Cleveland, Grover

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Grover Cleveland

John A. Garraty

OF all the presidents, Grover Cleveland is unique in several ways. Only he, having been defeated in a bid for reelection, again won the highest office in the land; thus, he was both the twenty-second president and the twenty-fourth. Actually, he "won" all three of the presidential elections in which he was a candidate, for while Benjamin Harrison carried the Electoral College in 1888, Cleveland had a popular plurality of about 100,000 votes. Cleveland also has the distinction of having won a presidential contest by the smallest popular margin in historyabout 30,000 votes in 1884.

Cleveland was unusual, if not unique, in the rapidity of his rise from obscurity to the White House. In 1881 he was a Buffalo lawyer. He was a diligent worker and modestly successful, but he did not appear to be particularly ambitious. When offered a substantial retainer by a railroad official, he refused on the ground that he already had a comfortable income. "No amount of money would tempt me to add to or increase my present work," he explained. As for politics, he had been an assistant district attorney for a brief period during the Civil War and had served a three-year term as sheriff in the early 1870s. But it was eight years since he had last held office. Outside Buffalo he was unknown.

Cleveland was a bachelor and at forty-four showed no sign of marrying. He spent most of his free time with what was known at the time as a "coarse crowd"men who frequented saloons and racetracks. He spent weekends and holidays hunting and fishing. Physically he was a squat, bull-like man with a thick neck and a great chest and belly. Although of only medium height, he weighed more than 250 pounds. He was without important intellectual interests.

There were also two skeletons in Grover Cleveland's closet that might have been expected to prevent his achieving important public office. During the Civil War he had hired a substitute when drafted into the army. This was perfectly legal but certainly a disadvantage at a time when most successful northern politicians made much of their military achievements in defense of the Union. More serious still, Cleveland was the father of an illegitimate child. He had provided for the support of the child, but in those Victorian times knowledge of his transgression, should it become widely known, seemed sure to cost him heavily at the polls. Yet three years later he was elected president of the United States.

One of Cleveland's biographers, Horace Samuel Merrill, has explained his political rise simply: "He was luckyalmost unbelievably lucky!" This is true enough, but scarcely an explanation; no one gets to be president without being more than ordinarily favored by Dame Fortune. And his good luck was not merely the kind that comes to the person with a winning lottery ticket. He had the right qualities (and they were not common) for the situations and opportunities that came to him by chance.

A Swift Rise to the Presidency

For years the city government of Buffalo had been corrupt and badly managed, and it seemed to make no difference whether it was run by Democrats or Republicans. In 1881 a group of substantial Buffalonians, seeking a candidate for mayor who was both honest and efficient, hit upon Cleveland, whose record as sheriff was unbesmirched. The current administration was Republican. Cleveland was a Democrat, though unconnected with the then-current Democratic organization. He was not eager for the office but responded to the call to perform his civic duty. He was easily elected.

The reformers sought no more than honesty and efficiency; Cleveland shared their desire, promised to satisfy it, and made good on his promise. In office he devoted himself almost entirely to keeping the fingers of local spoilsmen out of the public till. He did this principally by vetoing measures that misappropriated and wasted city funds, such as a bill giving a street-cleaning contract to a company whose bid was more than $100,000 higher than those of two others. This was enough to bring him statewide fame. Soon Buffalo's "Veto Mayor" was a candidate for governor of New York. Being an upstater, he was independent of the notorious Tammany Hall Democratic machine in New York City. When the Republicans nominated for governor a candidate handpicked by President Chester A. Arthur, the Democrats turned to what one Democratic leader called the "buxom Buffalonian." In November 1882, Cleveland won by nearly 200,000 votes, which in those days of closely contested elections amounted to a landslide.

As with his service as mayor, Cleveland proved to be an enormous, if anything but brilliant, success as governor. His success was the result mainly of his indifference to narrow political advantage. He vetoed a bill lowering fares on the New York City elevated railway because it was a violation of contract. Another measure limiting the hours of streetcar conductors received his veto on similar grounds. Both these bills had wide public support. Yet Cleveland's uncompromising rejection of them, so clearly in disregard of possible political consequences, actually added to his stature in the public eye. His equally uncompromising refusal to grant any patronage to Tammany Hall, despite Tammany's demonstrated ability to swing the balance in state elections, had a similar effect.

Cleveland's achievements as governor were almost entirely negative, but within a matter of months he was being considered a serious candidate for the 1884 Democratic presidential nomination. Of course, more was involved than his reputation for honesty and political courage. Since the Civil War, most of the northern states had voted Republican in presidential elections, and the southern states Democratic. The balance was delicate; victory had depended on carrying a handful of closely contested statesin particular, New York and Indiana. It usually made political sense for the parties to choose candidates from these states because voters tended to favor local men over less-well-known ones. Except in 1880, the Democrats nominated a New Yorker for president in every election from 1868 through 1892.

Although Cleveland fought corrupt machine politicians without regard for party, he was shrewd enough to make solid political alliances with respectable New York Democratic leaders, such as Daniel Manning, a close associate of the aging Samuel J. Tilden, the party's standard-bearer in 1876, and William C. Whitney, another anti-Tammany Democrat. At the national convention in Chicago, Cleveland was nominated on the second ballot. The convention then chose Thomas A. Hendricks, who was a former governor of another key state, Indiana, as the Democratic vice presidential candidate. (Hendricks had run for vice president on the ticket with Tilden in 1876 and was credited with having had much to do with the Democrats carrying Indiana in that contest.)

The 1884 presidential contest was exciting at the time and has fascinated historians ever since. The Republican candidate, James G. Blaine of Maine, was Cleveland's mirror image. Where Cleveland had little previous political experience, Blaine had been Speaker of the House of Representatives, United States senator, and secretary of state. Where Cleveland was blunt, somewhat stiff, unimaginative, and scrupulously honest, Blaine was colorful, hail-fellow-well-met, a font of interesting ideas, and not averse to using his political influence to line his pockets.

Because of this last quality, many Republicans, known as Mugwumps, supported Cleveland. On the other hand, Blaine was popular with Irish-Americans, who usually voted Democratic, because he was thought to be anti-British. Their votes in New York City, where, in addition, the Tammany machine was suspected of giving Cleveland only lukewarm support, might swing the state to the Republicans despite Cleveland's appeal as a native son.

The Democratic strategy was to describe Blaine, who in the face of much hard evidence blandly denied that he had sold political favors, as "the continental liar from the State of Maine" and to stress Cleveland's honesty and efficiency. In this way they hoped to appeal to the Mugwumps and other voters dismayed by Blaine's unsavory reputation and to paper over divisions within their own ranks on issues such as the tariff and currency reform. The Republicans countered by calling Cleveland "the hangman of Buffalo" because, while sheriff, he had personally hanged two criminals rather than turn the task over to an assistant. More important, they exposed his fathering of an illegitimate child: "Ma! ma! Where's my pa? Gone to the White House, Ha! Ha! Ha!" The candidate made the best of this bad situation in typical fashion. "Whatever you do, tell the truth," he advised a friend who asked him how the charge should be dealt with.

Exactly how this and other incidents in an incident-filled campaign affected the result is beyond knowing. Suffice it to say that the election turned on New York's electoral vote, that Blaine did well in Irish-American districts in the state, that there was much Mugwump support for Cleveland, and that Cleveland carried the state by fewer than 1,200 votes. In other words, a shift of 600 votes would have made Blaine president.

First Presidential Term

Cleveland gave the country exactly the sort of administration that might have been expectedhonest, conservative, and unimaginative. His cabinet was made up of hardworking and public-spirited men who ran their departments efficiently. Thomas F. Ba-yard of Delaware was secretary of state, and Daniel Manning of New York, secretary of the treasury. The other members were William C. Whitney, secretary of the navy; William C. Endicott, secretary of war; Augustus H. Garland, attorney general; William F. Vilas, postmaster general; and L. C. Q. Lamar, secretary of the interior. Lamar, who came from Mississippi, and Garland, a resident of Arkansas, were the first southerners appointed to cabinet posts since the Civil War. As the first Democrat in the White House since the Civil War, Cleveland also appointed many other southerners to lesser federal posts.

The change from Republican to Democratic control of the government meant that Cleveland was subjected to enormous pressures from members of his party seeking government posts. Yet, his campaign promises had encouraged Mugwumps to expect him to expand the scope of the new Pendleton Civil Service Act and refrain from discharging Republicans merely to make places for his own supporters. The president found it impossible to satisfy both points of view, in part because he had no clear idea of how the civil service should be staffed. He announced that no one would be fired without cause and that only properly qualified people would replace those who were discharged. In his usual, conscientious way, he devoted much time to going over the records of applicants and weighing the merits of candidates for both major and minor posts. The task both bored and distressed him. He was soon complaining of "the damned, everlasting clatter for office."

His concept of what it meant to be properly qualified was partisan and (still worse) out of date. "Reasonable intelligence" and a decent grade-school education were the only "credentials to office" that most federal jobs required, he told the head of the Civil Service Commission. He also believed in the old Jacksonian system of rotation in office. Since public service was a privilege and a duty in a democracy, any officeholder might be "rotated" after four years to make room for someone else. Starting with what he called "offensive partisans," which in practice came even to include Republicans whose offense had consisted only of campaigning for Blaine, the administration gradually removed most of the government workers who had not been given job security under the Pendleton Act. Mugwumps and others who had hoped that Cleveland would greatly expand the coverage of the act were bitterly disappointed.

Like the other presidents of the era, Cleveland had a rather narrow view of the scope of presidential authority. "The office of the President is essentially executive in its nature," he said. He did not believe it proper "to meddle" with proposed legislation. "It don't look as though Congress was very well prepared to do anything," Cleveland wrote in December 1885. "If a botch is made at the other end of the Avenue, I don't mean to be a party to it." This attitude was a convenient way to avoid getting involved in politically controversial matters, especially for a Democrat, since the party was made up of many disparate and often antagonistic groups. But in his case the attitude was heartfelt.

He was, nonetheless, perfectly willing to resist congressional actions he disapproved of. Just as he had in Buffalo and Albany, he vetoed bills he disliked with evident relish. He repeatedly rejected private bills and pork-barrel legislation. His most significant action of this sort was probably his veto of the Dependent Pension Bill of 1887, a measure that would have granted pensions even to the needy parents of men who had died while in service.

Although a number of important laws were passed during his term, Cleveland had little to do with most of them other than to add his signature after Congress had acted. These included the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887; the Dawes Severalty Act of 1887, which invested Indians with American citizenship and assigned plots of reservation lands to individual, rather than tribal, Indian ownership; and a law of 1889 raising the Department of Agriculture to cabinet status. Cleveland favored these measures but did little to shape them.

Aside from his attitude toward presidential power, which was common in his day, Cleveland lacked some other qualities that make a good leader. He really did not much enjoy being president, and he found the give-and-take necessary for success in politics positively objectionable He got on badly with reporters, resenting their inquisitiveness and tendency to sensationalize the most trivial events. He was poor at delegating authority. Despiteor perhaps because ofhis earlier convivial habits, he was something of a loner in the White House. He had no taste for speechmaking and handshaking, or for crowds, official social gatherings, and the punctilio of receptions. Some of this changed after his marriage in 1886 to Frances Folsom, the daughter of his former law partner. He was forty-nine and the bride only twenty-three, but the marriage proved to be happy and fruitful.

The most difficult issue that Cleveland faced during his first term involved the government's finances and their effect on the condition of the nation's economy. The country was expanding in wealth and population at a rapid rate, but the supply of money in circulation was not keeping up with this growth. The result was a steady and apparently relentless deflation that injured anyone who was in debt, a classification that included large numbers of farmers who worked mortgaged land, often with machinery purchased with borrowed money. To deal with this problem, Congress passed the Bland-Allison Act of 1878, which increased the amount of money in circulation by purchasing and coining large amounts of silver. Many conservatives, Cleveland among them, feared that "inflating" the currency in this manner would so frighten investors and businessmen that it would cause a depression.

