Historical Sex Scandals


It’s interesting how even as our popular culture has become raunchier, our official political culture has in a lot of ways become more prudish. Consider the case of Grover Cleveland:

Maria claimed that [New York Governor and Presidential candidate Grover] Cleveland was the father, although there was no way to prove it one way or another. However, Cleveland was a bachelor while the other paternity candidates were married. When the child was born in September 1874 she named him Oscar Folsom Cleveland. (Oscar Folsom was Cleveland’s law partner.)

Despite uncertainty Cleveland decided to accept paternity. He had less to lose than other possibilities. He acknowledged the boy and provided for his support. When one of his campaign leaders tried to publicly blame the deceased Oscar Folsom as the father, Cleveland had the story squelched.

Not long after the birth Maria began drinking heavily, and Cleveland had a judge commit her to an insane asylum and the child to an orphanage. He paid the orphanage expenses of $5 per week. When Maria was released, Cleveland had her set up in a business in Niagara Falls. Later she tried unsuccessfully to get custody of her son, and he was placed for adoption with a family. Cleveland paid her $500 and she left town. The son grew up to become a medical doctor.

The Republicans used the campaign slogan, “Ma Ma, Where’s my Pa?” The controversy about public service and private morality raged across the nation. The choice was between a man of personal immorality and public service integrity (Grover Cleveland) and one of a model family man guilty of using public office for personal gain (James G. Blaine). Cleveland narrowly won. After his election the Democrats answered the Republican ditty with “Gone to the White House, ha ha ha!”

This campaign also featured Blaine’s supporters accusing the Democrats of being the party of “rum, romanism, and rebellion”—another memorable slogan. The presidential elections of this period were noteworthy for being extremely close and simultaneously lacking in clear ideological content. Hence a premium was put on coming up with fun slogans.