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UNDER FOUR PRESIDENTS
THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF OSCAR S. STRAUS
CHAPTER VI-GROVER CLEVELAND
AD diplomacy been a career, nothing would have pleased me more than to continue in such service of my country. On the whole, I cannot say that I advocate changing our system as to a more permanent service for the heads of missions. Our President is now unhampered to select men who are best qualified to deal with the problems in hand at the various posts. This is an advantage over a system that tends to keep in office ministers and ambassadors who are ill equipped to bring statesmanlike qualities to their work, though they may be past-masters in routine and social requirements.
But it would be well if, on a change of administration, removals of heads of missions were the exception rather than the rule. Of course, after four or eight years, the return of our diplomatic chiefs from foreign fields to the various parts of our country has an advantage in that these men, by reason of their experience and standing, are enabled to inform and in a measure guide public opinion on questions concerning international affairs.
On my return to New York I reentered business, but continued to take a deep and active interest in public affairs. I spent much of my spare time lecturing on public questions and historical matters.
CLEVELAND'S WAR ON "FREE SILVER"
In the fall of 1891 I was a delegate to the Democratic State Convention at Saratoga and a member of the platform committee. One of the questions to be solved was, What should be our position regarding silver? Cleveland's statement of his position during his first term had lost him the Presidency.
Copyright, 1903, Rockwood, N. Y.
in the Treasury, he had been impressed more and more with the fact that the taxes and the tariff should be reduced. He realized, during the spring and sumQuite purposely, Cleveland had boldly mer of 1887, that the rapid increase of accentuated, while in office, the outstand- this surplus was becoming a menace to ing matters then before the country- the stability of our financial system, and the tariff and sound money-without he felt it his duty to provide some means any regard to political consequences. His friend Richard Watson Gilder had said of him in "Grover Cleveland: A Record of Friendship:"
Every once in a while Cleveland "threw away the Presidency," and I never saw him so happy as when he had done it; as, for instance, after the tariff message, and now again after the silver letter.
Cleveland, while not a scholar, was ultra-conscientious and had an honest and logical mind that dealt with fundamentals. He would "mull over" (that is the very phrase I have heard him use) a question until he got to the bottom, and there he would start to build up his premises and arrive at his decisions.
Ronauice of the surnlus accumulating
for averting commercial disaster. At the opening of Congress that year, instead of a message covering all of the Government activities, as was the invariable custom, he prepared one devoted exclusively to the revenue system and to the necessity of reducing the tariff. He gave much care and deliberation to this message and its subject, but none to the political consequences.
Again, later, when the free coinage of silver became a topic of prominence, the Reform Club of New York invited him to attend a banquet at which this question was to be discussed. Many of his friends advised that he remain silent on the subject, in order not to mar his chances for re-election. Cleveland, however, accepted the invitation and boldly announced his position regarding "the
dangerous and reckless experiment of free, unlimited, and independent silver coinage." That was too much for the machine men of the party; the note of Cleveland's doom was sounded from one end of the country to the other.
After his retirement, partisan bitterness largely disappeared, and it soon became a foregone conclusion that he would again have to stand for the Presidency. Although he had occupied the President's chair only one term, I doubt whether any ex-President of our time, with the exception of Roosevelt, carried with him into private life a deeper interest or a higher esteem on the part of the great body of the people. His rugged honesty of purpose and determined stand for the best principles in our public life were more and more appreciated and valued. During the entire period between his defeat and re-election he was the most distinguished representative of his party.
When the silver question came up at Saratoga, a few others and myself con tended for a sound money plank We met with opposition from a majority of
the committee. Richard Croker, boss of Tammany Hall, had not up to that time bothered much about the subject. I laid before him the reasons underlying the question and got him to throw his powerful influence and help on our side, and we succeeded in the end in incorporating a strong sound money plank.
Cleveland expressed his satisfaction with that accomplishment in the following note to me:
816 Madison Avenue
My dear Mr. Straus:
I have a suspicion that you had much to do with the formation of the silver plank in the platform adopted at Saratoga. I am so well satisfied indeed that you thus merit my thanks as a citizen who loves the honor of his country and as a Democrat who loves the integrity of his party, that I desire to tender them in this frank, informal manner. Yours very truly, GROVER CLEVELAND.
I may add here that upon his retirement in 1889 Cleveland came to New York to live, and the pleasant relations I had had with him in office became close and intimate.