Cleveland proposed to deal with the problem by ending government purchases of silver and reducing tariffs on foreign goods. Lower duties would mean lower prices for consumers and would reduce the embarrassing surplus that had accumulated in the treasury, which was a further drain on the amount of currency in circulation. When Congress failed to act on the tariff, Cleveland decided to force the issue. He summoned what became known as the Oak View Conference, a series of meetings with Democratic congressional leaders at Oak View, his summer residence outside Washington. At these meetings he persuaded the congressmen to draft an effective tariff-reduction bill. Then he took an unprecedented step: he devoted his entire annual message to Congress on 6 December 1887 to a call for tariff reduction. The current rates were a "vicious, inequitable,

and illogical source of unnecessary taxation." Protected by these high duties, manufacturers were making "immense" profits. If the duties were lowered, "the necessaries of life used and consumed by all the people . . . should be greatly cheapened."

Normally the annual messages to Congress required of presidents by the Constitution were routine summaries of the activities of the various departments and grab bags from which the legislators might draw suggestions for future actions. By centering on one important issue, Cleveland focused national attention on that issue.

Unfortunately he failed to follow up on this dramatic step. In July 1888, Roger Q. Mills of Texas, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, introduced a bill removing the duties on raw wool, lumber, salt, copper ore, tinplate, and several other products, and reducing the duties on such important items as iron and steel, sugar, and woolen cloth. But Cleveland did nothing to press the issue after the bill was introduced. He did not use his influence with congressmen. He refused even to make speeches on the subject or to issue further statements explaining what he thought should be done. The Mills bill passed the House of Representatives but was defeated in the Senate. The tariff question therefore became the main issue in the presidential election of 1888.

Loss to Benjamin Harrison and Subsequent Reelection

The Republicans responded to Cleveland's challenge. Nominating Senator Benjamin Harrison of Indiana for president and Levi P. Morton of New York as his running mate, they waged an aggressive campaign in which they boldly defended the principle of protective tariffs. Whereas Cleveland considered it beneath his dignity to campaign actively, Harrison made nearly a hundred speeches covering every subject from the tariff and veterans' pensions to the sterling character of Abraham Lincoln and his own fondness for small children. Much money was spent on the campaign, and there was perhaps more than the usual amount of corruption and trickery. A clever Republican wrote a letter to the British minister in Washington, Sir Lionel Sackville-West, in which he pretended to be a naturalized citizen of British birth named Murchison. In it he asked the minister if he thought Cleveland would pursue a pro-British policy if reelected. Sir Lionel incautiously responded, his letter (released to the press by the gleeful Republicans) indicating a preference for Cleveland. This "Murchison letter" was thought to cost the Democrats heavily among Irish-American voters. But the tariff was clearly the main issue on which the election was contested.

The outcome was monumentally frustrating for Cleveland and for his party. By carrying both New York and Indiana by narrow margins, Harrison obtained a majority in the Electoral College (233168) and thus the presidency. But Cleveland won the states of the Deep South by exceptionally large margins. This gave him about 100,000 more popular votes than his opponent.

Some Democratic observers thought that Cleveland would have won if he had waited until after the election to bring forth the tariff issue. He responded to this argument in typical fashion. "I did not wish to be reelected without having the people understand just where I stood," he said. "Perhaps I made a mistake from the party standpoint; but damn it, it was right." After leaving office he settled his growing family in New York City, where he joined a prominent law firm. He made occasional innocuous speeches and maintained his contacts with prominent politicians, mostly through correspondence.

Under Harrison, the Republicans proceeded to raise the tariff and to deal with the surplus by appropriating large sums for pensions and for public works of various sorts and other pork-barrel projects. They also put through the Sherman Silver Purchase Act of 1890, which committed the government to buying 4.5 million ounces of silver a month. Altogether, Congress spent over $1 billion in 1890, by far the largest one-year outlay in the nation's history up to that time.

Public reaction to the work of the "Billion-Dollar Congress"especially to the new McKinley Tariff, which appeared to raise the cost of many goodswas profound. In the 1890 congressional elections the Democrats swept the House of Representatives and made large gains in the Senate. It seemed likely that they would win back the presidency in 1892.

The McKinley Tariff and the free-spending legislation of the "Billion-Dollar Congress" made Cleveland eager for another term. His identification with tariff reduction and economy in government gave him made-to-order issues. But when large numbers of Democrats voted for a bill providing for the unlimited coinage of silver in 1891, he spoke out strongly against the measure, despite warnings that he would alienate southern and western members of the party. Once again, his frankness in tackling a controversial issue head-on probably helped more than it damaged his chances. In any case, the 1892 Democratic convention nominated him on the first ballot. Adlai E. Stevenson of Illinois was its vice presidential choice.

The campaign of 1892 was a three-cornered contest, for the new Peoples, or Populist, party had entered the race. The Populists nominated James B. Weaver of Iowa and came out for a long list of reforms ranging from the direct election of United States senators and a federal income tax to government ownership of the railroads. The Populist plank that attracted the most attention called for the unlimited coinage of silver.

As was his fashion, Cleveland did not campaign actively. He mended his fences with most of the important Democratic politicians and on election day won a sweeping victory. The electoral vote was 277 to 145, and he polled nearly 400,000 more popular votes than Harrison, the largest plurality in a presidential election since Grant defeated Greeley in 1872this despite the fact that Weaver received over a million popular votes on the Populist ticket. The Democrats also won control of both houses of Congress.

Cleveland named Walter Q. Gresham of Indiana as his secretary of state. The rest of his second-term cabinet consisted of John G. Carlisle as secretary of the treasury, Daniel S. Lamont as secretary of war, Hilary A. Herbert as secretary of the navy, Wilson S. Bissel as postmaster general, Hoke Smith as secretary of the interior, and J. Sterling Morton as secretary of the new Department of Agriculture.

Domestic Policy in the Second Term

This great victory was partly the result of a serious economic depression, but that depression did not go away merely because the Democrats now controlled the government. The first weeks of the new administration were marked by bank failures, the collapse of important corporations, and a rapid shrinking of the supply of gold in the treasury as worried citizens exchanged paper currency for the precious metal. Unemployment mounted.

Cleveland believed that all would be well if "confidence" could be restored and that the way to restore it was to repeal the Silver Purchase Act of 1890. The steady addition of silver-based money was, he believed, threatening the country with inflation and inhibiting investment. "You cannot prevent a frightened man from hoarding his money," he said. "I want . . . our currency so safe and reassuring that those who have money will spend and invest it in business and new enterprises, instead of holding it."

In Congress resistance to repeal was strong. The Democratic party was badly split on the question, since many southern and western Democrats were being squeezed by the continued price deflation and saw in silver the one hope of ending it. Particularly in the Senate, where the sparsely populated western silver-mining states had more influence than in the House, pressure on the president to accept some compromise grew rapidly.

Cleveland would not yield an inch. Repeat became for him a matter of principle, and opposition to it "shameful." He, who had so vigorously denounced influence peddling and the use of patronage to compel political obedience, used his power to grant or withhold offices and other favors ruthlessly. When Democratic Congressman Willam Jennings Bryan of Nebraska warned him that repeal of the Silver Purchase Act would "injure the party" in his state, Cleveland responded by refusing to appoint Bryan supporters to local offices. "One thing may as well be distinctly understood by Democrats in Congress who are heedless of the burdens and responsibilities of the incoming administration," he explained to a friend. "They must not expect us to 'turn the other cheek' by rewarding their conduct with patronage." In the end he had his way, but only after splitting his own party and reducing drastically his ability to influence later legislation.

The repeal of the Silver Purchase Act on 30 October 1893 marked as fateful a turning point in Cleveland's career as his election as mayor of Buffalo. What he saw as a stand for principle and a do-or-die defense of sound economic policy, others considered stubbornness and arrogance. One Arkansas Democrat called him a "360-pound tool of plutocracy." The governor of South Carolina compared his "betrayal" of the Democratic party to Judas' betrayal of Jesus. A senator predicted that if Cleveland were running for president at that time, he "could not have carried a single electoral vote south of the Potomac." All these charges were as exaggerated as the Arkansan's estimate of the president's weight, which had never much exceeded 250 pounds. (Cleveland's weight was somewhat below that figure in 1893 because he had recently undergone an operation for cancer of the mouth and had lost a considerable amount during his convalescence.)

Cleveland was conservative and he fought hard for what he believed right, but he was not a tool of the rich or an opinionated tyrant. He was certainly not arrogant. His fault was more narrowness of vision than simple stubbornness. He was unable to grasp the fact that others felt as deeply as he about what should be donethat, for example, the farmers in Willam Jennings Bryan's Nebraska district were far more concerned with how their congressman voted on silver than with whether or not he had a few federal jobs to hand out. He could not see beyond the immediate issue of repeal of a bad law or appreciate the possibility that repeal might, on the one hand, have unforeseen bad effects or, on the other, have no effect at all on the nation's economic problems. The historian Stanley L. Jones goes so far as to say that Cleveland failed "to understand the . . . social and economic changes that were taking place in the nation."

Stopping the purchase of silver did not end the drain of gold from the treasury. Since the silver certificates already in circulation could be exchanged for gold, frightened citizens continued to take advantage of that fact. Several times Cleveland had to authorize the sale of gold bonds by the treasury to replenish the reserve. But the drain continued until early 1895, when Cleveland negotiated the sale of $62 million in gold bonds with a syndicate dominated by J. P. Morgan, one of the terms being Morgan's personal promise to find at least half of the gold abroad. This Morgan bond deal brought down a new wave of criticism on the president, the charge being that it was demeaning to make the credit of the United States dependent on the cooperation of a private banker.

More seriously, repeal of the Silver Purchase Act did not restore the confidence of investors or anyone else. The economic situation got worse instead of better. Cleveland might plausibly have argued that the depression had begun before he took office and was caused by the policies of his predecessor. Instead, he continued to insist that no government could do much about the depression beyond making sure that the nation's currency was "sound." His attitude was not unusual. It was probably shared by a large majority of the citizenry. Certainly most of Cleveland's opponents had no better understanding of what could or should be done about the depression than he, but Cleveland seemed to go out of his way to stress his administration's impotence. In his second inaugural address he said, "While the people should patriotically support their Government its functions do not include the support of the people." This was both trite and bad psychology. Experience in office had taught Cleveland that presidents have a great deal of power. He had learned to wield that power but not how to use it constructively.

In forcing through the repeal bill, Cleveland exhausted a good deal of his influence with members of Congress who disagreed with his policies. His heart was set on lowering the tariff and the unpopularity of the high McKinley Tariff of 1890 seemed to make reduction easy. A new bill that embodied the kind of changes he desired was passed by the House early in 1894. But in the Senate, protectionists attached hundreds of amendments that undermined what the House had accomplished. Though Cleveland strove mightily against these changes, he could not command the support of many Democratic senators. He accused these deserters of "party perfidy and party dishonor," but that only caused them to dig in their heels more firmly. In the end the new Wilson-Gorman Tariff became law without his signature.

Cleveland's political ineptness was also demonstrated by his handling of the great Pullman strike that occurred during the spring and summer of 1894. The Pullman company manufactured and operated sleeping and dining cars used on all the nation's railroads. Its workers went on strike in May, in protest against a wage cut. That strike would not have been of concern to the federal government but for the fact that the American Railway Union, responding to the strikers' appeal, refused to move trains carrying Pullman cars. Soon rail traffic west of Chicago was paralyzed.

Cleveland was deeply involved at the time with efforts to reduce the tariff, so he delegated dealing with the strike to Attorney General Richard Olney. Olney, a former railroad lawyer, considered all labor unions undesirable and was determined to break the strike. After consulting with representatives of the railroads, he sought and obtained from a federal judge an injunction forbidding the strikers from interfering with the movement of mail. But the strike continued. The situation in and around Chicago became increasingly tense. Olney had arranged for army units to be sent to the Chicago area, and on 3 July, the day after the issuance of the injunction, Cleveland ordered these troops into the city to preserve order.

The governor of Illinois, John Peter Altgeld, who was personally sympathetic to the strikers, bitterly resented Cleveland's action. He believed that local and state authorities were capable of preserving order. He dashed off a telegram to the president denying his right to use troops without gubernatorial consent.

Cleveland's response was categorical. "I have neither transcended my authority nor duty.. . . In this hour of danger and public distress, discussion may well give way to active efforts on the part of all in authority to restore obedience to the law and to protect life and property."

