THE PRESIDENTIAL FISHERMAN.
Come listen, all ye soldiers who wore the royal blue,
I’ve got a little story to tell you that is true,
About a “mugwump” President named Cleveland, who they say
A year ago a-fishing went on Decoration Day.
So he got his tackle ready, and bait the day before,
Says he, “This Decoration Day’s a most confounded bore;
What difference does it make to me who wore the blue or gray,
Therefore a fisherman I’ll be on Decoration Day.”
Says he again, “Let others rave and rant about the heroes brave,
Who for their country fought and bled, and died the land to save.
Why didn’t they hire substitutes, so they at home could stay,
Like me, and wear their fishing suit on Decoration Day?”
So to the Adirondacks with hook and line he went,
And all day long he lunched and fished, this mugwump President.
But the loyal fish refused to bite, or with his bait to play,
They know that fishing isn’t right on Decoration Day.
Then to the White House he returned with disappointment sad,
And told his pretty little wife what sorry luck he’d had.
Says she, “My dear, it served you right; don’t go again, I pray;
You might have known fish would not bite on Decoration Day.”
Now, let each future President take warning by his fate,
Who, for a second term, like him, would be a candidate,
Just heed this admonition, and do what else you may,
Oh, never go a-fishin’ on Decoration day.
— J. L. Boardman, Hillsboro, O.
Decoration Day was the original name for Memorial Day. It was a day of patriotic observances; the name came from decorating the graves of the Civil War dead with flowers. The practice sprang up soon after the war, observed on various dates in the several states based on local flower season before settling on May 30th (chosen because it did not mark the date of any particular battle). In 1971 Memorial Day was made a Monday holiday, and so has various dates.
The soldiers who “wore the royal blue” were the Federals.
The “mugwumps” were Republicans who voted Democratic. Mugwump was a disrespectful term: it was supposed to be a Native American word meaning “noble” or “honored.” The Mugwumps, therefore, were those people who felt they were too good to vote Republican.
Whether Mr. Cleveland had in fact gone fishing on Decoration Day, 1887, I have been unable to determine. As mayor of Buffalo, NY, in 1882, he had vetoed a bill expending public money on Decoration Day. (His position was that it was unconstitutional to expend money raised for one purpose on some other purpose.)
Cleveland (unlike his opponent in the election of 1888, Benjamin “The Soldier’s Friend” Harrison) had not fought in the Civil War. Cleveland had hired a substitute, a practice that was legal at the time, to take his place in the ranks. The way that happened was this: Grover and his brothers decided among themselves that one of them should remain behind to care for their mother. Grover, a lawyer, had the best prospects for wages, so while his brothers fought, he stayed at home in New York. Later, when Cleveland entered politics as a Democrat, the Republicans were never slow to paint Cleveland as a draft dodger.
The Adirondacks are mountains in Cleveland’s home state of New York.
Cleveland’s “pretty little wife” was the immensely popular Frances “Frankie” Cleveland. Grover had entered the White House a bachelor and had married her two years into his term. Frankie was a fashion-setter: When she stopped wearing bustles, women all over America followed suit.
Next time: What Shall the Tariff Be?