Early in July, 1892, I wrote Cleveland regarding his position on the tariff, and after the Chicago convention which nominated him for the Presidency, I received the following communication from him:
My dear Sir:
I wish to thank you for your letter of July 12, and to express my disappointment that while in New York last week I did not have the opportunity to converse with you on the suggestions which your letter contained. You cannot fail to see by some expressions in my address in reply to the notification committee, that thoughts quite similar to yours have occupied my mind in regard to the tariff plank in our platform. I am exceedingly anxious that there should be no misrepresentation of our true position, and I regret exceedingly that there should have been any form of expression adopted which makes us liable to that danger.
I shall continue to give the subject earnest thought and when I write my letter of acceptance if it should then seem to be necessary I shall not hesitate to pursue the subject further. I have heard of your labors at Chicago and of your constant and earnest devotion to my cause and while your previous conduct and our relations have been such as to lead me to expect such things of you, I am none the less gratified and beg to thank you from the bottom of my heart.
With the kind remembrances of
In 1888 his position on these two questions caused his defeat; in 1892, his position still the same, these very issues were the dominant factors that brought about his renomination and election.
During the winter before his second
Cleveland was frequently accompanied by his physician on hunting and fishing
term of office, in order to get some rest
THE LITTLE WHITE HOUSE"
During his stay at the "little White
could have the benefit of his wisdom and knowledge in financial and tariff matters. Indeed, my brother was largely responsible for Cleveland's calling the extra session of Congress for the repeal of the Sherman Silver Coinage Act.
A PRESIDENT UNDER FIRE Among my letters from Cleveland at this period I have one concerning a matter that caused a great deal of stir and unfavorable comment: the appointment of James J. Van Alen, of Newport, R. I., as Ambassador to Italy. Van Alen was a very rich man. He was the son-in-law of William Astor and the personal friend of William C. Whitney, the real manager of the Cleveland campaign, whose appointment as Secretary of the Navy was not liked by the "Mugwump" wing of the party, headed by Carl Schurz and others. When Van Alen was appointed, a hue and cry arose from the idealists, and Cleveland's enemies alleged that the appointment was nothing more than a reward for the very large contribution Van Alen had made to Whitney for the campaign, for which Whitney had promised this position.
Schurz, as editor of "Harper's Week-
My dear Mr. Straus:
by the solicitude you evince in the Van Alen matter. I am amazed by the course pursued by some good people in dealing with this subject. No one has yet presented to me a single charge of unfitness or incompetency. They have chosen to eagerly act upon the frivolous statements of a much mendacious and mischievous newspaper, as an attempt to injure a man who in no way has been guilty of wrong. I leave out of account the allegation that his nomination was in acknowledgement of a large campaign contribution. No one will accuse me of such a trade and Mr. Whitney's and Mr. Van Alen's denial that any such thing existed in the minds of any one concerned, I believe to be the truth. I think it would be a cowardly thing in me to disgrace a man because the New York World had doomed him to disgrace. Since the nomination was sent in I have left the matter entirely to the Senate, and I hear that the nomination was confirmed to-day. This ends the matter. I am entirely content to wait for a complete justification of my part in the proceeding.
I am sorry you regard this matter as so unfortunate and if anything could have induced me to turn away from a course which seems to me so plainly just and right, it would be my desire to satisfy just such good friends as you have always proved yourself to be.
I shall be glad to see you, at all times.
Yours very sincerely,
Van Alen was confirmed by the Senate, but on November 20 he sent in his resignation, which Cleveland reluctantly accepted but urged Van Alen to reconsider his decision, as his (the President's) preference was emphatically that he accept the post and by the discharge of his duties vindicate the wisdom and propriety of his selection.
MIDNIGHT SUPPERS OF DELICATESSEN AND BEER
During the second term I saw little of the President. I was very much tied to business, and went to Washington only when summoned there to discuss a few international matters as they arose. But while I am reminiscing about my relations with Mr. Cleveland, I will jump ahead about ten years and speak of a visit he paid me for three days during March, 1903. He was to deliver an address at the Henry Ward Beecher Memorial Meeting in the Brooklyn Academy of Music on Sunday evening, and he arrived from Princeton on Saturday. He was like a boy out of school.
We were going to the theater on Saturday evening, and I suggested Justin McCarthy's "If I Were King," played by Sothern.
"I hope it is not sad," he said; "I want to see it from start to finish;" and, with a smirk, he added: "For I am a hayseed." I discerned afterward that he would rather have seen a comedy or ondeville.