Cleveland's action was understandable, and he was not a dupe of Olney, as some historians have claimed. Furthermore, his stern defense of the use of troops won wide public support. But the decision to use force was a mistake on two grounds: it did not preserve order, and it further disrupted the already divided Democratic party. For two days mobs rampaged in Chicago, burning railroad cars and buildings. Governor Altgeld, furious at Cleveland both because the president had failed to consult him before sending in troops and because of the federal government's favoritism toward the rail-road owners, threw his formidable influence against the administration. The strike was effectively broken, as perhaps was necessary after the injunction was ignored by the leader of the union, Eugene V. Debs. But the "solution" was entirely too extreme for anyone's good: Debs was thrown in jail, the American Railway Union collapsed, and middle-class opinion turned sharply against organized labor to the ultimate disadvantage of both labor and the middle class.

Foreign Policy in the Second Term

By 1895, Cleveland was almost without a friend in the southern and western wings of the Democratic party. More and more he was identified with the ultraconservative, or Bourbon, faction that dominated the party in the Northeast. Only in matters of foreign policy did his tendency to take an uncompromising stand for what he considered morally right bring him any real popular support.

Shortly before Cleveland's second term began, a group of Americans in the Hawaiian Islands had staged a successful coup, ousting the Hawaiian ruler, Queen Liliuokalani, with the aid of marines from the USS Boston. The new government sought annexation by the United States. American public opinion seemed enthusiastic, and a treaty was negotiated and sent to the Senate shortly before Cleveland's inauguration.

Cleveland asked the Senate to delay action until he had time to study the question. He sent a special commissioner, James H. Blount, to the islands to look into the circumstances surrounding the revolution. When Blount reported that the American minister in Hawaii had cooperated with the rebels and that the native population appeared to oppose the new government, Cleveland withdrew the treaty.

Once again Cleveland had taken an "unpopular" stand as a matter of principle, and once again his political courage paid off. Most Americans may have favored the idea of expansion into the Pacific, but they accepted the president's reasoning that it was wrong to overthrow the Hawaiian government in order to do so. One editor described the so-called revolution as an example of "the cheat-your-washerwoman style of diplomacy."

Cleveland's second important diplomatic foray was of a far different character. For many years the boundary between Venezuela and the South American colony of British Guiana had been in dispute. The British government, insisting that there was no substance to the Venezuelan claim, refused to submit the case to arbitration, despite somewhat sporadic pressure to do so by the United States. The territory in question was an almost uninhabited jungle, but when gold was discovered there, it suddenly became importantin part because pressure for coining silver in the United States might ease if the world supply of gold were significantly increased.

In any case, in 1894 and 1895 the Cleveland administration was taking an increasingly stern tone in its communications on the subject with Great Britain. By early 1895 these messages included such phrases as "palpably unjust" and "call a halt." Finally, in July 1895, Cleveland authorized the dispatch of a note drafted by Richard Olney, who was then secretary of state. This note warned that if Britain took or held any territory that was rightfully part of Venezuela, the United States would consider that act a violation of the Monroe Doctrine. If Britain refused to arbitrate the dispute, Cleveland hinted, the United States might well declare war.

The tone of this message was particularly offensive, but the British government was neither offended nor moved by it. The idea of a war between the United States and Great Britain over a relatively minor piece of South American real estate seemed preposterous. The British delayed answering the note until November and then flatly refused arbitration. They denied that the Monroe Doctrine gave the United States any special interest in the matter.

No president could accept such a slap in the face, least of all one like Cleveland. He therefore took the even more extraordinary step of asking Congress for an appropriation to finance an American investigation to determine the proper boundary between Venezuela and British Guiana. After that had been done, the United States would "resist by every means in its power as a willful aggression . . . the appropriation by Great Britain of any land . . . we have determined of right belongs to Venezuela."

Despite its boldness, this strategy was really quite shrewd. No American superpatriot could have asked for a stronger response. Yet by calling for an investigation, Cleveland was postponing indefinitely the possibility of having to enforce his threat. The affair "cannot become serious for some time," one British official noted.

Nevertheless, the threat was there, and faced with it, the British backed down. Obviously, they had not taken Cleveland's original blustering to heart, in part because they had interpreted it as designed primarily for domestic purposesan attempt to curry favor among Irish-American voters. When they realized that the president was not bluffing, they agreed to arbitration of the boundary dispute.

In the end the affair had a happy resolution for both the United States and Great Britain, though not for Venezuela, because the arbitration tribunal awarded nearly all the disputed territory to Britain. Cleveland, as his biographer Allan Nevins wrote, had been "determined to get a prompt settlement of the question in harmony with his principles of justice and his interpretation of the Monroe Doctrine, and by his smashing blow on the table he got it." The British learned that they must take the United States seriously as a world power; and the Americans, sobered by the thought of an Anglo-American war, ceased to practice so blithely the political sport known as twisting the British lion's tail. Secretary Olney, with Cleveland's approval, was soon mentioning "our inborn and instinctive English sympathies" in communications with British officials.

Whether or not Cleveland took the position he did on the Venezuela boundary in hopes of restoring his political fortunes and papering over the split that had developed in his party over the silver issue is a question still in dispute among historians. If he did so, the tactic failed. By early 1896 his adamant stand against any plan for inflating the currency was rapidly causing him to lose control over his own party. The prolonged depression, the worst the nation had suffered up to that point, made things difficult for the party in power to begin with. But southern and western Democrats, in debt and suffering heavy losses as the prices of farm products sank lower and lower, were turning to leaders who were calling for the free coinage of silver.

The more strident this call, the more determined Cleveland was to resist it. "The line of battle is drawn between the forces of safe currency and those of silver monometallism," he said. He could draw such a line, but he could not hold it. In July the Democrats nominated Willam Jennings Bryan for president and adopted a campaign platform calling for the free coinage of silver.

The Republicans nominated William McKinley and came out squarely for the gold standard. So profound was Cleveland's opposition to free silver that he preferred to see McKinley elected. He heartily approved of the Bourbon Democrats' decision to form what they called the National Democratic party and nominate their own presidential candidate, Senator John M. Palmer of Illinois. Palmer was seventy-nine years old, and no one, least of all Palmer, expected him to do anything except draw off votes of diehard Democrats who opposed Bryan but who were unwilling to vote for a Republican.

Cleveland expressed relief "that the glorious principles of the party have found defenders who will not permit them to be polluted by impious hands." He made no public statement only because he feared that, if he did, he would "further alienate" the pro-silver Democrats in Congress and limit his effectiveness in dealing with other issues.

After McKinley's electionwhich, Cleveland said, gave supporters of "the cause of sound money . . . abundant reason for rejoicing"Cleveland eagerly awaited the end of his term. His last significant act was to veto a bill excluding immigrants who could not read and write some language.


After he left the White House, Cleveland settled in Princeton, New Jersey. He continued to follow political events closely. During the controversy about annexing the Philippine Islands, he spoke out strongly against the "craze" and "mad rush" for colonial expansion. In 1898 he was one of the original honorary, vice presidents of the Anti-Imperialist League. Over the years he wrote many magazine articles on aspects of his own presidency and on current issues. Some of these were published in his book Presidential Problems, but none is memorable. On most questions, as Allan Nevins put it, Cleveland's position was a combination of common sense and conservatism. By far the most interesting of his retirement writings are his articles on hunting and fishing, collected in his Fishing and Shooting Sketches.

Cleveland enjoyed a long and happy retirement. The Princeton academic community gave him a warm welcome, and soon he was taking as deep an interest in the affairs of the school as the most enthusiastic alumnus. He accepted an honorary degree (while president he had refused all such honors) and in 1901 was elected to the Princeton board of trustees.

In 1904, Cleveland became chairman of the trustee committee of the graduate school. This made him a central figure in the conflict over the location of the graduate school that developed between Woodrow Wilson, then president of Princeton, and the dean of the graduate school, Andrew Fleming West. In this controversy Cleveland supported West. The dean had been instrumental in bringing Cleveland to Princeton, and the two were fast friends. (Cleveland even named his Princeton home Westland.) But he would probably have opposed Wilson's policies in any case; on university matters, as in nearly all others, he was a staunch conservative.

Cleveland died in Princeton on 24 June 1908. By that date he was admired and almost revered by the public; the bitter feelings generated by his sound-money policies in the 1890s had evaporated. Since his death his reputation has fluctuated with changing national tastes and interests. In the 1920s and 1930s it was at a high point; in the eyes of most historians, he stood among the near-great American presidents. After the Great Depression and World War II, his reputation fell because his deep commitment to limited government and his obsession with maintaining the gold standard seemed hopelessly reactionary. In recent years his place in the presidential hierarchy has risen somewhat, as the national mood has swung again in a conservative direction.

Popularity, of course, was never as important to Cleveland as doing what he considered right. And this commitment and the courage to maintain it remain his most admirable qualities. Cleveland was in many ways remarkably limited; he certainly lacked imagination, and he found it difficult to expose his inner self to all but a handful of close friends. He was anything but creative. But in industriousness and in devotion to principle and to the public good as he saw it, he has had few equals among American presidents.


The Cleveland papers are in the Library of Congress. The standard biography of Cleveland is Allan Nevins, Grover Cleveland: A Study in Courage (New York, 1932); it is accurate, detailed, and well written, but it takes Cleveland too much on his own terms and is consequently rather old-fashioned and lacking in insight on some questions. Nevins also edited a useful volume of Cleveland's correspondence, Letters of Grover Cleveland, 18501908 (New York, 1933). A more critical, if rather brief, life is Horace Samuel Merrill, Bourbon Leader: Grover Cleveland and the Democratic Party (Boston, 1957). Robert M. McElroy, Grover Cleveland: The Man and the Statesman, 2 vols. (New York, 1923), the first full-length biography, is uncritical. See also George F. Parker, Recollections of Grover Cleveland (New York, 1909).

There are many excellent studies of the political events of the Cleveland years. Harold U. Faulkner, Politics, Reform, and Expansion: 18901900 (New York, 1959), is a general survey of the period that also contains a full bibliography listing the principal biographies of Cleveland's contemporaries. These works throw much light on Cleveland as well as their subjects. J. Rogers Hollingsworth, The Whirligig of Politics: The Democracy of Cleveland and Bryan (Chicago, 1963), is useful, as is Samuel T. McSeveney, The Politics of Depression: Political Behavior in the Northeast, 18931896 (New York, 1972).

Broader in scope are Matthew Josephson, The Politicos: 18651896 (New York, 1938), which, while overly critical of just about all the political leaders of the time and of the era itself, is lively and insightful, and H. Wayne Morgan, From Hayes to McKinley: National Party Politics, 18771896 (Syracuse, N.Y., 1969), which is up-to-date and more favorably inclined to all concerned. Morton Keller, Affairs of State: Public Life in Late-Nineteenth-Century America (Cambridge, Mass., 1977), contains a wealth of fascinating background material on the era.

For Cleveland's foreign policy, see Ernest R. May, Imperial Democracy: The Emergence of America as a Great Power (New York, 1961), and Walter LaFeber, The New Empire: An Interpretation of American Expansion, 18601898 (Ithaca, N.Y., 1963), the latter generally critical of American policy, which LaFeber considers to have been dominated by the desire for commercial expansion. John A. S. Grenville and George B. Young, Politics, Strategy, and American Diplomacy: Studies in Foreign Policy, 18731917 (New Haven, Conn., 1966), contains interesting essays on a variety of relevant issues.

Books dealing with specific foreign policy issues of the Cleveland era include Merze Tate, The United States and the Hawaiian Kingdom: A Political History (New Haven, Conn., 1965), and A. E. Campbell, Great Britain and the United States, 18951903 (Westport, Conn., 1974).

Recent works include Alyn Brodsky, Grover Cleveland: A Study in Character (New York, 2000) Henry F. Graff, Grover Cleveland (New York, 2002), and H. Paul Jeffers, An Honest President: The Life and Presidencies of Grover Cleveland (New York, 2000).

Further sources are listed in John F. Marszalek, comp., Grover Cleveland: A Bibliography (Westport, Conn., 1988).

