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tv   History Bookshelf Matthew Algeo The President Is a Sick Man  CSPAN  September 23, 2018 8:00am-9:01am EDT

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the structure of the political economy in a way that is safe for us. announcer 1: watch "the communicators" on c-span 2. 1893,cer 2: in june of president cleveland went under surgery to remove a tumor from his mouth, kept secret for 20 years. matthewory bookshelf," algeo talks about his book "the president is a sick man" which recounts how the president disappeared for five days. he recounts a newspaper's man of the story.
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this was recorded at the museum of american finance in new york city in 2011. it is about 55 minutes. david: hi, i'm david cowan, president of the museum of american finance. welcome welcome back to our , lunch and learn series. welcome to the university of central oklahoma and professor alan arnold. the okies are in the house. so thank you for coming. please join us again, everyone, next week on the 26th. we're going to continue the lunch and learn series. the director of the rothschild archive will be here, melanie. this is an historic banking house. again, a week from this thursday. and then on the 24th, this is tuesday upcoming, we'll be screening the rediscovering alexander hamilton. this is the pbs documentary that was recently released, and all your questions about the movie can be answered because the producer/director michael
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pack will be in the house. now turning our attention to today and matthew algeo and "the president is a sick man." this is matthew's third book. his second, "harry truman's excellent adventure," which traced harry and bess truman's cross-country trip in 1953, got a lot of great press, and in 2009 "the washington post" called it one of the best books of the year. and additionally before that, he wrote a book about the war years and football and the spiegels, which is a combination of the pittsburgh steelers and the philadelphia eagles. this is during world war ii, another interesting book. he's got a very eclectic background. not just an author, not just a journalist, but let me tell you some of the things he has done. he has been a hot dog vendor at a traveling circus. he's been a halloween costume salesman. he's been a gas station,
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a convenience store clerk, and all this is going to put him in good stead because in two months he's moving to mongolia with his wife, who is a foreign service officer who is taking a position there, so that should be pretty interesting. and very importantly, he is a friend to this museum and a member of it. it's my pleasure to introduce matthew algeo. [applause] matthew: boy, you make it sound much more interesting than it is, my life. it's great to be at the museum of american finance, for a couple of reasons. one, it's a fantastic museum, and i've been coming to the museum for a few years now. but more importantly, when i was researching the book, the museum was very helpful in answering my questions, and i would have frantic questions like how many grains of silver were in a silver dollar in 1870, and this is the only place that you could send an e-mail with that urgency and get it answered within an hour. so it was very helpful to me, the museum of american finance. and i am a member, a proud member.
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that's why i got in for free today. [laughter] matthew: before i talk about grover, who was a very interesting person, i should probably tell you a little bit about a much less interesting person. that would be me. as david said, my wife is a foreign service officer, so we move around a lot. i -- my name is algeo, everybody thinks it's italian. it's actually irish. the o is on the wrong end, i know. my grandparents were from the north of ireland, from donegal. i actually have irish citizenship. and i spent a year back in ireland in the 1990's as a freelance reporter. i should do this because it largely consisted of drinking a lot of beer for a year. but there was something interesting that i found out about having an unusual irish name in ireland. i had to get an identity card, and so i went to the irish equivalent of the dmv, and they were very organized. they had three lines, and it was
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all according to the first letter of your last name, and the first line was last names beginning a-l, the second line was mc-0, and the third was p-z. and of course the longest line was mc-o. so with an unusual last name in ireland there were certain , advantages to that. i am the youngest of seven which is why i'm avoiding eye contact with you right now. i just found it was better to keep my head down. i did, though, grow up in a house of readers. my, my parents were prolific readers. they weren't sitting around reading the french existential is or anything like that. my dad liked mitscher, i used to say he would read by the pound. my mom liked true crime and biography. when i was a kid it would be , embarrassing riding the train into the city with her because she'd be reading something like the i-95 killer, you know, and on the front cover there'd be somebody stabbing somebody. i was like, can you just put it
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in a newspaper? but i was lucky to grow up in a house like that. i ran into a friend from high school a few years ago, and he said, you know, whenever i went over to your house in high school, your parents would just be sitting in the living room reading, no tv, no radio, no nothing, and i always thought that was so weird. but now that he has kids of his own, i think he appreciates that that was really a good atmosphere to grow up, and it fostered my love of books. i went to college in philadelphia at the university of pennsylvania, graduated in 1988 with a degree in folklore. any other folklore majors here today? [laughter] matthew: this was, and david went through the list of other occupations i've had. i've, obviously, chosen many nonlucrative occupations including writing these nonbest-selling books, but folklore especially was a nonlucrative one. i still remember looking at the
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want ads in the "philadelphia inquirer" every sunday. it would have been right between florist and forklift operator if i remember quickly. but finding no such jobs, i moved to seattle and drifted into public radio. public radio, of course, those are the stations way on the left of the dial. [laughter] matthew: like 89 to 91, around there. and worked at public radio stations in st. louis, seattle, i was in minnesota for a while, i went to maine for a while. 2005 i went to los angeles and got a job with the public radio program called "marketplace." a good program. and it was around this time that my wife took the foreign service exam and passed and was offered a position in the u.s. foreign service. so we were in a bit of a quandary as to who would be the breadwinner, her or me. and after several rounds of voting, it was still 1-1. [laughter] matthew: and somehow i was, managed to gain a controlling