When we got to the theater many in
the audience recognized him, and heads were constantly turning in the direction of our box. I mentioned it to him, but he said:
"Oh no, they don't know me any more."
After the theater we had a supper of delicatessen and beer at home, which I knew he would like, and he amused us with several funny stories and mimicry. My wife remarked that he might have made a success on the stage, and he replied that his friend Joe Jefferson had often deplored his having missed that profession. He mimicked the humorous Congressman Campbell of New York, who used to come to the White House, and, pointing to the room occupied by Cleveland, ask the clerk, "Is His Royal Nibs in?" And sometimes Tim Campbell made requests that Cleveland had to deny as unconstitutional; then Tim would come back with: "Oh, I wouldn't let the Constitution stand friends!"
MORE IMPRESSIONS OF GROVER CLEVELAND
At dinner on Sunday we were joined by Mr. and Mrs. John G. Carlisle, my brother Isidor, his wife, and his business associate, Charles B. Webster. Carlisle, one of the most distinguished Senators in Congress, was former Secretary of the Treasury, and a close friend of Cleveland. When the champagne was served my wife said to the ex-President:
"Does Mrs. Cleveland let you drink this? You know it is bad for your rheumatism!"
He answered: "No, but I won't tell her."
They compromised on one glass.
to the bond loans during Cleveland's second administration, the first made through J. P. Morgan & Co., and the subsequent popular loans-to keep the gold in the United States Treasury. The exPresident referred to his fight against the silver craze and said he had to abandon the fundamental issue, the tariff reform, to combat that dangerous heresy.
When the guests had gone, Cleveland wanted to know whether we would like to hear the speech he was to deliver that evening, and of course we assured him we should be delighted. This led to conversation about Beecher, and I showed him the original letter that Beecher wrote him in 1887 recommending my appointment to Turkey. He said he remembered it perfectly, and it was the thing that turned the scale while he was considering whether or not he could properly appoint a person of my race to a post largely concerned with the protection of Christian missions. I made bold to request the manuscript of his Memorial address to file with my Beecher letter, and he kindly consented, with the words: "Yes, certainly; they are kind of cousins."
After a light supper we drove to Brooklyn. Cleveland was ever punctual,
and I took care that we should arrive at the appointed hour, 7:45. It was pouring rain, and Cleveland anticipated that most people would be kept away; but when we entered the hall it was packed from pit to dome, and several thousand persons were turned away. At the close of the meeting hundreds crowded on to the stage to greet the ex-President, showing that the love and admiration of the people had in no degree waned.
The next morning we prevailed upon him to stay an extra day. He said he knew I had a speech to make at Brown University and would have to be busy. I assured him the speech was all prepared and the subject was "Brown in Diplomacy." He asked me to read it to him, and I did. He pronounced it appropriate and fine, which gave me some confidence in the success of the occasion, for I knew he was not given to flattery and would not have praised it without meaning it; that was not his style.
He had to go to Rockwood, the photographer at Thirty-ninth Street and Broadway, so I went with him. He said he had hundreds of requests for pictures and wanted a new one taken so that when people wrote for them he could refer such requests to Rockwood; similarly he had some pictures made by a That arPhiladelphia photographer. rangement would save him much trouble. I asked Rockwood to take a special, large picture for me. He brought forward his larger camera and took one of the best photographs of Cleveland I have ever seen. I had two finished; one for Mrs. Cleveland and the other hangs in my library.
For luncheon we met Isidor at Delmonico's. At the next table sat Charles
F. Murphy, successor to Croker as boss of Tammany Hall, who requested me to introduce him to Cleveland. They had quite a chat, after which Cleveland re
"He looks like a pretty clean fellow.",
During the meal our guest told us, with language, voice, and manner befitting the tale, how, when he was being spoken of for re-election before his second term, he met a farmer who said to him: "Now if you will go on sawin' wood and don't say nothin', they will give you back that job in Washington." No actor could have given a more vivid characterization of that farmer.
That evening we went to Weber and Fields's Music Hall, on Twenty-ninth Street near Broadway. He suggested this himself. He said he liked to be amused at the theater and not saddened or instructed.
THE FINAL CONFIDENCES OF AN
At about this period Cleveland from time to time showed evidences of illness. He called them stomach attacks. Whether or not his personal friend and physician, Dr. Joseph D. Bryant, had diagnosed the malady as more serious I do not know; but at times I rather inferred that he had. Dr. Bryant made it