Cleveland, Grover

views updated Jun 27 2018

Grover Cleveland

BORN: March 18, 1837 • Caldwell, New Jersey

DIED: June 24, 1908 • Princeton, New Jersey

U.S. president

Grover Cleveland was the twenty-second and the twenty-fourth president of the United States. Although elected to serve two terms, historians generally do not consider him to be among the great presidents. He is, however, respected for his success in restoring power to the executive branch (the departments of the federal government responsible for executing and enforcing laws).

"I have tried so hard to do right."

Humble beginnings

Stephen Grover Cleveland was born on March 18, 1837, in Caldwell, New Jersey. He was the fifth of nine children born to Richard and Anne Cleveland. Cleveland's father was a Presbyterian minister who never made much money; the family remained poor throughout Cleveland's childhood. The Cleveland family moved to upstate New York when Grover was a young boy. Cleveland was just sixteen years old when his father died. The teen had to put his dreams of college on hold so that he could find a job to help support the large family. He found work in Buffalo as a clerk in a law office. Although he never received a day of formal law education, he was admitted to the state bar in 1858, at the age of twenty-two.

During the Civil War (1861–65), Cleveland served as the assistant district attorney for Erie County in New York. The sole supporter of his family at the time, he paid someone $300 to take his place in the war, a legal and common arrangement at the time. However, this was a decision that would affect him negatively during his political years. His enemies would use it to paint him as unpatriotic for not serving in the military during wartime.

In 1870, Cleveland became sheriff of Erie County. During his three years in that position, he was also the county's executioner, and he personally hanged two criminals. In 1873, Cleveland returned to practicing law. By 1881 he had managed to save $75,000. His bank account was not the only thing that grew throughout the 1870s. The 5-foot, 11-inch attorney weighed 250 pounds (113.5 kilograms) and had earned the nickname Big Steve. Cleveland was not a man who enjoyed traveling, reading, or listening to music. He preferred poker games and evenings spent with friends at the local saloon. Cleveland also enjoyed hunting.

Becomes mayor and enters politics

As sheriff, Cleveland had avoided getting involved in politics, so it was a surprise to friends when he ran in Buffalo's mayoral race and won in 1881. So quick was he to clean up corruption among the city's various politicians that the Democratic Party nominated him to be governor of the state of New York.

By this time, Uncle Jumbo (as he was affectionately referred to by friends and family) weighed 280 pounds (127 kilograms). His weight did not deter him from success, however, and he was elected governor of New York in 1882. He served one two-year term and worked hard to fight corruption at the state level. Within his first year in the governor's mansion, Cleveland was already being talked about as a possible presidential candidate.

Cleveland's success as mayor and then governor gave him the confidence to seek the Democratic nomination in the 1884 presidential race. His Republican opponent was James G. Blaine (1830–1893) of Maine. Whereas Cleveland was popular throughout the entire Democratic party, Blaine had his share of Republican supporters, but nearly the same number of Republican enemies. Those who disliked Blaine were more reform-minded than their traditional Republican peers, and they favored Cleveland because of his obvious desire to challenge and defeat political corruption. Even with his foes, Blaine posed a considerable threat to Cleveland. He had served in the U.S. Senate from 1876 to 1881 and had been a member of the House of Representatives from 1863 to 1876. From 1869 to 1874, he served as Speaker of the House, one of the most influential positions after the president. He also had held the position of secretary of state in the administrations of James A. Garfield (1831–1881; served 1881) and Chester A. Arthur (1830–1886; served 1881–85).

Uncle Jumbo takes office

Although he gave only two campaign speeches and had to deal with a major scandal, Cleveland won the 1884 election. How he handled the scandal—with openness and honesty—helped cement his presidential victory.

During the 1884 campaign, word was leaked that Cleveland had fathered a son out of wedlock (while not married) in 1874. Although there was no way to prove with complete certainty that Cleveland was the father, he accepted responsibility and was helping financially to raise the boy, Oscar Folsom Cleveland. There was an equal chance that Cleveland's former law partner, Oscar Folsom (1837–1873), was the father. When Blaine's campaigners confronted Cleveland with the rumor, the presidential candidate publicly acknowledged that he had indeed engaged in sexual relations outside of marriage. Having responded to the scandal with honesty, Cleveland won the election, though just barely. He received 48.5 percent of the votes compared with Blaine's 48.2 percent.

Cleveland was the first Democrat elected to the White House since before the Civil War. At the time he took office, the patronage system was still quite powerful, despite the best efforts of former president Arthur's attempts to limit its influence. Cleveland spent the majority of his first term trying to keep Congress from granting undeserved privileges to big businesses. To do so, he replaced unqualified people with qualified officials as heads of departments of the federal government. Cleveland believed the job of the government was not to meddle or interfere in the everyday lives of citizens. By hiring capable, knowledgeable men, he built a government focused more on enforcing existing legislation than on introducing new laws.

Garfield and Arthur: Lost Presidents

There are four presidents that historians generally call the Lost Presidents, those who served rather uneventfully after the Civil War. They include Rutherford B. Hayes (1822–1893; served 1877–81), James A. Garfield, Chester A. Arthur, and Benjamin Harrison.

During his brief time as America's twentieth president, the Republican Garfield challenged corrupt politician Roscoe Conkling (1829–1888). Conkling was a U.S. senator from New York who believed men in his position should have personal control over assigning federal positions within state boundaries. Conkling had complete authority over the New York Customs House, which is the location where all imports and exports traveled through and were taxed. In an effort to reduce Conkling's corrupt power, Garfield nominated another man to run the Customs House, Conkling's rival, New York state senator William H. Robertson (1823–1898). With endless patience, Garfield maintained his stance, and eventually Robertson was elected to the position.

On July 2, 1881, just four months into the Garfield presidency, Charles J. Guiteau (1841–1882), an enraged attorney who had unsuccessfully sought a government position, shot Garfield. He clung to life for two-and-a-half months. During that time, inventor Alexander Graham Bell (1847–1922) tried to find the bullet lodged in Garfield's body using an electrical device he had designed. His attempts failed, however, and Garfield's body finally gave in to infection and internal bleeding, and he died on September 19, 1881.

Chester A. Arthur, Garfield's vice president, took over the presidency upon Garfield's death. While vice president, Arthur had not joined Garfield in his battle against Conkling but had instead supported Conkling in his underhanded dealings. Once he reached the presidency, though, he wanted to prove himself trustworthy. He stopped spending time with old friends who knew him before his change of heart and began to support civil service reform.

Arthur was responsible for passing the first federal immigration law in 1882. The law barred criminals, lunatics, and paupers (extremely poor people) from entering America. That same year, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which put severe restrictions on Chinese immigrants.

In 1883, Congress passed the Pendleton Act, which established a Civil Service Commission that required applicants to positions within government agencies and departments to pass a test. No longer would a friendship with a politician influence who was hired, a concept known as patronage. The act also protected government employees from being fired for reasons other than job performance. The Pendleton Act angered Republicans because it allowed Democrats to secure powerful positions in the civil service.

Angering his own party did not seem to be a major concern of Arthur's. He also sought to lower taxes so that the federal government did not have an embarrassingly high surplus of revenue each year. Republicans were traditionally in favor of high taxes, and they were furious over the signing of the Tariff Act of 1883. The law brought a gradual reduction in import taxes over the next decade.

A year after he became president, Arthur learned that he had a fatal kidney disease. He kept this information from becoming public knowledge, and in 1884, he sought reelection so as not to appear to be afraid of being beat. He failed to receive his party's nomination, however, and died in 1886.

Angers supporters

Democrats as well as Republicans depended on the patronage system. When it became clear that Cleveland would not tolerate this unjust practice, he angered thousands of Democrats who expected to be handed jobs simply because they shared the same political party as the president. Democrats had been at the mercy of Republican rule for twenty-four years; they were ready to make some money and wield some power. In spite of his fellow Democrats' obvious displeasure, Cleveland continued in the steps of President Arthur to reform the civil service (the system by which civilians are appointed to positions in various government agencies and departments). In 1887, Congress repealed the Tenure of Office Act, which prohibited the president from removing any officials from office without the approval of the Senate. Even before their terms had expired, Cleveland was ridding the government of corrupt officials.

As president, Cleveland had the power to veto (vote down) a bill or piece of legislation. All the presidents before him used their veto power 204 times combined. In his first term alone, Cleveland exercised his power to veto 414 bills. By the end of his second term, that number increased to 584.

The bachelor marries

When Cleveland became president, he was a bachelor (unmarried). His unmarried sister, Rose Cleveland (1846–1918), took on the role of First Lady. Rose hated her duties; she was more interested in pursuing scholarly activities than she was hosting parties and entertaining dignitaries. She was relieved from her obligations in 1886, when Cleveland married Frances Folsom (1864–1947), the twenty-one-year-old daughter of his former law partner.

It was a surprise to no one when it was announced that the president had married a Folsom. Cleveland's partner's widow, Emma Folsom, and her daughter Frances were frequent visitors at the White House. But the public was quite certain it would be Emma that Cleveland would marry. Society was shocked when the forty-eight-year-old president chose a bride less than half his age.

Cleveland became the first president to marry in the White House when, on June 2, 1886, he exchanged wedding vows with Frances in front of forty close friends. The idea of a wedding at the White House enthralled Americans, and Frances Cleveland almost immediately became a celebrity. She received so many fan letters from the moment she became First Lady that she had to hire a social secretary to help her answer them.

Although she avoided getting involved in politics, Frances was an ideal president's wife. She showered her husband with attention and was a most gracious hostess who willingly shook hands with thousands of people at White House presentations and at public appearances. Well schooled, she impressed visitors and politicians with her breadth of knowledge and her ability to speak French. The First Lady became known throughout the country as Frankie, and her likeness was used in advertisements and labels to sell goods of all sorts. The Clevelands eventually had five children.

A busy first term

The year 1886 was important in another way for Cleveland, as it was the year of the dedication ceremony of the Statue of Liberty in New York. The following year was more controversial, however. In addition to repealing the Tenure of Office Act, the president used his veto power to refuse to pass a bill that would give disabled Civil War Union (Northern) veterans a regular pension (an income or regular payment received based on prior service). Most veterans who became disabled because of military service applied for their pensions through the federal Pension Bureau. The bureau investigated each case to confirm that the disability was war related and to determine how much money the veteran should receive. Some veterans' pension applications, however, were made in a private bill, meaning they applied for their pensions privately, rather than through the Pension Bureau. These cases were not usually investigated, so there were many chances for corruption. From 1885 to 1887, 40 percent of all bills passed by the House of Representatives and more than half of all those approved by the Senate were private pension bills. In the first four years of his presidency, Cleveland received 2,099 private pension bills and vetoed 288 of them. The president's refusal to pass such bills angered the veterans, who made up a large portion of the voting public. But Cleveland believed that passing the 1887 proposal would serve only to create an expensive, endless, and corrupt form of charity.

February of that same year saw the passage of the Interstate Commerce Act (February 4) and the Dawes Severalty Act (February 8). Cleveland did not initiate either piece of legislation.

Interstate Commerce Act

Up until 1887, the railroads conducted their business with very few regulations. As a result, they were arguably the most corrupt industry in the country. Rather than compete with one another, owners of various railroads met and developed a pricing structure that allowed them all to profit and none to underprice one another. This practice was known as pooling. Railroads also charged higher freight rates to shippers sending goods a short distance than they did to those sending goods long distances, even though it cost railroads the same amount, regardless of miles shipped. Railroads gave out refunds to shippers who did a great deal of business with a particular railroad company, or to large companies that agreed to give that railroad all their shipping business. This refund was known as a rebate and was another form of rate discrimination.

These unethical practices made competing impossible for smaller companies and farmers. All the discounts and special benefits were reserved only for big business. Rate discrimination laws had been passed in 1842, but they were largely meaningless because there was no federal enforcement of them. By the 1870s, merchants were asking the government for regulations; even some railroad companies joined in the plea in the 1880s. Competition among them was fierce.

Congress responded by passing the Interstate Commerce Act. Along with the law came the establishment of the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC). The commission comprised five members who would each serve a six-year term. There could be no more than three members belonging to the same political party. The new law banned pooling and rebates, and some of the rate differences for short and long hauls were eliminated. Unfortunately, the ICC was powerless to set rates or to punish companies that violated the law. Neither the railroads nor all the farm groups were happy. Railroad owners believed the government was too involved; farmers believed it was not involved enough.

