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CLEVELAND, GROVER - President Cleveland and anti-Catholic 'Fake News':  'I should be ashamed of my Presbyterianism if these declarations gave grounds of offence'
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CLEVELAND, GROVER - President Cleveland and anti-Catholic 'Fake News':  'I should be ashamed of my Presbyterianism if these declarations gave grounds of offence'

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CLEVELAND, GROVER. (1837-1908). Twenty-second and twenty-fourth president of the United States. ALS. (“Grover Cleveland”). 2pp. Small 4to. Buzzards Bay, July 11, 1892. On two sheets of his Gray Gables stationery. To William Back.


“I am almost ashamed to yield to your request to deny a statement so silly and absurd on its face, as the one you send me. However as this is the second application I have received on the same subject, I think it is best to end the matter, as far as it is possible to do so, by branding the statement in all its activity and in its spirit and intention as unqualifiedly and absolutely false. I know Cardinal Gibbons and I know him to be a good citizen and a first rate American, and that his kindness of heart and toleration are in striking contrast with the fierce intolerance and vicious malignity which disgrace some who claim to be Protestants. I know from a number [of] members of the Catholic Church who were employed in the public service during my administration and I suppose there were many so employed. I should be ashamed of my Presbyterianism if these declarations gave grounds of offence...”


After practicing law and holding several public positions in Erie County, NY, Cleveland was elected mayor of Buffalo on January 1, 1882, and exactly one year later, he became Governor of New York. His opposition to political corruption earned him Tammany Hall’s wrath as well as the Democratic Party presidential nomination in 1884. As a result, Cleveland became the United States’ 22nd president and, despite losing the 1888 election to Benjamin Harrison, he defeated the incumbent in 1892, and returned to the White House for a second term, the only president in U.S. history to serve two non-consecutive terms.

During the 1884 election, Cleveland’s opponent, Republican James Blaine misjudged popular sentiment about Roman Catholicism, which he painted as a powerful and nefarious force in the Democratic Party. Apparently, the question of Catholic influence in the White House still concerned enough people eight years later that the British-American Citizen reported: “When Cleveland became president he had a wire run from the White House to the Cardinal’s Palace, and placed a Roman Catholic at the head of every division of the ten thousand employees in the departments, and permitted nuns, without authority and against the printed instructions hung up in every public building in Washington, to go twice each month through them, and command every clerk to contribute to the support of the Roman Catholic Church.”


William Back, the recipient of our letter, quoted this passage to Cleveland, who was the son of a Presbyterian minister, prompting this reply, which was printed in full in August 6, 1892 issue of The Illustrated American, which commented, “What looks to The Illustrated American like a trick to lure Grover Cleveland into an expression of unfriendliness toward Roman Catholics has utterly failed, simply because the honest courage and genuine manliness of the ex-President saved him from the carefully laid trap.”


James Gibbons (1834-1921) was an American priest from Baltimore who became a cardinal in 1886. Noted for his youth and advocacy of labor issues, Gibbons became popular for such works as The Faith of Our Fathers, Our Christian Heritage and The Ambassador of Christ as well as his contributions to the North American Review and Putnams’ Monthly.

Our letter was written from Cleveland’s Massachusetts estate, Gray Gables, which served as his Summer White House from 1893 to 1896. Purchased in 1890, Cleveland had a telegraph installed in the house in 1892 in order to follow the news from the Chicago convention, which selected him as the party’s candidate at the end of June.

Folded into quarters with normal wear and in very good condition. A fascinating letter, especially in light of today’s pre-occupation with “Fake News.”




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