten Thousand Miles in a Yacht: Round the West Indies and Up the Amazon (New York: E. P. Dutton & Company, 1906) about his three-month cruise in 1905 with E. C. Benedict in Benedict’s yacht Virginia.
“Inasmuch as you have from time to time shown anxiety on account of my real estate enterprises you may be relieved to learn that I yesterday closed a bargain for the sale of my farm in this vicinity. I dare scarcely breathe lest there should be a disturbance of the happy condition; but when I have delivered the check and received the exceedingly modest cash payments, I’ll feel like shouting. Isn’t it a little absurd, after all I have passed through that I should be at last beaten by a little New Jersey farm? It isn’t very serious though; and perhaps instead of repining ‘the smartest man in America’ should find cause for cockiness in the fact that he has sold for $1000 more than he would have taken rather than lose the sale.”
“I have been calculating to spend next Tuesday in New York, but to-night it is doubtful if I go. If I do, and you are well enough to play cribbage, I might stay overnight and give you a lesson or two.”
Grover Cleveland (1837-1908) was born in New Jersey but grew up in New York. In 1855, he moved to Buffalo and obtained a clerical job from an uncle. He read law, gained admission to the New York bar in 1859, and began his own law practice in 1862. In 1863, he received appointment as assistant district attorney for Erie County and hired a substitute for $150 to serve in the Union army in his place. From 1870 to 1873, he served as sheriff of Erie County. During this time, he had a child with the widow Maria Halpin. In the early 1880s, he served successively as mayor of Buffalo (1882) and as governor of New York (1883-1885). His opposition to political corruption made him popular and led to his becoming the Democratic nominee for president in 1884. He narrowly defeated Republican candidate James G. Blaine with a plurality of just over 57,000 votes out of more than ten million cast. As president, Cleveland largely eliminated the spoils system, began modernizing the U.S. Navy, and signed an act creating the Interstate Commerce Commission. He favored a limited government and made extensive use of the veto against bills passed by the Republican Senate. Entering the presidency as a bachelor, Cleveland in 1886 married Frances Folsom, who was twenty-eight years his junior, becoming the only president to marry in the White House. Between 1891 and 1903, they had five children. In 1888, Cleveland narrowly lost re-election to Republican Benjamin Harrison. Although Cleveland won a plurality of the popular vote, Harrison gained a majority of 233 to 168 in the Electoral College by carrying the critical swing states of New York and Indiana. In 1889, Cleveland moved to New York City and resumed the practice of law. He also spent considerable time at Buzzard Bay, where fishing became a favored hobby. When Cleveland spoke out in 1891 against Harrison’s support of money backed by silver, he became a contender for the Democratic nomination in 1892. In a rematch of the presidential contest of 1888, Cleveland defeated incumbent Harrison to become the only person to serve non-consecutive terms as president. With the new Populist Party drawing away Republican strength in the West, Cleveland won by wide margins in both the popular and electoral votes. Cleveland’s second term was marked by an economic depression (caused by the Panic of 1893), tariff reform, and Cleveland’s breaking the Pullman Strike of 1894 with federal troops. In 1893, Cleveland was diagnosed with a malignant mouth cancer, but he had surgery secretly aboard his friend E. C. Benedict’s yacht to avoid further panic that might worsen the depression. After leaving the presidency in March 1897, Cleveland lived in retirement at his estate in Princeton, New Jersey.
Elias Cornelius Benedict (1834-1920) was born in New York and joined the banking house of Corning & Co. in 1849. In 1857, he opened his own stockbroker’s office on Wall Street. In 1859, he married Sarah Hart, and they had four children in the 1860s. During the Civil War, he and his brother organized the Gold Exchange Bank. A close friend of President Grover Cleveland, Benedict allowed the use of his yacht, the Oneida, for Cleveland’s secret cancer surgery in 1893. Benedict built an estate on a peninsula in Greenwich, Connecticut, and he was Commodore of the Seawanhaka Corinthian Yacht Club on Centre Island, New York, founded in 1871.
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