Dawes Severalty Act

The Dawes Severalty Act was passed on February 8. Also known as the Indian Emancipation Act, the law took away all tribal lands and divided them up for individual ownership. In doing so, the government took away the legal standing and rights of tribes. Native American individuals gave up their tribal status in exchange for American citizenship as well as a specific amount of land. But ownership was still restricted: Native Americans could not completely own the land they were "given" until twenty-five years had passed.

The purpose of the Dawes Act was to force Native Americans to assimilate into (fit into and adapt their ways of life into) American society. Reformers saw the tribes' nomadic lifestyle (frequent moving around) as an obstacle to be overcome in order to become Americanized. The Act seriously undermined the Native American way of life, but it did little to help anyone assimilate. After all land had been divided and given out, there were millions of acres of "leftover" land that was then sold to non–Native Americans. Before the Act, Native Americans owned about 138 million acres of land. After the law's passage, their holdings dwindled to about 78 million acres. It was not until 1934 that the policy was reversed. The surplus lands were returned to the Native Americans.

Foreign affairs

Cleveland was not in support of territorial expansion (gaining more land for the United States). He felt America had enough trouble with big business regulations and the Native American issue. As a result of his thoughts on expansion, Cleveland withdrew a treaty proposed during the presidency of Chester A. Arthur that would have given the United States the right to build a canal in Nicaragua to be owned by both countries.

President Cleveland did get involved in an issue involving fishing rights in the North Atlantic Ocean off the coasts of Canada and Newfoundland. These fishing rights had been a conflict between America and Great Britain (which owned Newfoundland at the time) for more than a century. By the time Cleveland took office, American fishermen were fishing the waters with the condition that Canadian fishermen could export their fish to the United States without paying taxes. Congress repealed the rights of Canadians to do so, and Canadian fishermen began seizing U.S. fishing boats. In March 1887, Cleveland signed a bill known as the Retaliation Act, which allowed him to forbid Canadian imports of any kind if the Canadians continued to harass American fishermen. In February 1888, the Bayard-Chamberlain Treaty was signed between America and Britain. This treaty allowed American fishermen to fish off the coasts of Canada and buy their fishing licenses there. If Congress ever lifted the taxation on Canadian exports, American fishermen would receive certain privileges. The treaty satisfied everyone involved.

Presidential positions on other issues

Cleveland believed African Americans were inferior to whites and refused to treat them as social or political equals. To him, civil rights was a social issue that should not be interfered with by the federal government. He considered himself an Indian reformer but looked upon Native Americans as children who needed a caretaker. As for women, he had little to say. Women during his presidency did not have the right to vote, and he never encouraged them to seek such a right.

Loses election, then wins again

Cleveland lost the 1888 presidential election to former U.S. senator Benjamin Harrison (1833–1901; served 1889–93; see entry) of Indiana. Harrison led a troubled administration, though, and Cleveland decided to run again in the campaign of 1892. His victory over Harrison gave Democrats the majority of power in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

By 1894, the country was entering a major economic depression (a long-term state in which unemployment rates are high, prices and business activity are low, and people are fearful of the future). Nearly 18 percent of all workers were unemployed. Without money to pay bills, many Americans were hungry and homeless. Railroad construction dropped by 50 percent, and nearly two hundred railroad companies declared bankruptcy. (Bankruptcy refers to the legal declaration of the inability of an individual or a company to repay debt.) One in every ten banks did the same, as did dozens of steel companies.

Cleveland, still of the belief that the government should not support charity with its dollars, did nothing to help the crisis. Rather than provide relief dollars, he repealed the Sherman Silver Purchase Act. This bill, sponsored by U.S. senator John Sherman (1823–1900) of Ohio, had the U.S. Treasury purchase 4.5 million ounces of silver at market price each month. The silver was bought with Treasury notes that could be redeemed in either gold or silver. Holders of these notes were eager to turn them in for gold because they got more money per note that way. The act increased the production of silver, which sent silver prices down rather than up, which was the intent.

Repealing the act angered some members of the Democratic Party and caused them to consider Cleveland more Republican than many Republicans. This split within the party weakened its strength. On top of that, thousands of holders of government bonds and old silver certificates began cashing them in for gold, which depleted the nation's gold reserve. In response, Cleveland authorized four new government bonds between 1894 and 1896. These bonds allowed the government to pay its international debts. By turning to investment banker J. P. Morgan (1837–1913) to back the bonds with $62 million in gold, Cleveland was accused of siding with big business and betraying the working class. Morgan was known for his unethical business tactics and ruthless ambition. This common perception of Cleveland had a direct impact on the congressional election of 1894, in which Democrats lost in every region but the South. Now it was Cleveland's turn to feel betrayed.

The Pullman Strike

In addition to the Depression that began in 1893, Cleveland had to deal with serious labor unrest throughout his second term. In June 1894, a railroad strike at the Pullman Palace Car Company in Chicago, Illinois, created problems throughout the entire state of Illinois. Railroads stopped running, which put a halt to any business that relied on the railways for shipping. This work stoppage brought mail delivery service and passenger transportation to a standstill. State authorities realized the strike was beyond their control and called on the federal government for assistance. Cleveland's response made history when, for the first time, federal military troops became involved in a labor strike.

On July 4, President Cleveland sent in twenty-five hundred federal troops in an attempt to end the strike. Rioting occurred from July 7 through 9, when strikers attacked the military troops. These forces responded with gunfire at point-blank range. About thirty strikers were killed and many more wounded. The number of troops on hand soon increased to fourteen thousand, as state and additional federal troops joined in the confrontation. The strikers were defeated within the week, and after several weeks of negotiating, Pullman reopened its doors on August 2.

Remains firm on territorial expansion

Cleveland retained his position that territorial expansion was not good for the United States. Protecting what America already owned, however, was not in question. His most controversial foreign policy decision involved a boundary dispute between Venezuela and Britain. Britain owned a profitable trade route through Venezuela, but Venezuela wanted to control its own region. When Britain refused negotiations, Venezuela called on the United States for help. This request made Britain unhappy. Cleveland was willing to help and proved his commitment by sending U.S. Navy ships to confront British warships near Venezuela. Americans feared an impending war, but Britain changed its mind and negotiated the dispute to Venezuela's satisfaction.

Cuba posed another challenge for the president. It had been under Spanish rule in 1895. America had received reports that Spanish troops were abusing Cubans. Although Cleveland wanted Cuba to gain its independence, he was not willing to aid them in their fight, so he refused to send in troops to support the Cubans. Instead, he tried to convince Spain to adopt reforms that would allow Cuba to gain its independence gradually. The Senate completely opposed Cleveland on this issue, and they passed pro-Cuba legislation whenever possible. When Congress threatened to recognize Cuba as an independent nation, Cleveland warned that he would view the decision as an act of defiance against his presidential authority. The issue never was resolved during Cleveland's second term.

Ultimate betrayal

Although Cleveland's response to the Pullman Strike in 1894 helped rebuild America's trust in its president, it was not enough to overcome the bitter resentment the public still held regarding his refusal to help during the Depression. Cleveland was not nominated by the Democrats in the 1896 presidential election, but was replaced by former U.S. representative William Jennings Bryan (1860–1925) of Nebraska. Bryan lost the election to William McKinley (1843–1901; served 1897–1901; see entry).

Following the end of his second term, Cleveland and his wife moved to a mansion in Princeton, New Jersey, where local residents treated them like a king and queen. He spent the early 1900s writing political commentary. In 1904, he published a book called Presidential Problems. That same year, his eldest daughter, Ruth, died. Those who knew him best said he never recovered from the loss.

In March 1908, Cleveland suffered a severe attack of a gastrointestinal disease he had lived with for years. He was secretly rushed to the hospital, where he died on June 24. His wife Frances was by his side.

For More Information


Cherny, Robert W. American Politics in the Gilded Age: 1868–1900. Wheeling, IL: Harlan Davidson, 1997.

Gaines, Ann. Grover Cleveland: Our Twenty-Second and Twenty-Fourth President. Chanhassen, MN: Child's World, 2002.

Kent, Zachary. Grover Cleveland. Chicago: Children's Press, 1988.

Laughlin, Rosemary. The Pullman Strike of 1894. Greensboro, NC: Morgan Reynolds Publishing, 2000. Reprint, 2006.

Rolde, Neil. Continental Liar from the State of Maine: James G. Blaine. Gardiner, ME: Tilbury House, 2006.


"Chester Alan Arthur." American President. (accessed on August 17, 2006).

"Grover Cleveland." The White House. (accessed on August 17, 2006).

"Grover Cleveland's Obituary." New York Times (June 25, 1908). Available online at (accessed on August 17, 2006).

"James Abram Garfield." American President. (accessed on August 17, 2006).

"Stephen Grover Cleveland." American President. (accessed on August 17, 2006).

Cleveland, Grover

views updated Jun 27 2018

Cleveland, Grover

22nd and 24th president, 1885–1889, 1893–1897

Born: March 18, 1837

Died: June 24, 1908

Vice Presidents: Thomas A. Hendricks, Adlai Stevenson

First Lady: Frances Folsom Cleveland

Children: Ruth, Esther, Marion, Richard, Francis

Grover Cleveland won the popular vote for president three times, but only served two terms in office. Cleveland served as the 22nd and 24th presidents of the United States. In 1884, he became the first Democrat to win the presidency in 26 years. In 1888, Cleveland received over 100,000 more votes than his opponent, Benjamin Harrison. Harrison's support, however, came from large states with more electoral votes.

Cleveland was born in New Jersey, one of nine children of a Protestant minister. A self-taught lawyer, Cleveland became sheriff and district attorney of Erie County, New York. Later, he was mayor of Buffalo and then governor of New York. Cleveland's reputation for honesty and hard work helped him gain the presidency only three years after he entered politics.

  • Cleveland was the only president who paid a substitute to serve for him in the Civil War.
  • Cleveland was the only president to serve two nonconsecutive terms.
  • As sheriff of Erie County, New York, Cleveland personally carried out the executions (by hanging) of two convicted murderers.
  • Cleveland's wife, Frances, was only 21 years old when she married Cleveland and became first lady.
  • During his first term in office, Cleveland vetoed legislation 414 times—more than twice as many times as all the presidents before him combined.
  • Cleveland was the only president married in the White House, and his daughter Esther was the only president's child born in the White House.
  • Cleveland weighed more than 250 pounds. His weight earned him the nicknames "Uncle Jumbo" and "Big Steve" (his first name was Stephen).

Cleveland's first term was marked by his support of lower tariffs—taxes paid on imported goods that raised their prices in theUnited States. Manufacturers and labor leaders favored high tariffs to protect American industry from cheaper imported goods. Farmers and store owners wanted lower tariffs so they could buy imported goods at cheaper prices. In the election of 1888, large labor and manufacturing states in the North supported Benjamin Harrison, while Midwestern and Southern states supported Cleveland.

Cleveland took office a second time when America was becoming a world industrial leader. Many industries, such as steel, oil, and railroads, had enormous power over lawmakers and legislation. Cleveland worked to limit these large corporations called "trusts" by supporting antitrust legislation.

Cleveland married Frances Folsom in 1886. They had five children: Esther, Marion, Richard, Francis, and Ruth.

When Cleveland Was in Office

The Statue of Liberty was dedicated in New York City.
Apache leader Geronimo surrendered to the army in Arizona.
The Dawes Act was passed. Intended to end communal landholding by Native Americans, it provided 160 acres of land for each Indian family.
A severe blizzard struck the East Coast, killing four hundred people.
Congress declared Labor Day a national holiday.
Henry Ford built his first automobile.
The Supreme Court ruled in Plessy v. Ferguson that "separate but equal" educational facilities are constitutional.
In Greece, the first modern Olympics were held.
Utah became the 45th state.

After his second term in office, Cleveland retired to his home state of New Jersey where he died in 1908.

On Cleveland's First Inauguration Day

Grover Cleveland took office as one of the biggest men ever to serve as president—six feet three inches tall and more than 250 pounds. A Democrat, he attempted to govern alongside a Republican-controlled Congress. This division prevented Cleveland from achieving a great deal in his first term, and resulted in more than 200 vetoes from his office.

