The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Is GW Bush the answer to life, the universe and everything? And is Hearst to blame?

The first question is asked strictly in the Douglas Adams sense. In Adam's The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy series, the answer to, etc, etc, is 42. Some with a literal bent have suggested that the Great Fornicator, William Jefferson Clinton, should be taken as the US Presidency's candidate for that particular honour.

But, of course, that would be to omit the Grover Cleveland Adjustment. Cleveland, of course, was the president so good they numbered him twice: #22 and #24. Having seen off James G Blaine - the Continental Liar from the state of Maine - in 1884, Cleveland succumbed in 1888 to Benjamin Harrison, grandson of famously log-cabin-born William Harrison, before winning the return leg against Harrison next time round.

Cleveland was the only Democrat to serve two full terms as President between Andrew Jackson and Woodrow Wilson - and Wilson, of course, only won in 1912 because Bull Moose Theodore Roosevelt split the Republican vote. Yay, Grover!

That's all stuff that any fule kno, of course. What is novel to me is a letter from Harry Truman that crops up on a memorabilia site. The letter is dated March 6 1956 [1], and is addressed to the editor of the World Almanac. Truman says (the first part of the text extracted by the site)
I am the 32nd man who has been President...Mr Eisenhower is the 33rd. The Hearst publications are responsible for the wrong numbering. They did that by counting Grover Cleveland twice. If Grover Cleveland is to be counted twice then every man who served two terms should be.

Is it true? William Randolph Hearst took command of the San Francisco Examiner in 1887 - but from that far-flung outpost, could he possibly have had any influence on the way Washington numbered its presidents? And, even if he could, what would be in it for him?

Hearst is the guy who fixed up the deal at the 1932 Democratic Convention in Chicago [2] whereby the votes of John Nance Garner of Texas were thrown to Franklin Roosevelt, so as to balk Al Smith, whom Hearst loathed for having balked him in running for the US Senate from New York in 1922 [3].

But Hearst as The Man Who Numbered Grover Cleveland? More evidence needed...

  1. Details and reproduction here (PDF).

  2. A reprint of what looks like an excellent detailed treatment of the events of the 1932 Convention in a reprinted Time piece of July 11 1932.

  3. There is another good Time piece - evidently in the same series - for April 30 1928 that deals with the (then upcoming) Convention, and the possibility of Wet left-footer Al Smith, faute de mieux, snaffling the Democratic nomination - and has a par or two on Hearst's abortive Senate run (which, otherwise, I would have really struggled to stand up, online or via available dead tree evidence: for example, John Gunther's Roosevelt in Retrospect (1950) mentions (p265) that Hearst wanted to run for Governor of New York in 1922. But Smith - with one (two year) term served already (1919-21) - was always going to be Tammany's choice for 1922, surely?).

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