The first year of a new president’s first term is always a crucible. But often it’s only in hindsight, within the carefully considered pages of an authoritative presidential biography, that the full measure of that first year can be taken. In this new series on the best presidential biographies, Miller Center presidential scholars and experts recommend the ones most worth reading.
Grover Cleveland is remember more about being the only president to serve two nonconsecutive terms and having a premarital affair and supporting a child from that affair, than his own policies. Cleveland served in a rapidly changing period of the 1890s as the Democratic Party was tearing itself apart. Scholars tend to see Cleveland exerting executive independence from Congress as he used the veto and executive privilege.
After 80 years, Allan Nevins Pulitzer Prize winning work, Grover Cleveland: A Study in Courage, still remains the best scholarly biography on Cleveland. Historian Henry F. Graff has compiled a good, short biography entitled Grover Cleveland that summarizes the important arguments for remembering Cleveland.
Among popular histories, the best is Alyn Brodsky’s Grover Cleveland: A Study in Character.
To get a general political and economic background of the 1890s, read H.W. Brands’ The Reckless Decade: America in the 1890s.
Learn more about Cleveland’s presidency here.