Grover Cleveland's First Inaugural Address

In Washington, D.C., Wednesday, March 4, 1885


IN the presence of this vast assemblage of my countrymen I am about to supplement and seal by the oath which I shall take the manifestation of the will of a great and free people. In the exercise of their power and right of self-government they have committed to one of their fellow-citizens a supreme and sacred trust, and he here consecrates himself to their service.

This impressive ceremony adds little to the solemn sense of responsibility with which I contemplate the duty I owe to all the people of the land. Nothing can relieve me from anxiety lest by any act of mine their interests may suffer, and nothing is needed to strengthen my resolution to engage every faculty and effort in the promotion of their welfare.

Amid the din of party strife the people's choice was made, but its attendant circumstances have demonstrated anew the strength and safety of a government by the people. In each succeeding year it more clearly appears that our democratic principle needs no apology, and that in its fearless and faithful application is to be found the surest guaranty of good government.

But the best results in the operation of a government wherein every citizen has a share largely depend upon a proper limitation of purely partisan zeal and effort and a correct appreciation of the time when the heat of the partisan should be merged in the patriotism of the citizen.

To-day the executive branch of the Government is transferred to new keeping. But this is still the Government of all the people, and it should be none the less an object of their affectionate solicitude. At this hour the animosities of political strife, the bitterness of partisan defeat, and the exultation of partisan triumph should be supplanted by an ungrudging acquiescence in the popular will and a sober, conscientious concern for the general weal. Moreover, if from this hour we cheerfully and honestly abandon all sectional prejudice and distrust, and determine, with manly confidence in one another, to work out harmoniously the achievements of our national destiny, we shall deserve to realize all the benefits which our happy form of government can bestow.

On this auspicious occasion we may well renew the pledge of our devotion to the Constitution, which, launched by the founders of the Republic and consecrated by their prayers and patriotic devotion, has for almost a century borne the hopes and the aspirations of a great people through prosperity and peace and through the shock of foreign conflicts and the perils of domestic strife and vicissitudes.

By the Father of his Country our Constitution was commended for adoption as "the result of a spirit of amity and mutual concession." In that same spirit it should be administered, in order to promote the lasting welfare of the country and to secure the full measure of its priceless benefits to us and to those who will succeed to the blessings of our national life. The large variety of diverse and competing interests subject to Federal control, persistently seeking the recognition of their claims, need give us no fear that "the greatest good to the greatest number" will fail to be accomplished if in the halls of national legislation that spirit of amity and mutual concession shall prevail in which the Constitution had its birth. If this involves the surrender or postponement of private interests and the abandonment of local advantages, compensation will be found in the assurance that the common interest is subserved and the general welfare advanced.

In the discharge of my official duty I shall endeavor to be guided by a just and unstrained construction of the Constitution, a careful observance of the distinction between the powers granted to the Federal Government and those reserved to the States or to the people, and by a cautious appreciation of those functions which by the Constitution and laws have been especially assigned to the executive branch of the Government.

But he who takes the oath today to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States only assumes the solemn obligation which every patriotic citizen—on the farm, in the workshop, in the busy marts of trade, and everywhere—should share with him. The Constitution which prescribes his oath, my countrymen, is yours; the Government you have chosen him to administer for a time is yours; the suffrage which executes the will of freemen is yours; the laws and the entire scheme of our civil rule, from the town meeting to the State capitals and the national capital, is yours. Your every voter, as surely as your Chief Magistrate, under the same high sanction, though in a different sphere, exercises a public trust. Nor is this all. Every citizen owes to the country a vigilant watch and close scrutiny of its public servants and a fair and reasonable estimate of their fidelity and usefulness. Thus is the people's will impressed upon the whole framework of our civil polity—municipal, State, and Federal; and this is the price of our liberty and the inspiration of our faith in the Republic.

It is the duty of those serving the people in public place to closely limit public expenditures to the actual needs of the Government economically administered, because this bounds the right of the Government to exact tribute from the earnings of labor or the property of the citizen, and because public extravagance begets extravagance among the people. We should never be ashamed of the simplicity and prudential economies which are best suited to the operation of a republican form of government and most compatible with the mission of the American people. Those who are selected for a limited time to manage public affairs are still of the people, and may do much by their example to encourage, consistently with the dignity of their official functions, that plain way of life which among their fellow-citizens aids integrity and promotes thrift and prosperity.

The genius of our institutions, the needs of our people in their home life, and the attention which is demanded for the settlement and development of the resources of our vast territory dictate the scrupulous avoidance of any departure from that foreign policy commended by the history, the traditions, and the prosperity of our Republic. It is the policy of independence, favored by our position and defended by our known love of justice and by our power. It is the policy of peace suitable to our interests. It is the policy of neutrality, rejecting any share in foreign broils and ambitions upon other continents and repelling their intrusion here. It is the policy of Monroe and of Washington and Jefferson—"Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations; entangling alliance with none."

A due regard for the interests and prosperity of all the people demands that our finances shall be established upon such a sound and sensible basis as shall secure the safety and confidence of business interests and make the wage of labor sure and steady, and that our system of revenue shall be so adjusted as to relieve the people of unnecessary taxation, having a due regard to the interests of capital invested and working-men employed in American industries, and preventing the accumulation of a surplus in the Treasury to tempt extravagance and waste.

Care for the property of the nation and for the needs of future settlers requires that the public domain should be protected from purloining schemes and unlawful occupation.

The conscience of the people demands that the Indians within our boundaries shall be fairly and honestly treated as wards of the Government1 and their education and civilization promoted with a view to their ultimate citizenship, and that polygamy in the Territories, destructive of the family relation and offensive to the moral sense of the civilized world, shall be repressed.

The laws should be rigidly enforced which prohibit the immigration of a servile class to compete with American labor2, with no intention of acquiring citizenship, and bringing with them and retaining habits and customs repugnant to our civilization.

The people demand reform in the administration of the Government and the application of business principles to public affairs. As a means to this end, civil-service reform should be in good faith enforced. Our citizens have the right to protection from the incompetency of public employees who hold their places solely as the reward of partisan service3, and from the corrupting influence of those who promise and the vicious methods of those who expect such rewards; and those who worthily seek public employment have the right to insist that merit and competency shall be recognized instead of party subserviency or the surrender of honest political belief.

In the administration of a government pledged to do equal and exact justice to all men there should be no pretext for anxiety touching the protection of the freedmen in their rights or their security in the enjoyment of their privileges under the Constitution and its amendments. All discussion as to their fitness for the place accorded to them as American citizens is idle and unprofitable except as it suggests the necessity for their improvement. The fact that they are citizens entitles them to all the rights due to that relation and charges them with all its duties, obligations, and responsibilities.

These topics and the constant and ever-varying wants of an active and enterprising population may well receive the attention and the patriotic endeavor of all who make and execute the Federal law. Our duties are practical and call for industrious application, an intelligent perception of the claims of public office, and, above all, a firm determination, by united action, to secure to all the people of the land the full benefits of the best form of government ever vouchsafed to man. And let us not trust to human effort alone, but humbly acknowledging the power and goodness of Almighty God, who presides over the destiny of nations, and who has at all times been revealed in our country's history, let us invoke His aid and His blessings upon our labors.

Quotes to Note

  1. "The conscience of the people demands. . . " Cleveland asks for fair treatment of Native Americans. In truth, by the time he took office, buffalo hunters working for railroad companies had reduced the main food source of the Plains Indians to near extinction. In 1887, the Dawes Act would break reservations into 160-acre plots for Native Americans to farm, thus destroying their cultural heritage in an effort to "Americanize" them.
  2. "The laws should be rigidly enforced..." Waves of immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe were arriving in the United States at this time. These immigrants were seen by many labor leaders as people who were taking jobs from American workers, and a strong anti-immigrant feeling arose in those years.
  3. "Our citizens have the right to protection..." The controversy over the civil service was still fresh in the minds of many Americans. James Garfield's assassination by a disturbed office seeker only four years earlier had opened the eyes of many people to the widespread corruption in the awarding of government jobs.

On Cleveland's Second Inauguration Day

Cleveland took office for the second time as the only man to serve nonconsecutive terms in office. He returned to the White House just as the country entered one of the worst depressions of the nineteenth century.

Grover Cleveland's Second Inaugural Address

In Washington, D.C., Saturday, March 4, 1893

My Fellow-Citizens:

IN obedience of the mandate of my countrymen I am about to dedicate myself to their service under the sanction of a solemn oath. Deeply moved by the expression of confidence and personal attachment which has called me to this service, I am sure my gratitude can make no better return than the pledge I now give before God and these witnesses of unreserved and complete devotion to the interests and welfare of those who have honored me.

I deem it fitting on this occasion, while indicating the opinion I hold concerning public questions of present importance, to also briefly refer to the existence of certain conditions and tendencies among our people which seem to menace the integrity and usefulness of their Government.

While every American citizen must contemplate with the utmost pride and enthusiasm the growth and expansion of our country, the sufficiency of our institutions to stand against the rudest shocks of violence, the wonderful thrift and enterprise of our people, and the demonstrated superiority of our free government, it behooves us to constantly watch for every symptom of insidious infirmity that threatens our national vigor.

The strong man who in the confidence of sturdy health courts the sternest activities of life and rejoices in the hardihood of constant labor may still have lurking near his vitals the unheeded disease that dooms him to sudden collapse.

It can not be doubted that our stupendous achievements as a people and our country's robust strength have given rise to heedlessness of those laws governing our national health which we can no more evade than human life can escape the laws of God and nature.

Manifestly nothing is more vital to our supremacy as a nation and to the beneficent purposes of our Government than a sound and stable currency.1 Its exposure to degradation should at once arouse to activity the most enlightened statesmanship, and the danger of depreciation in the purchasing power of the wages paid to toil should furnish the strongest incentive to prompt and conservative precaution.

In dealing with our present embarrassing situation as related to this subject we will be wise if we temper our confidence and faith in our national strength and resources with the frank concession that even these will not permit us to defy with impunity the inexorable laws of finance and trade. At the same time, in our efforts to adjust differences of opinion we should be free from intolerance or passion, and our judgments should be unmoved by alluring phrases and unvexed by selfish interests.

I am confident that such an approach to the subject will result in prudent and effective remedial legislation. In the meantime, so far as the executive branch of the Government can intervene, none of the powers with which it is invested will be withheld when their exercise is deemed necessary to maintain our national credit or avert financial disaster.

Closely related to the exaggerated confidence in our country's greatness which tends to a disregard of the rules of national safety, another danger confronts us not less serious. I refer to the prevalence of a popular disposition to expect from the operation of the Government especial and direct individual advantages.

The verdict of our voters which condemned the injustice of maintaining protection for protection's sake enjoins upon the people's servants the duty of exposing and destroying the brood of kindred evils which are the unwholesome progeny of paternalism. This is the bane of republican institutions and the constant peril of our government by the people. It degrades to the purposes of wily craft the plan of rule our fathers established and bequeathed to us as an object of our love and veneration. It perverts the patriotic sentiments of our countrymen and tempts them to pitiful calculation of the sordid gain to be derived from their Government's maintenance. It undermines the self-reliance of our people and substitutes in its place dependence upon governmental favoritism. It stifles the spirit of true Americanism and stupefies every ennobling trait of American citizenship.

The lessons of paternalism ought to be unlearned and the better lesson taught that while the people should patriotically and cheerfully support their Government its functions do not include the support of the people.

The acceptance of this principle leads to a refusal of bounties and subsidies, which burden the labor and thrift of a portion of our citizens to aid ill-advised or languishing enterprises in which they have no concern. It leads also to a challenge of wild and reckless pension expenditure, which overleaps the bounds of grateful recognition of patriotic service and prostitutes to vicious uses the people's prompt and generous impulse to aid those disabled in their country's defense.

Every thoughtful American must realize the importance of checking at its beginning any tendency in public or private station to regard frugality and economy as virtues which we may safely outgrow. The toleration of this idea results in the waste of the people's money by their chosen servants and encourages prodigality and extravagance in the home life of our countrymen.

