The President Is A Sick Man


In a time when twitter and the internet make every minute detail of our politicians known, I was eager to read how President Grover Cleveland could undergo a secret surgery to remove a cancerous tumor in his mouth.  A Democrat, he was the only man to be elected as President twice and non-sequentially; for he was our 24th and 26th President. 

Born Steven Grover Cleveland, he dropped his first name to sound “more sonoroius and distinctive.”  Grover Cleveland was a man of true character, evident by living a life in which he faced responsibility head on.  I was particularly impressed when as sheriff, he was tasked with actually pulling the lever to commence a hanging and execute a prisoner, and rather than assign the “hateful task” to a subordinate, he completed the task to himself.

When Cleveland began feeling a legion on the rood of his mouth, he had his good friend and doctor examine it.  It was determined to be a cancerous growth.  In the late 1880’s the word “cancer” was not to be uttered in company, and few doctors even understood medicine well enough to comprehend how to treat the legions it created.  No one would dare tell others about cancer for fear of being ostracized.  Because Cleveland believed it was particularly crucial for the American Public to retain the confidence and trust it had in him, he agreed to have the lesion removed, but only if the surgery was kept a secret.

He enlisted the assistance of several physicians and they conspired to board a ship, the Onieda, for several days where the surgery would be performed.  At the time, anesthetics were still in early developmental stages, and the doctors were fearful of using ether on the President to sedate him due to the unknown side effects it might have.  The intended to use laughing gas and use ether only if  the laughing gas wore off, but were forced to use both.  The surgery was successful, and it seemed the secret would be kept. 

Despite an agreement among all involved not to tell anyone about the events, and to fabricate stories that the President had a toothache and never had a surgery, the truth eventually got out and was published.  The full title of the book (The President Is a Sick Man: Wherein the Supposedly Virtuous Grover Cleveland Survives a Secret Surgery at Sea and Vilifies the Courageous Newspaperman Who Dared Expose the Truth) leads one to believe Cleveland acted in a manner to vilify the newspaperman, Elisha Edwards, who reported the story, but that was not what happened.  Other newspapers and reporters who believed the toothache stories say that Edwards must have made up the story about Cleveland having cancer.  Edwards is attacked on a regular basis and his reputation is soon destroyed.  Only decades later, after Cleveland died, and Edwards was more than 70, would the truth finally come out, although only few were left alive who would care. 

I found the book interesting, particularly the background about the debate raging in the country about whether the U.S. should go off the gold standard.  The historical information provided in the book was obviously meticulously researched and was told in an interesting manner.  At times, there was too much information given about things that were not particularly relevant, but overall, the story moved along quickly and effortlessly.  I would recommend the book to those interested in politics and history.

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