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share in the firm, and eventually she took the position in the foreign service and became the breadwinner, allowing me to work a little bit on this nonlucrative career. and so we went to africa, and the first book i did david mentioned was this book about the philadelphia/pittsburgh steagles. the nfl was so short of players during world war ii that they had to merge the steelers and the eagles. they became the steagles, the center was deaf in one ear, the receiver was blind in one eye, lots of ulcers in the back field because a lot of the guys were 4f. so a rag tag, misfit kind of bunch. but what i tried to do with that book and the other books is take a small and unusual event in american history and really expand on it to talk a little bit more about the times that that event takes place in. and, hopefully, i've done that with this book, "the president is a sick man," even i have to look at the subtitle to read it. wherein the supposedly virtuous grover cleveland survives a
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surgery and vilifies the courageous newspaper man who dared to expose the truth. well, thank you for coming, everybody. [laughter] matthew: actually, it's funny. we were trying to be evocative of the really long 19th century titles that books would have, you know, "being the true and fair account of blah, blah, blah," and this is the short version of the subtitle. we found out the databases for book sellers today have a limit on how many characters you can have in the title of your book, so we actually had to reduce the title, if you can believe that. i've always been interested in this story. i'm kind of a presidential history buff, and i've read several grover cleveland biographies. how many people here have read several grover cleveland biographies? but i always knew the story, the basic story that grover cleveland had had a secret operation to remove a cancerous tumor from his mouth. by the way, enjoy your lunch while i talk about cleveland's cancerous tumor.
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and i never really thought much more about it, but about 10 years ago i went to another fine museum in philadelphia, another fine museum called the muder museum, a museum of medical history. they have all kinds of unusual things there. they have chief justice john marshall's bladder stones, if you ever have a hankering to see that. they've got a piece of the brain of the brain of -- of the guy who assassinated garfield, and they have in a small glass jar they have the tumor that was removed from grover cleveland's mouth in 1893 in this operation on a boat. and so that really triggered my interest in the story, the fact that the tumor was still around, and that somebody had thought maybe this is a good thing to keep. and i talked to the museum, and it turns out one of the doctors who performed the surgery had donated the tumor, capped and donated the tumor back to the museum back in 1917. not only that, i guess you would
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know he was a bit of a saver, since he saved the tumor, but he also saved all his correspondence and clippings and lots of information about the operation which, of course, was intended to be secret. so i realized there there was a possibility of doing something about this story. and then as i, as i dug deeper into it, i found it wasn't just the story of this operation, it was really the story of the economy at the time, and it was also a story about medicine, and it's a story about journalism as well. there were a lot of things going on in the 1890's which is sort of a dead spot for me in my history, you know. you know, the civil war, world war ii, world war i maybe, but kind of the 1880's and 1890's i didn't know a lot about. so it was a lot of fun to go back and learn things that probably i should have been taught earlier but that you can learn at the museum of american finance today. and and it was the gilded age, , is what it was called. mark twain gave it that name that was not intended to be a compliment.
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to gild was unnecessarily extravagant, and that name stuck, the gilded age. the politics were fascinating, and there were so many things in researching the book and that i talk about in the book that really have resonance today. i i don't go into this in the book so much, but the first birther controversy actually took place in 1880 when garfield was running for president, and his vice president was chester arthur. by the way, good luck trying to get a book about chester arthur published, if you think cleveland's tough. i don't know what you do with chester arthur. the rumors at the time were that chester arthur had been born in canada. his father was an irishman, and his mother was a canadian from quebec, and they emigrated to vermont. but the story went that when she was pregnant and ready to give birth, she went back home to quebec and had the baby there which, if true, would mean that chester arthur was not an american citizen because neither of his parents were, and he
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wasn't born in the u.s. i'll point out that, no, we do not have the birth certificate, long or short form, for chester arthur. they just put his name in the family bible and said he was born in vermont, and i guess that was good enough in 1880 to qualify him to hold the office of vice president and president. grover cleveland, who was elected four years after garfield in 1884, always fascinated me just for the plain fact that -- and this is what everybody knows -- grover served two nonconsecutive terms. he was elected in 1884, lost re-election in 1888 and then came back four years later and won the white house back, which is a unique achievement in american politics, in the american presidency. so the guy had to be a pretty good politician. and of course, he screwed up the numbering for the presidents. he's number 22 and 24. a little aside, actually, when president obama gave his
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inaugural address in 2009, he said 44 people have now taken this oath of office, and i was at a party with friends, and i said, no, 43 because grover gets counted twice. "shut up, nobody wants to hear about grover cleveland right now." [laughter] matthew: my friends who, we were in rome at the time, learned much too much about grover cleveland than anyone should, and they're forgiven if they don't buy the book. but you won't be. grover, aside from being a great politician, also had the most extraordinary rise to the white house. i mean, in 1880 when garfield was elected, grover cleveland was a single guy living in a boarding house in buffalo, had a fairly good law practice, was well respected and well liked in buffalo, but really wasn't active in politics in buffalo. and in four years he became president. and it's just impossible to imagine now. i mean, we know the name of our next president. we don't know who it's going to be, but we've heard the list at least.