Under our scheme of government the waste of public money is a crime against the citizen, and the contempt of our people for economy and frugality in their personal affairs deplorably saps the strength and sturdiness of our national character.

It is a plain dictate of honesty and good government that public expenditures should be limited by public necessity, and that this should be measured by the rules of strict economy; and it is equally clear that frugality among the people is the best guaranty of a contented and strong support of free institutions.

One mode of the misappropriation of public funds is avoided when appointments to office, instead of being the rewards of partisan activity, are awarded to those whose efficiency promises a fair return of work for the compensation paid to them. To secure the fitness and competency of appointees to office and remove from political action the demoralizing madness for spoils, civil-service reform has found a place in our public policy and laws. The benefits already gained through this instrumentality and the further usefulness it promises entitle it to the hearty support and encouragement of all who desire to see our public service well performed or who hope for the elevation of political sentiment and the purification of political methods.

The existence of immense aggregations of kindred enterprises and combinations of business interests formed for the purpose of limiting production and fixing prices is inconsistent with the fair field which ought to be open to every independent activity.2 Legitimate strife in business should not be superseded by an enforced concession to the demands of combinations that have the power to destroy, nor should the people to be served lose the benefit of cheapness which usually results from wholesome competition. These aggregations and combinations frequently constitute conspiracies against the interests of the people, and in all their phases they are unnatural and opposed to our American sense of fairness. To the extent that they can be reached and restrained by Federal power the General Government should relieve our citizens from their interference and exactions.

Loyalty to the principles upon which our Government rests positively demands that the equality before the law which it guarantees to every citizen should be justly and in good faith conceded in all parts of the land. The enjoyment of this right follows the badge of citizenship wherever found, and, unimpaired by race or color, it appeals for recognition to American manliness and fairness.

Our relations with the Indians located within our border impose upon us responsibilities we can not escape. Humanity and consistency require us to treat them with forbearance and in our dealings with them to honestly and considerately regard their rights and interests.3 Every effort should be made to lead them, through the paths of civilization and education, to self-supporting and independent citizenship. In the meantime, as the nation's wards, they should be promptly defended against the cupidity of designing men and shielded from every influence or temptation that retards their advancement.

The people of the United States have decreed that on this day the control of their Government in its legislative and executive branches shall be given to a political party pledged in the most positive terms to the accomplishment of tariff reform. They have thus determined in favor of a more just and equitable system of Federal taxation. The agents they have chosen to carry out their purposes are bound by their promises not less than by the command of their masters to devote themselves unremittingly to this service.

While there should be no surrender of principle, our task must be undertaken wisely and without heedless vindictiveness. Our mission is not punishment, but the rectification of wrong. If in lifting burdens from the daily life of our people we reduce inordinate and unequal advantages too long enjoyed, this is but a necessary incident of our return to right and justice. If we exact from unwilling minds acquiescence in the theory of an honest distribution of the fund of the governmental beneficence treasured up for all, we but insist upon a principle which underlies our free institutions. When we tear aside the delusions and misconceptions which have blinded our countrymen to their condition under vicious tariff laws, we but show them how far they have been led away from the paths of contentment and prosperity. When we proclaim that the necessity for revenue to support the Government furnishes the only justification for taxing the people, we announce a truth so plain that its denial would seem to indicate the extent to which judgment may be influenced by familiarity with perversions of the taxing power. And when we seek to reinstate the self-confidence and business enterprise of our citizens by discrediting an abject dependence upon governmental favor, we strive to stimulate those elements of American character which support the hope of American achievement.

Anxiety for the redemption of the pledges which my party has made and solicitude for the complete justification of the trust the people have reposed in us constrain me to remind those with whom I am to cooperate that we can succeed in doing the work which has been especially set before us only by the most sincere, harmonious, and disinterested effort. Even if insuperable obstacles and opposition prevent the consummation of our task, we shall hardly be excused; and if failure can be traced to our fault or neglect we may be sure the people will hold us to a swift and exacting accountability.

The oath I now take to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States not only impressively defines the great responsibility I assume, but suggests obedience to constitutional commands as the rule by which my official conduct must be guided. I shall to the best of my ability and within my sphere of duty preserve the Constitution by loyally protecting every grant of Federal power it contains, by defending all its restraints when attacked by impatience and restlessness, and by enforcing its limitations and reservations in favor of the States and the people.

Fully impressed with the gravity of the duties that confront me and mindful of my weakness, I should be appalled if it were my lot to bear unaided the responsibilities which await me. I am, however, saved from discouragement when I remember that I shall have the support and the counsel and cooperation of wise and patriotic men who will stand at my side in Cabinet places or will represent the people in their legislative halls.

I find also much comfort in remembering that my countrymen are just and generous and in the assurance that they will not condemn those who by sincere devotion to their service deserve their forbearance and approval.

Above all, I know there is a Supreme Being who rules the affairs of men and whose goodness and mercy have always followed the American people, and I know He will not turn from us now if we humbly and reverently seek His powerful aid.

Quotes to Note

  1. "nothing is more vital to our supremacy..." During the late 1890s, the controversy over whether to back paper money with gold or silver caused an economic crisis that nearly caused the treasury to run out of gold. People exchanging cheaper silver certificates for valuable gold coins helped to sink the U.S. economy into depression.
  2. "The existence of immense aggregations..." Cleveland is referring to enormous trusts that existed at the time. Standard Oil, for example, controlled 90 percent of that market. Knight Sugar controlled 98 percent of its market. These huge monopolies stifled competition and became the focus of legislative control during the 1890s.
  3. "Humanity and consistency require us..." As in his first inaugural speech, Cleveland refers to the nation's responsibilities toward Native Americans.

Stephen Grover Cleveland

views updated May 21 2018

Stephen Grover Cleveland

Twice elected president of the United States, Stephen Grover Cleveland (1837-1908) owed his early political successes to reformism. His efforts to stem economic depression were unsuccessful, and the conservative means he used to settle internal industrial conflicts were unpopular.

Grover Cleveland's political career developed while the wounds of the Civil War and Reconstruction were healing and just as the serious social and economic problems attendant upon industrialization and urbanization were unclearly emerging. Although a lifelong Democrat, Cleveland was not skilled in party politics; he had emerged from a reform wing of his party and had only a few years of public experience before becoming president. Interested in public issues, he used the presidency to try to shape legislation and public opinion in domestic areas. Yet, by his second term of office, the old, familiar debates over tariffs and currency had been called into question and traditional political alignments began to tear apart. Cleveland, however, was not sensitive to the problems of party harmony; instead, he stood on principle at the price of party unity and personal repudiation. In the depression of the 1890s, his concern for the flow of gold from the Treasury led him to force Congress to repeal the Sherman Silver Purchase Act, and this action caused division of the Democratic party. The depression worsened, and by his intervention in the Pullman strike of 1894 he alienated the laboring class, thus losing all effectiveness as president. In 1896 Cleveland was rejected by his party.

Cleveland was born in New Jersey but spent most of his life in New York. Despite the early death of his father, a Presbyterian minister, and his consequent family responsibilities, he studied law in a respected Buffalo firm and gained admission to the New York bar in 1859. He joined the Democratic party, acting as ward delegate and ward supervisor before being appointed assistant district attorney for Erie County in 1863. Diligent and devoted, Cleveland set a good, though not brilliant, record. Enactment of the Conscription Act of 1863 caught him in the dilemma of whether to serve in the Army or find a substitute. To continue supporting his mother and sisters, he took the latter option, remaining in Buffalo to practice law. This was a costly decision, for a military record was expected of almost any aspirant to public trust. Though without public office from 1865 to 1870, he steadily enlarged his law practice and gained stature in the community.

Cleveland became sheriff in 1870, a post which promised large fees as well as frustrating experiences with graft and corruption. Although he was respected for his handling of official responsibilities, he made many enemies and won few admirers, for most citizens looked with disfavor on the office of sheriff. After 3 years he returned to legal practice, concentrating now on corporate law. His legal aspirations (and fees) were modest. His qualities as a lawyer were a good index to the whole of his public service: he was thorough, careful, slow, diligent, serious, severe, and un-yielding. His sober approach to his career contrasted sharply with the boisterous humor of his private life, for he was a popular, if corpulent, bachelor.

Quickly Up the Political Ladder

In 1881 Buffalo Democrats, certain that a reform candidate could sweep the mayoralty election, turned to Cleveland. In his one-year term as mayor he stood for honesty and efficiency—exactly the qualities the New York Democrats sought in a candidate for governor in 1882. New York State was alive with calls for reform in politics; a trustworthy candidate was much in demand. Elected governor by a handsome margin, Cleveland favored reform legislation and countered the interests of the New York-based political machine called Tammany Hall and its "boss," John Kelly, to such an extent that it caused a rift between them. After one term as governor, Cleveland was seen as a leading contender for the presidential nomination of 1884. His advantages lay in his having become identified with honesty and uprightness; also, he came from a state with many votes to cast, wealthy contributors, and a strong political organization. Pitted against Republican nominee James G. Blaine, Cleveland even won the support of reform-minded Republican dissidents known as Mugwumps. Several forces favored him: Tammany's eventual decision to support him in New York State, blame for the depression of the 1880s falling on the Republicans, and temperance workers' ire with the Republican party.

Thus, in 4 years, riding a crest of reform movements on municipal, state, and national levels, Cleveland moved from a modest law practice in upstate New York to president-elect. The rapidity of this political success had several implications for the balance of his career—he had not had to make compromises in order to survive, he had not become identified with new programs or different systems, he owed fewer debts to special-interest groups than most new presidents, and he had come to the presidency on the strength of his belief in simple solutions of honesty and reform.

First Term as President

Cleveland's victory margin in 1884 was slim. His Cabinet appointees were men of substance, though not of prominence: Thomas Bayard as secretary of state, Daniel Manning as secretary of the Treasury, and William Endicott as head of the War Department. All shared the conviction that government should be neither paternalistic nor favorable to any special group and that contesting economic groups should settle their differences without government intervention. With little administrative experience and few reasons to think highly of party organization, Cleveland in his first term advocated improved civil service procedures, reform of executive departments, curtailment of largesse in pensions to Civil War veterans, tariff reform, and ending coinage based on silver. He failed to stop silver coinage but achieved at least modest success in the other areas. In one regard Cleveland was an innovative president: he used his office to focus attention on substantive issues, to pressure for legislation, and to define and determine the lines of congressional debate. Previously (and again after Cleveland), U.S. presidents left issues of legislation to Congress, spending most of their efforts on party leadership. Thus, in 1887 Cleveland took a strong position on tariff reform and later supported passage of the Mills Bill of 1888. Although the Mills Bill provided for only moderate tariff reductions, it was viewed as a step in the right direction, a way of reducing the embarrassingly large annual government surpluses.

Private Citizen

The Republicans mobilized to meet tariff reduction head on, stopping the Mills Bill and substituting a protective tariff measure, going into the election of 1888 with the tariff as the key issue. Renominated for the presidency in 1888 without challenge, Democrat Cleveland was opposed by Republican Benjamin Harrison of Indiana, who had the support of businessmen and industrialists favoring protective tariffs. Superior Republican organization, Democratic party feuding, and election fraud lost the 1888 election for Cleveland, although he won a plurality of the popular vote. He moved back to New York to practice law and enjoy his family.

Out of office, Cleveland withdrew from politics for a year but then began again to behave like an interested candidate. Stirred into attacking the McKinley tariff of 1890 and taking a strong position against currency expansion through silver-based coinage, he gained the Democratic presidential nomination in 1892.

Cleveland's campaign against incumbent President Harrison was a quiet one, with the Democrats aided by the 1892 Homestead strike, in which prominent Republicans were involved in the effort to break labor power and to maintain special benefits for the powerful steel magnates. The Democrats scored smashing victories in 1892, not only electing Cleveland but winning control of both House and Senate.

Second Term As President

To his second Cabinet, Cleveland named Walter Gresham as secretary of state, John G. Carlisle as secretary of the Treasury, Daniel S. Lamont as head of the War Department, and Richard Olney as attorney general. Like Cleveland's earlier Cabinet, these men agreed on extreme conservatism in handling economic issues. It was to Carlisle, Lamont, and Olney that Cleveland listened most closely, although in the final analysis he made his own decisions.

