The presidential election of 1884 is regarded as one of the dirtiest in American history. It pitted New York Democratic Governor Grover Cleveland, a corruption reformer, against Republican Senator James G. Blaine. The presidential campaign turned on morality of the candidates. The Democrats assailed Blaine charging that he wrongfully profited while in Congress from railroad-road interests, stating, “Blaine! Blaine! James G. Blaine! Continental liar from the State of Maine!” The Republicans found a chink in “Cleveland’s moral armor.” Maria Halpin, a 35 year old widow, made the headlines by declaring that Cleveland, a bachelor, was the father of her illegitimate ten year old son, Oscar Folsom Cleveland. Republican media alleged Cleveland’s bachelor quarters were a “harem,” where he brought unsuspecting women and prostitutes. They also subsidized massive distribution of a song mocking Cleveland entitled: “Ma! Ma! Where’s My Pa?”
Cleveland’s panicked campaign staff wired him for instructions. Remarkably, Cleveland wired back, “Above all, tell the truth.” Cleveland publicly admitted that “as a bachelor he, and some friends, had kept company with Maria.” In acknowledging paternity, Cleveland stated, “The boy could be mine.” The chief source of the salacious sensational journalism against Grover was Rev. George H. Ball, pastor of the Hudson Street Baptist Church and loyal Republican. Other clergy rallied around Cleveland. Rev Kinsley Twining, a highly respected minister, was sent to Buffalo to investigate the reports of the local clergymen. His report was published in the New York Times, “The truth is this, that when he was younger …he was guilty of an illicit connection, but the various charges brought against him lacks the elements of truth in these substantial points…his conduct was singularly honorable, showing no attempt to evade responsibility, and doing all he could to meet his duties involved, of which marriage was certainly not one…”
Privately, Cleveland reasoned that since he was a bachelor and all of his other friends were married, including Oscar Folsom (his law partner and father of Cleveland’s future wife) it would be least damaging for him to admit paternity. In naming the child Oscar Folsom Cleveland, Maria was apparently not sure herself whether the child’s father was Folsom or Cleveland. Cleveland’s remarkably candid admission “caught the fancy of the electorate and helped defuse the issue.”
The final blow to Blain’s campaign came when a Republican spokesman referred to the Democrats as “the party of Rum, Romanism and Rebellion.” Blaine did not object to the description. “Irish Catholics, deeply offended by the religious slur, turned out in record numbers to help defeat Blaine.” The Democrats also had the last laugh. After their victory, they responded to the Republican-backed song, “Ma, Ma, where’s my Pa? with words, “Gone to the White House, Ha, Ha, Ha!”
Sources: William A. DeGregorio (The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents); Wesley O. Hagood (Presidential Sex – From the Founding Fathers to Bill Clinton).
A News Cleve & Halp 120615