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there's a list of 30, 50, 100 people who might be president, and probably even the next two or three presidents, we've heard their name. but that wasn't the case when grover cleveland was elected. nobody had ever heard of him four years before. he lived a charmed life in some ways. he was born in 1837, at 16 he left school, he moved to buffalo. he studied law in a law firm there really had no formal , education after 16, just was self-taught in law. and in 1881 they were looking for a reformist candidate to run as the democratic nominee for mayor of buffalo. and grover won that election, and he immediately established a reputation for honesty and integrity. he vetoed a lot of bills. he was known as the veto mayor. one of the most famous bills was when there was a bill to, i think it was, establish a new sewer system, to build a sewer system in buffalo, and the city council awarded the contract to the highest bidder. and the difference between that and the next lowest bid, presumably, was to be spread among all the members of the
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city council, and grover vetoed that bill and vetoed many other bills and quickly earned a reputation for integrity and honesty. and the following year, 1882, he was elected governor of new york, and then two years later in 1884 he was elected president of the united states. so here you have from 1880 to 1884 a guy who goes from being a lawyer nobody heard about in buffalo to mayor, to governor, and then finally to president. the 1884 election, by the way, and this is another one of those things where you think things have changed a lot. they haven't changed that much. was a terribly vicious election, one of the dirtiest presidential campaigns in american history. it came out during the campaign that grover had fathered an illegitimate child, and his response to this was really legendary. he sent a telegram to his friends back in buffalo that said simply tell the truth. , and grover owned up to this. he had supported this child since birth and was still providing for the child, and
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really his reaction to what could have been a debilitating scandal turned in to be, in a way, a positive thing for his campaign. it demonstrated his integrity and his refusal to deny the truth. and the campaign, he was running against a guy named james g. blaine, as the democrats like to say, james g. blaine, the continental liar from the state of maine. and it really was that kind of vicious campaign. it all came down to new york state. new york had the largest number of electoral votes at that time. whoever won new york state would win the election. it was that simple. and a few days before the election, blaine appeared at a campaign event in new york, and he was introduced by a protestant minister. and the minister called the democrats the party of rum, romanism, and rebellion. drunk, catholic and disloyal, basically. and this swung the catholic vote especially in new york city to cleveland who won, carried new
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york by 1000 votes out of 1 1 -- 1.1 million cast. so it was an extremely close election, but he won in 1884. in 1886 he finally married. he was still a bachelor when he was elected. he married a woman named francis fulsome who was only 21 at the time. grover was 49, so there was a 28-year age difference. i don't think we'll see another 21-year-old first lady again. [laughter] it's possible. good thing schwarzenegger can't be elected president. [laughter] matthew: but francis turned out to be a great political asset for grover, and everybody loved her. really one of the most beloved first ladies in american history, and there's a story that after grover lost the election in 1888, he ran for re-election and lost to benjamin harrison in the electoral vote, although grover actually won the popular vote in 1888, but he lost in the electoral college. we'll never see that again. [laughter] matthew: and as they were leaving the white house in 1889,
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apparently, frances told the chief steward there, just keep everything the way it is, we'll be back in four years. and sure enough in 1892, cleveland did win the white house back. and he and frances and now their youngest daughter, baby ruth, moved into the white house. there had been one change while they were gone. benjamin harrison, while the clevelands were -- while they were in the white house and the clevelands were away, they changed over from gas to electric, and i think they did this so none of the clevelands' appliances would work. [laughter] matthew: but in 1892 grover wins the election, and he, he takes the oath of office in march, the inaugurations were in march at that time. and it was not a good time to become president. and this is where the panic of 1893 comes in. just nine days before grover took office, the reading railroad had gone bankrupt. the reading had been one of the most successful railroads in the
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u.s. just the year before they built a brand new terminal in terminal,ia, reading which stood until the 1980's. but in 1893 the reading went bankrupt, and it was a bad sign. railroads were hopelessly overbuilt in the 1880's and 1890's, and this was a speculative bubble much like we've had recently with other, other things, real estate and well, in the 1890's it was railroads. the number of rail lines doubled, more than doubled after the civil war, but the population only grew about 50%, 60%. you'd have multiple lines running between cities that competing railroad companies have, and then the bottom fell out in 1893. 119 railroads went bankrupt in 1893. and about 20%, i believe, of the number of railroads in the country. and of course, all the people who had invested stock in these railroads were wiped out. and this really sparked a panic on wall street and sent the stock market down. there was another thing going on
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that contributed today the panic of 1893, and i won't get into it too much here. suffice it to say in the book i write about it in sparkling detail. it's really some amazing prose that i came up with. but it's about the debate over gold versus silver. and that was what should our currency be based on? should it be based on gold, or should it be based on gold and silver? now this all might seem arcane and a little silly to us today when our, when our currency is based on, um -- [laughter] matthew: yes, nothing. but back in -- yes, quality paper. very good paper it is though. you could wash it, and you can still use it. but in 1893 the debate really boiled down to, should our money be backed by gold or silver? and the country, really, since the 1870's had been on the gold standard, and it worked pretty simply. the government printed bills
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that were redeemable for gold. it was easier to carry bills than gold in your pocket, so they kept all the gold in the treasury, and if you wanted to redeem your gold certificates as they were known for gold, you could. but then in the 1880's and 1890's, a lot of new states came into the union in in the west, montana, colorado, nevada. and these were silver mining states. and the silver mining states began to clamor for silver to also be a unit of currency in the united states. and they had a lot of, they had a lot of clout in congress, these new states that came in very quickly with the senators and representatives. and in 1890 they passed a bill called the sherman silver purchase act, and this required the u.s. treasury to buy 4.5 million ounces of silver every month and print an equivalent amount of currency for that. well, this caused inflation, rapid inflation in the united states as all this currency poured into the markets.
