Corruption in the White House: 8 Times Presidents Were Caught in Extramarital Affairs

An editorial cartoon showing a bereft mother, a baby crying for his father, and a frustrated President-elect. The New Yorker

Maria Halpin and Grover Cleveland

Grover Cleveland won the popular vote in three consecutive Presidential elections – 1884, 1888, and 1892 – but carried the electoral college in only the first and third. He is thus the only President to have served two terms in the White House that were non-consecutive. When Cleveland first took the oath of office he was a bachelor, but by 1886 he married Frances Folsom, becoming the second President to be married while in office, and the first (and to date only) President to be married in the White House. His new bride was only 21 years of age and the daughter of a family friend for whom Cleveland had recently acted as executor for his estate.

During the 1884 campaign, a story circulated of Cleveland’s having fathered a child with a widow named Maria Halpin a decade earlier. The child had been born while Cleveland was serving as the Governor of New York, and had been given the name Oscar Folsom Cleveland.

The candidate did not openly dispute paternity beyond protestations of being unsure of its truth, and his campaign instead focused on the mental state of the mother, who was soon dispatched to a sanitarium. Young Oscar was quickly put up for adoption. These maneuvers were orchestrated by Cleveland’s supporters, in part because of the growing assertions by the mother that the incident leading to conception had not been consensual.

Cleveland was beset with rumors of additional affairs throughout his political career. Many were undoubtedly fed, if not created outright, by political enemies for political advantage based on his relationship with Maria Halpin.

The President’s illegitimate son vanished from the historical record following his adoption and evidently preferred to live a life of quiet privacy. When the scandal was at its height Halpin had produced a document – purportedly in Cleveland’s handwriting – in which she agreed to give her son up for adoption and say no more of the affair in return for the sum of $500. Cleveland’s response, whenever the subject came up during the rest of his career, was to simply ignore it.