In 1882 Grover Cleveland, a Democrat, was elected governor of New York by the largest margin in the state’s history to that time. It was a stunning victory for a little-known politician who had been mayor of Buffalo for only one year. It was a particularly embarrassing defeat for President Chester Arthur who had foisted Charles Folger, his secretary of the treasury, on a reluctant Republican Party. The Empire State was the critical swing state of late nineteenth century presidential elections, and Cleveland was instantly catapulted to the first rank of potential Democrat Party contenders for the nomination in 1884. In May 1883 President Arthur and Governor Cleveland met at the dedication of the Brooklyn Bridge. They would meet again in March 1885 when Cleveland succeeded Arthur as the twenty-second president of the United States.
The personal and political lives of the two men differed quite a bit. In the political realm, Arthur was a stalwart machine Republican with a reputation for corruption who had never been elected to any office prior to becoming vice president in 1880, while Cleveland was an independent-leaning Democrat known to his supporters as “Grover the Good” for his support of clean, honest government and civil service reform. During the Civil War Arthur served several important state posts and enjoyed the rank of general. Cleveland, on the other hand, hired a substitute to take his place in the Union Army. In the private sphere, Arthur was a respectable widower, an epicurean, and very conspicuous consumer with an expensive taste in clothes, among other things. Cleveland, to the contrary, was bachelor with a soiled reputation for fathering a child out of wedlock and who was as frugal as Arthur was spendthrift.
Yet, the two men shared two very important traits. First, both were sons of itinerant preachers during the Second Great Awakening and had fairly rootless and hardscrabble childhoods. Neither one followed in their father’s footsteps and both might possibly have harbored some resentment towards their fathers, even if they were fundamentally shaped by them. Second, they were ardent anglers. Both enjoyed nothing more than dropping their concerns, grabbing their fishing poles, and heading to lake or stream. As in other things, Arthur spared no expense when buying flies and other tackle.
With all this in mind, I found it somewhat interesting to read a passage in a letter Cleveland penned on August 20, 1883 to his political confidant Daniel Lamont. “Two things must be done,” the governor wrote, “to wit: the Republican Party must go, and Arthur must be beaten as a fisherman.”  Now that’s a presidential rivalry.