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now, the thing was the people in the west who were gold mining states, they really didn't mind this because they could sell all their silver to the treasury, and the farmers in the south and in the midwest who were, a lot of them were in debt, especially in the south still recovering from the civil war, well, inflation if you're in debt is actually not a bad thing because the money you're paying your debts off is, you know, cheaper than the money you borrowed. so it's not that bad a thing. they didn't mind a little inflation. they needed lots of money in their pockets. and of course back east, the bankers and industrialists who were by and large the people lending the money, they didn't think so much of this inflation because it devalued their money that they had. and it really set up a sectional battle bat in the united states. -- it was really -- battle in the united states. it was the most contentious issue, this debate over currency, and it did divide along sectional lines. you really had the west and the south versus the north and the east in this the north and the
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, east tended to be gold people, and the west and the south tended to be silver people. so the uncertainty in the markets also contribute today the panics in 1893. so grover takes office in march, and he's got a lot on his plate. and by the way, frances, his wife's now pregnant with their second child as well. so he had a lot of concerns. and it was in may of 1893 that he noticed for the first time a little bump on the roof of his mouth. right up behind the molar on the left side. and he didn't think much of it. and as we all do, he put off having it looked at for a while. and you know, he had a lot on his plate. and it wasn't until june that, finally, his doctor -- a guy from new york named bryant, joseph bryant -- examined this bump on the roof of grover's mouth. and bryant had some expertise in oral cancers, and he determined that it was, in fact, a cancerous tumor. he called it a bad looking tenant. it's funny, the word cancer --
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cancer had a stigma attached to it in the 1890's, in the 19th century, really well into the 20th century. and in fact, the word itself was often avoided. newspapers would call it the dread disease or the decide that no doctor dare name, these sorts of things. so bryant called it a bad looking tenant and said it should be removed. and cleveland agreed to have this tumor removed, but only on the condition that the operation be conducted in secret. cleveland was afraid that if it came to be known he had cancer, which was considered virtually a death sentence in 1893, that the markets would crash, that wall street would panic, and the depression would only worsen. he had other reasons too. he had personal reasons. about 10 years before, grant had died of an oral tumor, and his death was a very slow, agonizing death, and it was a very public spectacle. reporters camped out outside his house in a kind of death watch. cleveland was president when grant died, and he was fully
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aware of how that had happened, and cleveland had no desire to become the object of a spectacle like that. he was a very introverted guy in many ways and just didn't want to be the center of attention for this thing. and so he said i think i should -- i think we should do this operation in secret, and his doctor said, ok, fine. why the doctors would agree to do in secret is an example of how, especially when a patient is a president, the patient dictates the treatment, not the doctors. you see this time and again in american history where presidents, who have some kind of illness or disability, don't get the best treatment because their doctors acquiesce to the patient's demands instead of doing what is best for the patient medically and physically. so where do you remove a tumor in secret from the roof of the mouth of a president in 1893? well the white house was ruled , out, and so was the hospital. too many potentials for springing a leak. it was cleveland himself who came up with the idea of having the tumor removed on a friend's
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yacht. he knew a guy named benedict, henate from new york, and owned a yacht called the oneida. and cleveland and benedict were old friends and had often gone fishing together on this yacht, so cleveland decided this would be the perfect cover. we can have the operation onboard the oneida. we could just say we're going up to sail up to cape cod. do some fishing and do the operation on the boat. well, having an operation on a boat presents certain problems, but nonetheless six doctors were recruited to perform this operation, and they agreed to do it on the boat. and on the night of june 30, 1893, cleveland came to new york, and the six doctors themselves also came to new york. the boat was anchored in the east river, and the doctor were ferried under cover of darkness, each of them separately from different piers so nobody would know what was going on. cleveland came on the boat later that night, had some cigars -- maybe the cigars were the problem here to begin with -- had some cigars, and then the
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next morning the boat set sail and sailed into long island sound. and it was shortly after 12:00 that cleveland went downstairs. there was a small room they had converted into a makeshift operating theater. and it was very small, cramped room. what they did -- there was no operating table, they just had a chair that they lashed the center to the mast that was in the center of the room, and cleveland came in, and they propped up his neck and his head with some pillows. they, they did have anesthesia, they used ether primarily. they also had nitrous oxide, but they found it didn't sedate the president well enough. most of the operation was on under ether, which is very volatile, and operating with this in the closed confines of a room on a yacht was probably not the best place. they anesthetized cleveland. the operation took about 90 minutes, and what they did was they removed the tumor along with most of his upper left palette and five teeth. pretty much all the teeth behind
