When The President Disappeared

PrintPrintEmailEmail

Back ashore, where the press had not missed him, Cleveland yielded to Dan Lamont’s insistence that the attorney general be allowed to come up and help with the message to Congress. When Richard Olney arrived he was shocked to see how haggard the round face had become, how gaunt the robust body. “My God, Olney, they nearly killed me!” grunted Cleveland, and went to work on the draft speech Olney had brought with him. He retained only about one-sixth of it, writing the rest of 2,800 words himself in his own laborious longhand.

With the advent of August, Cleveland was still feeling miserable, but he insisted on journeying back to Washington not later than the fifth. He wanted a couple of days to collar returning members of Congress and impress upon them their duty to pass the Sherman Act repealer with all speed. The Senate, Lord knew, would be trouble enough, but the House must not hesitate.

The Congress met on the seventh and duly received the President’s uncompromising message. "… The operation of the silver purchase law now in force,” he wrote, “leads in the direction of the entire substitution of silver for gold in the Government Treasury, and … this must be followed by the payment of all Government obligations in depreciated silver. …

“The people of the United States are entitled to a sound and stable currency, and to money recognized as such on every exchange and in every market of the world. Their government has no right to injure them by financial experiments opposed to the policy and practice of other civilized states.”

Cleveland stayed in hot Washington four more days. Then, with the repealer measure introduced, and all his personal pressures to bear, he crept back to Gray Gables to resume getting well.

Meantime, on the very day he went to Washington, something occurred in New York City which came very near to unmasking Cleveland’s entire high conspiracy.

When the disgruntled Dr. Hasbrouck left the Oneida at New London, it was to assist a very high-toned medico indeed named Leander P. Jones, vet to the blue bloods of Newport and Manhattan. To save skin off his own nose, Hasbrouck let Jones know just who and what had detained him.

Miffed at being treated so highhandedly, even by Dr. Joe Bryant and the President of the United States, Dr. Jones tipped off a newspaper friend of his, one E. J. Edwards, a reporter for the Philadelphia Press, who signed all his work rather grandly “Holland.”

Holland wasted no time getting up to 147 West 126th Street. There Dr. Hasbrouck, persuaded that the story was publicly known at least in outline, and far from ashamed of his own conspicuous part in it, confirmed it to Holland in full detail.

Thus, just four days before his fight in Congress began and in time for the grave question about his health to affect the fight perhaps fatally, Cleveland’s secret was out.

And yet it wasn’t out—not quite. As conscientious as he was alert, Holland sought to check his colossal scoop. Imperatively his sources must be Dr. Bryant, Dr. Keen, Dan Lamont, and the White House.

For his pains poor Holland was rebuffed by all these sources as a scandal-mongering scoundrel, and Dr. Hasbrouck branded a vicious prevaricator, an unknown dentist who had been called in on a routine extraction job and been fired for bungling.

The publishers of the Philadelphia Press withheld the story. Not for nearly four weeks did they get up enough confirmation and nerve to print it. By that time the huge white lie that it exposed had succeeded and changed places with the truth.

Congressman William Jennings Bryan orated for three hours on August 16 against the repealer (warming up for his “Cross of Gold” speech three years later) but on August 28 the House voted 239 to 108 in Cleveland’s favor. When the Holland story came out next day, it had been so bruited about and discredited in advance that, though it was widely quoted, the conspirators’ denials were quoted also and preponderantly believed.

Helpful also in supporting his great deception through its final stage was Cleveland’s health. With more rest, fishing, and sea air, he now rebounded. By September 5 he was in shape to address a Pan-American Medical Congress in Washington, at which the most jaundiced professional eye could but agree that he never looked livelier or more robust. Keen’s cheek retractor had obviated any outward scar. Gibson’s refitted jaw plug filled any telltale hollow and, if anything, improved his always heavy diction. And on September 9 his wife bore the President, who was only 52 and now looked it again, another girl child.

In the Senate the final victory of Gold over Silver, and the beginning of the end of the earthquake, came less through Cleveland’s efforts than through the Silverites’ own folly. With the little Vice President’s connivance, they filibustered so long—and so absurdly —that by October 30 enough in-betweeners were fed up to make the vote 48 to 37.