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your eye there on the left. as did a big chunk of his upper left jawbone. all this was taken out in about 90 minutes using fairly well -- not fairly, what we would consider very rudimentary tools, basically chisels and forceps. they had no suction devices at the time. of course there was no means of blood transfusion, so all the blood he lost, he lost. and there were no means of artificial resuscitation if anything would happen to him. nonetheless, somehow the operation succeeded, and cleveland survived. they packed his mouth with gauze and gave him a shot of morphine and put him to bed for the night, and it was four days later on july 5 -- so the president had actually been missing for four days now over the fourth of july weekend. and you know, the chief executive back in the 1890's wasn't quite what it is today, the office wasn't quite what it is today. but even then it was a little unusual for the president to disappear for the fourth of july. but he arrived at his home on
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buzzards bay in massachusetts on the evening of the fifth, late at night. none of the reporters who were there to greet him or to see his arrival were there, probably back at the hotel drinking, if i know how reporters operate. and so they didn't find out until the next day that cleveland had returned. cleveland healed remarkably quickly. he was fitted with a prosthetic device after about three or four weeks when the wound had healed sufficiently enough, and this was a piece of hard, vulcanized rubber, and they fashioned this to plug the hole in his mouth. and it clipped on to a couple of teeth on the other side, and it restored the shape of his face because a piece of the jaw had been missing. but more importantly, it restored his speaking voice. without this device, cleveland's speech was unintelligible. and he was famous for his speaking voice, one of the great speakers, american speakers of the era. so with this device in his mouth, he could speak again, and
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he appeared completely normal. they hadn't made any external incision. the operation was done entirely within the mouth. they hadn't removed his trademark walrus moustache. god forbid we have a president without facial hair at that time. and so to all intents and purposes, it looked like he was just going for a long vacation on buzzards bay. he was out fishing for a couple of weeks reporters were kept at , a distance. it reminds me how ronald reagan was the and by the helicopter and say, i can't hear you, i can't hear you when he was leaving the white house. but is kind of what they did with grover. they kept him at a distance. spokesperson would say everything was fine. there were rumors something was wrong with him. what had happened was one of the doctors on the boat had missed an appointment because he was performing this operation, so when he met the doctor he was supposed to meet with for the missed appointment he explained, , well, i was operating on the president of the united states.
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i hope that's a good enough excuse for you. and presumably it was, but then word began to filter around the medical community. doctors in new york began to hear whispers that something had happened. and eventually these whispers reached a reporter, a guy by the name of ej edwards. he was a new york correspondent for the philadelphia press. that was great time for newspapers in the 1890's. i forget how many daily papers new york had. 20 or philadelphia had 50 daily 30. newspapers in the 1890's, and everything was very competitive. and ej edwards heard this story, this rumor going around, and he found the out the name of one of the doctors, the source of this rumor. it was actually, actually the dentist who had administered the anesthesia. so he went to the dentist and played a little trick, i think, within the fair bounds of journalism of the time. maybe even today. he kind of let on to the dentist that edwards knew more about the story than he did, and he said i understand that an operation was performed on the president, that he had a cancerous tumor removed, and this was performed
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neida,edict's yacht, the o in the dentist said, well, somebody on the boat must have told you all that and went on to spill the beans and confirmed the operation and named a couple of doctors. and on august 29, now about two months after the operate, edwards published the story in the philadelphia press under the headline, "the president, a very sick man." the problem was nobody believed him. and that's because cleveland, as i said earlier, had developed this reputation for honesty and integrity, and his spokesperson said that this was a lie, no operation had been performed, no tumor removed. they said he had merely had a bad tooth extracted, which, technically, was true, if you didn't mention the other four teeth, the palette, the tumor and the jawbone. [laughter] matthew: so the public at this time was inclined to believe cleveland. and he had built up this reputation for honesty. he was known as the honest president. and in a way you, it almost appears as if he had built up
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all this capital and this reputation for honesty and now decided to cash in all his chips on this one big lie, and it worked. cleveland recruited some of his friends in the press of the democratic papers, especially a rival paper in philadelphia called the times, to not merely deny the story, but to discredit the story. and that meant killing the messenger. and so ej edwards in papers was, you know, derided as a disgrace to journalism, a cancer faker, a panic mongerer. he had come up with one of the great scoops in american history -- still probably the most detailed account of a medical procedure performed upon a president without the patient's authorization -- and nobody believed him. and it was really, it was really too bad. i think cleveland probably went too far in discrediting edwards. it was one thing to keep the operation secret, but it was another thing to ruin this man's
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reputation which he effectively did. and so the secret held. in fact, the secret held well into the 20th century. cleveland died in 1908, and there was no recurrence of the cancer. so this is a very significant achievement in american medicine and american surgery to have a cancerous tumor removed from somebody in 1893 and then have no recurrence of the cancer. it was really quite spectacular. but nobody knew about it. and it wasn't until 1917, finally, that one of the doctors who had taken part in the operation, a guy named keane from philadelphia, fascinating guy in and of himself -- i mean, really there are three main characters in here, the president, the newspaper man, edwards, and the doctor, keane. keane had served -- he graduated from med school in 1862 and then served in the civil war as a -- he was a commissioned officer working as a medic, and then later on was a commissioned officer in world world war i.
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so he had an amazing career that really spanned this period from what we would almost consider medieval medicine to modern medicine. keane, keane was a good baptist. he'd always felt badly about the way edwards had been treated, so in 1917 he decided to publish an account of the operation, so he asked for permission from cleveland's wife, frances. by the way, i should point out, i forgot this, frances had the baby only about six weeks after the report came out that he had cancer, and so this helped to quash any last, any last doubts about whether or not the president was a sick man. i mean, he's making babies, how sick can he be? so keane asked for frances' permission to publish an account of the operation. of course, grover had been dead many years now, and frances agreed. frances, by the way, she remarried after grover died and married a princeton professor, a guy named thomas preston, and was married to him much longer,
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actually, than she was married to grover. and just a funny quick story, but frances lived long time, and in 1947 she was seated next to eisenhower at a fancy dinner. and her place card just identified her as mrs. thomas preston. so eisenhower had no idea who she was. and they began chatting, and at one point they started talking about washington, and she said, you know, general, i used to live in washington. and eisenhower said, really? where? [laughter] matthew: it was only then that frances identified herself as the former first lady. and eisenhower was quite embarrassed by that. but frances, to her credit, agreed with keane that there should be an account published of what happened on the oneida in 1893. so keane finally broke the embargo and published an account of the operation in, of all places, the saturday evening post. now, you think he would go to a medical journal to talk about this amazing achievement in american medicine and oncology,
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but instead he decided to publish it in the saturday evening post. i interviewed a couple of pathologists researching the book, and i asked one of them, "you know, why do you think keane did this article in the saturday evening post and not some journal of medicine?" the pathologists said, it's like all doctors, he had a big ego, and he wanted everybody to know. and "the saturday evening post" was the most popular periodical in the country, so that was the place to brag about your significant achievement. but he also did it to vindicate edwards, as i said. and the account did vindicate edwards 24 years after the fact. as keane wrote, he was glad that finally edwards' reputation as a truthful correspondent was vindicated. and it was very big news among media people who had always wondered about this account that edwards had written many years before. and edwards was still among the living at the time and was very gratified by this and sent keane a letter of praise. you know, edwards should be much better remembered than he is, not just for this, but his other work in journalism.
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he was one of the early -- he worked with jacob reese, of course did "how the other half lived." and he was an early supporter of stephen crane. he let him stay at his apartment here in new york when crane was struggling to write and sell "the red badge of courage." one of the things i think that happened to edwards, his house was burned down in 1908, and it was burned to the ground, and he lost a lifetime of correspondence, and clippings, and notes. and so there was no legacy to leave. it would be amazing to read through his papers and see exactly what his thoughts were as this happened in 1893. and he came up with the scoop and then found himself vilified. fortunately, yale, where he'd gone to school, had some of his papers, so i was able to cobble together his story through that. there's another postscript to this story. the tumor itself, which i mentioned is at the muder museum in philadelphia.
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it's not much to look at, kind of like a piece of limp cauliflower or something, although it is -- the tumor, i think there are 10 fragments of bone and five teeth, one with a filling, gold, naturally, because cleveland was a gold guy. and this blob, this amorphous blob in this jar always tantalized medical and presidential historians because they wanted to know what kind of cancer did cleveland have. this was an amazing achievement in modern, in american surgery, american cancer research that they had successfully removed this tumor, and that there would be no recurrence of the disease for 15 years until cleveland died in 1908. but there was a problem. cleveland's children -- and he had children very late in life. his last, last son, francis, died in 1995. in fact, i was living in portland, maine, we went to church, and i met a woman named margaret cleveland, and i made a joke about grover, and she said, actually, he was my grandfather.
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and grover was born in 1837. when he was 60, he had a son, francis, in 1897, and then frances when he was 60 had a daughter in 1957 who was margaret. so there were 120 years between the birth of margaret and her grandfather. and so they would not allow the specimen to be tested have logically to determine what kind of cancer it was because grover had been a pretty wild guy back in his days in buffalo, and he was a bachelor. there were rumors that he had a venereal disease, specifically syphilis. and the children were afraid that if it came out, they did the testing on this specimen, that it would come out that their father had had syphilis, and this would be embarrassing to them and to their father's legacy. it wasn't until the 1970s that they finally acquiesced to have a pathological examination conducted on the tumor, and the examination determined that grover had had a very rare kind of cancer.
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it is called varicose carcinoma or vc. it's a malignant tumor, but it doesn't -- i can never say this word -- metastasize. it does not metastasize. but it has to be removed because the tumor continues to grow, and it can actually grow so large that it could make eating and eventually breathing impossible. so the treatment for this type of tumor today, and the tumor itself, this vc, was not even identified until 1948. so the doctors in 1893 had no idea what this was because it hadn't even really been identified as a specific kind of cancer. the treatment today, though, would be exactly what grover had. you have to excise the tumor completely. there is no alternative. although today they now can do reconstructive bone and tissue grafts so you don't have to walk around with a piece of vulcanized rubber, a hockey puck in your mouth, basically, so you can talk and eat. this explained why grover had gone so long without any recurrence of the cancer, that it was a kind of cancer that
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does not metastasize. and the test also conclusively determined whether or not grover cleveland did have syphilis, and the results of that test are in the book which is now for sale. [laughter] matthew: thank you very much. if anybody has any questions, i'd be happy to answer them. [applause] matthew: i think kristin has a microphone if anybody has a question. we can just -- or did i cover everything so excellently? oh, there's a question. >> hello. thank you for the wonderful talk on grover cleveland. how did he die eventually? what was the cause of death? matthew: grover died in 1908. he retired to princeton, and it's a bit of a mystery, actually. he complained of gastrointestinal problems, and there was actually some suspicion that he may have had an intestinal tumor, although since the oral cancer that he had -- why do you make me keep
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saying that? -- metastasize, the intestinal tumor would not have been related to the oral cancer. but it's a little bit of a mystery. he was 71 when he died in 1908, and the official cause of death, i think, was listed as cardiac arrest, but that doesn't really explain, you know, the precipitating causes to that. yeah. grover retired to princeton. it was interesting. he, he'd never gone to college, and he went to princeton and sort of became the mascot there. and after a football victory, all students would march to grover's house and give a cheer, and he really enjoyed his final time in princeton. we have somebody who's got a -- kristin is going to bring a microphone for you, just a second. >> yeah. the other half of your title is the panic of 1893, and other than the fact you mentioned there was a railroad bubble that burst, you didn't say anything about that.
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is that covered in the book? matthew: no, it is covered in the book. as i said, there were two major 1893s of the panic of which was the overbuilding of the railroads and the uncertainty in the currency situation. and it would be hard to overstate how contentious and controversial and detrimental this was to the country, the debate over gold versus silver. and i think that was what really, precipitated the panic. people didn't know what was going to happen with the currency. would there be inflation, would there be deflation if they stopped minting silver dollars? it could be that you would have a money famine, and these happened periodically. in fact, that was one of the reasons that the silver rights wanted to increase silver production until silver became a form of currency. there had been periodic, periods of great deflation in the country, and money would be almost impossible to find. there were other causes, of course. when the railroads went down, they took took with them a lot
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, of businesses. i mean things like -- companies that made cord or rope went out of business, and each of the towns where these railroads passed through, all the ancillary businesses connected with them went out of business. and the panic of 1893 really lasted until about 1897, 1898 when the spanish-american war came and gave the economy a boost. and it was the, at the time it was the worst depression in american history, double-digit unemployment for more than five years. only exceeded now by the great depression of the 1930's. and at the time, also, you have to remember during the panic of 1893, there was terrible unemployment, terrible inflation, but there was really no kind of safety net as we have today, even the most rudimentary kind. and grover was opposed to this. he did not believe in paternalism, as he called it. in fact, in his second inaugural, he said "while the people should cheerfully support the government, the government should not support the people," and this appeals today even to libertarians. i know ron paul keeps a picture of grover cleveland in his office.
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and so this i think also, well, certainly contributed to grover's unpopularity at the end of his second term. but it by some accounts it extended the panic. although the panic also, for the first time we do see some semblance of public works projects in boston. i think they paid people a dollar a day to chop wood. and so there were some programs that were beginning, but most of the relief programs during the panic of 1893 were run by labor unions and also churches and other charitable organizations. there really was no kind of government support program. the panic was also exacerbated , and again i go into it in the book. it's just some amazing writing that i do about this panic of 1893. it's really going to blow your mind. but there was a hurricane that hit the southeast coast of the united states in the fall of 1893, and it couldn't have happened at a worse time, and it pretty much devastated georgia and the carolinas. and this contributed to even
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greater, greater problems with the panic of 1893, and there was really nothing, nothing, there were no resources to rebuild these areas. and so it was an interesting confluence of political, economic and natural events that created, that made 1893 such a terrible year economically for the country. and like i said, it took about four years for the panic to ebb finally. but, yeah, i, i -- you'll like it, what i say in the book. [laughter] matthew: you might just want to get two copies because you will want to give one away. another question up here. wait for just a second, it's coming. here she comes. >> what was the makeup of the congress at the time of cleveland's operation? did, was he looked at as kind of a lame duck waiting to die if people had known about it? matthew: that was another problem. well, for one thing, cleveland
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was a gold guy. his vice president was a guy named adlai stevenson whose -- who was grandfather was a future presidential candidate. stevenson was a silverwright. stevenson was from illinois and alism. favor of bimet that was using gold and silver as currency. and he had been add today the ticket at the convention in 1892 to give some balance because the democrats needed to win some southern states. so you had this unusual situation where the president and the vice president are on exact opposite sides of the most contentious political issue of the day. and in fact, cleveland was adamant that stevenson not know what was going on with his health. stevenson had heard rumors. stevenson was at the world's fair in 1893 and had heard rumors about cleveland's health and immediately headed east to visit him, and cleveland intercepted him with a telegram and said, you know, i'd like you to go on a little political trip
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to seattle in 1893 which involved stagecoaches, trains, ferries, boats, all sorts of things. so that put stephenson out of action for a considerable time. congress at the time, the democrats, i believe, controlled both houses for the first two years of his second term, but the panic had gotten so bad by 1894 that the republicans then took back the two houses. although cleveland did manage to have the sherman silver act, silver purchase act repealed shortly after the surgery, in fact. and that stopped the u.s. treasury from purchasing the 4.5 million ounces of silver a month. but, you know, they had accumulated so much silver in those three and a half years and so many silver certificates had been issued that silver certificates were issued -- i believe they were valid until 1968. so it was the kind of thing -- it was another cool thing about the book is you see some of these decisions made in 1893 and think they don't have any relevance to us, but they really do and a lot of ways. you hear the echoes of these things even 120 years later.
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i -- asremember when david mentioned one of my jobs was a gas station attendant, and you used to see, even in the 1980's, you would see silver certificates come in once in a while. they have a blue seal instead of the green seal. but, yeah, it was republican congress for the second, second half of his term. >> really good talk. matthew: thank you. >> you mentioned -- i like your sense of humor. [laughter] matthew: you're a really good listener. >> thank you. [laughter] you mention, of course, that you really had a fondness for grover cleveland. is that because you think he's a really great president, or as you rate and rank, where would you put him along the spectrum? matthew: well, he had a muppet named after him, first of all. so you've got to like grover. i've always thought like i said in the beginning, it's amazing to lose the white house, come back four years later and win it back. i mean, i don't care who the president, the politics involved, i mean, will that ever happen again? i mean it's just impossible to
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, conceive of now, an incumbent president loses the presidency, and they retire to their $200,000 a gig speaking events, which is exactly what i'm getting paid today, ironically. [laughter] matthew: but grover didn't have that. there were no pensions for presidents at the time, and i think part of the concern for grover was it was pretty much the only job that he enjoyed and could do. he retired to new york between his two terms and did a little bit of lawyering, mostly acting as a mediator. but, no, it's funny, grover was the last of the do-nothing presidents. and i don't mean that in a negative, you know, a bad way. he vetoed more bills in his -- twice as many bills in his first term than all his predecessors combined. so he really saw his job primarily as keeping congress from passing bad laws. he really saw that's what the executive was supposed to do first and foremost, and he did that, and he'd done it as mayor and done it as governor. he did it as president. he was the veto president.
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and so, and as i said, also, he didn't believe in an interventionist government, and this appeals to a lot of people even today. so i think he deserves to be remembered much, much better than he is. i mean, let's see, he's got a turnpike rest stop on the jersey turnpike named after him, i think that is between exits 11 and 12 northbound, and that's about it. that's about it. oh, and this great new book. [laughter] matthew: that's it? >> thank -- [indiscernible] purchases a placemat to eat on and has all these presidents, and the child looks down and says i think there's a mistake here because this picture's coming up twice. matthew: yeah, he screwed up the numbering, but -- actually, harry truman never could understand why grover was counted twice. he just thought that was ridiculous because only 43 people have been president, why
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is this president number 44? so, yeah. yeah, thanks, grover. [laughter] >> thanks for a very interesting talk. the book is now available, and matthew would be happy to sign a copy for you. thank you. matthew: thank you so much. [applause] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2018] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit] our nine week turmoil968 america in is available as a podcast. you can find it on our website this is "american history tv," only on c-span3. what does it mean to be american ? that is this year's student cam competition question. we are asking middle and high school students to answer it by producing a short documentary about a right, event and explain
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how it defines the american experience. we are awarding $100,000 in total cash prizes including egg -- a grand prize of -- the deadline is january 20. go to our website. archivalamerica," films that provide context for public affairs issues. >> now it was midsummer 1955. hurricane connie had gentle down to a hard rain. it was the face of things on the 17 of august, 1955. to be sure hurricane diane had funneled connie's track
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northward and all of america sighed with relief when it blew out off the next -- the north carolina coast. but the water soaked clouds continued on. during the hours of august 18 and 19 dumped 20 inches of tropical downpour on eastern pennsylvania, new jersey, southern new york, massachusetts and rhode island. could absorb soil nothing. the roaring creeks. they became rivers. rivers were mighty torrents, racing for the c, bringing with them the life and living. it was a flash flood of tremendous proportions, unprecedented in its terrifying fury and violence.
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in terms of property damage, the most costly in american history. millions of tons of raging water smashing and factories, shops and homes. ♪ riverbeds.ame while citizens that day were struggling to save their positions and sells, -- and themselves, the armed services were sending supplies. the army corps of engineer's rushed specialists and heavy equipment to the flood zones. ♪ later that day the waters were subsiding. those who had escaped went back
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to the work of rescue. ♪ the helpless, the stranded were brought help. young.y old and the very another few hours of the flash flood was over. the rivers were returning to normal flow. now the devastation could be measured. more than 300 pounds -- towns impacted, where the army engineers were already at work. thousands of buildings destroyed or damaged. thousands homeless, more than 100,000 jobs swept away. the real cost, 200 lives.
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♪ president eisenhower made a personal survey of the devastated region. ♪ he saw for himself the extent of the loss and suffering. ♪ shocked, the president declared it a disaster area. he called on the federal civil defense administration through its administrator to bring relief to the people of the stricken region. peterson not only set his own national organization to work, he also delegated to the army's corp of engineers the duty of reconstructing on the disaster order, and operation noah was born. announcer 1: you can watch this
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and other american history programs on our website where all of our video is archived. that is next, naval historic -- historian talks about how and why germany developed u-boats during world war i. country'samines the atlantic u-boat campaigns between 1914 and 1918. the presentation was part of a daylong symposium at the graveyard of the atlantic museum. >> good morning and thank you for coming. i want to thank the folks from c-span, this is very exciting. i am the director of the north carolina maritime museum system. it is myas


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