Policies in Time of Depression

Cleveland had scarcely taken his oath of office when the worst financial panic in years broke across the country. A complex phenomenon, the Panic of 1892-1893 had its roots in over expansion of United States industry, particularly railroad interests; in the long-term agricultural depression that reached back to the 1880s; and in the withdrawal of European capital from America as a result of hard times overseas. As the panic broadened into depression, the American public tended to focus debate about its cause and cure on one item: the money question. On one side the argument was that businessmen (alarmed by the Sherman Silver Purchase Act requiring a purchase of silver each month) had lost confidence in the monetary system and feared depletion of the gold reserves; to regain their confidence and a return to prosperity, the buying of silver by the Federal government had to be halted. On the opposite side of the argument, silver exponents maintained that what was needed was more money in circulation, which could be achieved only if more, not less, silver was purchased by the government and used as a basis for coinage.

Cleveland, long afraid of silver as a threat to economic stability, determined that repeal of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act would stem the drain of gold reserves and end the depression by restoring confidence to businessmen; he called a special session of Congress for its repeal. Protracted and bitter debate ensued. The Democratic party divided along sectional lines, with western and southern Democrats standing against repeal. The repeal, however, was voted, but it was ineffective, and gold reserves continued to dwindle. Meanwhile the depression became worse during 1893 and 1894.

Wounds that had opened during the silver-repeal debate were not healed when Cleveland's administration turned to the long-promised issue of tariff reform. Cleveland had been identified for many years with downward revision of tariffs and more equitable distributions. Pressured by sectional interests, the Democrats in Congress were more divided than united over tariff legislation. In addition, the silver battle had virtually torn the party in half, leaving many Democrats with nothing but hatred for the President. The Wilson bill, from the viewpoint of the President, a fairly satisfactory measure for tariff reduction, was amended almost beyond recognition as it passed through the Senate, emerging with tariff rates only slightly lower than previous ones and carrying a host of provisions for special-interest groups. Highly dissatisfied but unsuccessful in his attempts to improve it, Cleveland allowed the Wilson-Gorman Act to become law without his signature.

To avert what he viewed as financial disaster, Cleveland became involved with four bond issues to draw gold into the Treasury. Not only was this effort to maintain gold reserves unsuccessful, but Cleveland was charged with having catered to Wall Street millionaires when other governmental policies had failed.

Beset by currency and tariff failures and hated by a large segment of the general population and by many in his own party, Cleveland further suffered loss of prestige by his actions in the Pullman strike of 1894. Convinced that the strike of the American Railway Union under Eugene V: Debs against the Pullman Company constituted an intolerable threat to law and order and that local authorities were unwilling to take action, Cleveland and Olney sent Federal troops to Chicago and sought to have Debs and his associates imprisoned. Although Cleveland prevailed and order was enforced, laborers throughout the country were angered by this use of Federal force.

Foreign Policies

The congressional elections of 1894 marked a sharp decline in Democratic power. Bitter at Cleveland and disheartened by worsening depression, American voters turned against the Democrats. Although Cleveland felt betrayed by his party and misunderstood by his constituents, he remained confident that his money policy had been correctly conceived and reasonably executed. Perhaps his party had split, but for him the defense of principle was more important than political harmony. Confronted with possibilities for compromise, Cleveland spurned such options and withdrew into isolation.

More successful in foreign policy, Cleveland exhibited the same determination and toughness. He would not be drawn into the Cuban rebellion against Spain; he would not sanction the Hawaiian revolution engineered by American commercial interests. Yet he took an equally stern posture vis-á-vis the boundary dispute between Venezuela and Great Britain in 1895-1896. Concerned about European influence in the Western Hemisphere, Cleveland and Olney carried the United States to the brink of war by insisting that the dispute be arbitrated. Business interests, clamoring for guarantees of open markets for their products, had considerable influence in shaping Cleveland's policy, which succeeded when Great Britain accepted arbitration.

Again a Private Citizen

Distrusted now and detested, Cleveland was convincingly repudiated by the Democratic Convention of 1896, which nominated William Jennings Bryan on a platform demanding free and unlimited coinage of both silver and gold at the rate of 16 to 1. Cleveland took no role in the campaign. He retired to Princeton, N.J., as soon as his term ended. He occupied himself with writing, occasional legal consultation, the affairs of Princeton University, and very occasional public speaking, but after 1900 he became less reluctant to appear in public. Sympathetic crowds greeted his appearances as the conservative Democratic forces with which he had been identified took party leadership from William Jennings Bryan. Briefly stirred into activity in 1904 to support Alton B. Parker's candidacy for the presidency, Cleveland spent most of his retirement years outside political battles, increasingly honored as a statesman. After offering to assist President Theodore Roosevelt in an investigation of the anthracite coal strike of 1902, he was active in the reorganization of the affairs of the Equitable Life Assurance Society in 1905. His death in 1908 was the occasion for general national mourning.

Further Reading

There is an abundant literature on Cleveland. Allan Nevins, Grover Cleveland: A Study in Courage (1944), is the best overall treatment. A less sympathetic portrayal of Cleveland is Horace S. Merrill, Bourbon Leader: Grover Cleveland and the Democratic Party (1957). Robert Wiebe, The Search for Order, 1877-1930 (1967), credits Cleveland's efforts to shape legislation, whereas J. Rogers Hollingsworth, The Whirligig of Politics: The Democracy of Cleveland and Bryan (1963), criticizes him as a party leader. Cleveland's diplomacy is discussed in Walter LaFeber, The New Empire: An Interpretation of American Expansion, 1860-1898 (1963). A detailed account of the 1892 campaign is George H. Knoles, The Presidential Campaign and Election of 1892 (1942), and of the 1896 campaign, Stanley L. Jones, The Presidential Election of 1896 (1964). Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., ed., History of Presidential Elections (4 vols., 1971), is valuable as a source on the four campaigns of 1884-1896. □

Cleveland, Grover

views updated May 21 2018

Grover Cleveland

Grover Cleveland was the only president to serve two nonconsecutive terms. He won election in 1884, lost in 1888, then won again in 1892.

Grover Cleveland was born on March 18, 1837, one of nine children born to a Presbyterian minister and his wife. He spent most of his childhood in rural upstate New York , where he worked hard and learned the value of a dollar.

Cleveland's father died when the boy was just sixteen; this resulted in Cleveland deciding against attending college, in favor of working to help support his family. He instead moved to Buffalo, New York, where he apprenticed at a law firm, then became a lawyer. The future president avoided fighting in the American Civil War (1861–65) by hiring someone else to take his place, a legal practice during that era.

In 1870, Cleveland was elected to a three-year term as sheriff of Erie County, New York. It was a job well suited to the lawyer, who firmly believed in public law and order. He earned a reputation for telling the truth, regardless of who it affected or involved. It was a characteristic that served him well politically. By the end of the 1870s, the city's upper class admired Cleveland; he was ready to delve further into politics.

From mayor to president

Cleveland was elected mayor of Buffalo in 1881. He endeared himself to the state's Democrats as he became known as the “veto mayor.” By vetoing, or voting against, many of the bills that crossed his desk, Cleveland curbed public spending and helped the city run more honestly and efficiently. The Democratic Party nominated the mayor as its choice for governor, and Cleveland won the election in 1882 by a large margin. He continued to use the power of the veto, and by 1884 he was the Democratic favorite to run as president.

Cleveland ran against former U.S. senator James G. Blaine (1830–1893) of Maine , a Republican leader with years of political experience. During the campaign, Blaine's supporters brought Cleveland's honesty into question by accusing him of fathering a child out of wedlock. Rather than deny the accusation, Cleveland admitted to being the boy's father and instructed his campaigners to tell the truth.

The scandal did not keep Cleveland from the White House, and he became the first Democrat to lead the country in twenty-eight years. He spent his first years trying to clean up the federal government and rid it of inefficiency and dishonesty. One of the major ways he accomplished this was to veto private pension bills for Civil War veterans who he believed were lying about or exaggerating their injuries. Past presidents had passed these bills without hesitation, and Cleveland's refusal to do the same angered some Americans. Likewise, he refused to give government assistance to farmers in the West, who had lost crops and thousands of dollars to drought.

Cleveland married twenty-one-year-old Frances Folsom (1864–1947) in 1886. He was the first president to marry while in the White House, and his young wife brought him great happiness. The couple eventually had five children.

Loses, then wins, election

Toward the end of his first term in office, Cleveland began focusing on reducing federal tariffs (taxes) on imported goods. Republicans traditionally were in favor of high tariffs because the money collected allowed the federal treasury to grow. Cleveland believed taxes did little more than increase the profits of big businesses and raise prices for consumers. High tariffs had been a reality for so long, however, that Cleveland was unable to motivate the Democratic Party to support his efforts.

The tariff issue hurt Cleveland, who did not enjoy making speeches and so made little effort to defend himself against the Republican Party . He lost the 1888 election to his Republican opponent, former U.S. senator Benjamin Harrison (1833–1901; served 1889–93) of Indiana . It would not happen a second time, however, and Cleveland returned to the White House for another four years after he defeated Harrison in the 1892 election.

A difficult term

Cleveland's second term was besieged by problems beyond his control. In 1893, he underwent an operation to remove a tumor in his jaw. The operation, performed without the public's knowledge, was successful, but it drained the president of his energy. At the same time, the country experienced its worst-ever economic depression. Hundreds of businesses closed, and foreign investors withdrew their money out of fear.

In response, Cleveland repealed the Sherman Silver Purchase Act that had been passed in 1890. The act had required the government to purchase twice as much silver as it had before and put into circulation much more money than had previously been available. The abundance of silver in circulation threatened to deplete the treasury's gold reserve. Although the repeal did help replenish the gold supply, Cleveland's fellow Democrats were offended by the way he bullied them into signing the repeal. He lost a great deal of his power and influence by this event.

Pullman strike

By 1894, the United States was in the worst economic conditions it had ever known. Wages were cut, factories closed, and hundreds of thousands of citizens were out of work. The American working class was angry, frustrated, and frightened. Cleveland sensed this and worried that this attitude would threaten public order.

His fears were realized when workers at the Pullman sleeping car company in Chicago, Illinois , went on strike in protest of wage cuts. The American Railway Union joined the Pullman workers to give them more power. In doing so, rail traffic throughout Chicago came to a complete halt. Mail could not be delivered; goods could not be transported in or out of the city, which affected business throughout the country.

Cleveland ordered military troops into Chicago to maintain order, but mob violence ensued for several days after their arrival. The Pullman strike was broken, however; it was the first time federal authorities had ever responded to a workers' strike.

The end of the Cleveland administration

Cleveland's administration and the president's lack of response to the horrible conditions Americans were living in were held responsible for the dire economic environment. Cleveland was not chosen by his party as the presidential nominee in 1896, an honor that instead went to lawyer and former U.S. representative William Jennings Bryan (1860–1925) of Nebraska . The Democratic nominee lost to the Republican candidate, Ohio governor William McKinley (1843–1901; served 1897–1901) in November.

Cleveland was relieved to leave behind his job as president of the United States. He spent his last years on his New Jersey estate. He died of a heart attack in 1908 with his wife by his side.

Cleveland, Grover (1837-1908)

views updated May 21 2018

Grover Cleveland (1837-1908)

President of the united states, 1885-1889, 1893-1897


Reformer and Fiscal Conservative. The only president to serve two nonconsecutive terms, Grover Cleveland was also the only Democrat to serve in the White House between 1861 and 1913. Willing to take unpopular stands on the issues of his day, he endorsed civil-service reform, while opposing U.S. imperialism, currency inflation, and militant labor unionism. His refusal to distribute positions to loyal party members hurt him politically, as did his opposition to the free-silver movement and the railway unions.

Background. Born on 18 March 1837 in Caldwell, New Jersey, Stephen Grover Cleveland was the son of a Presbyterian clergyman, and spent much of his childhood in Fayetteville, New York, outside Syracuse. The family had intended that Grover Cleveland would attend Hamilton College, in Clinton, New York, like his older brother, but the death of their father in 1853, when Grover was sixteen, forced him to take a job as an assistant teacher at a school for the blind in New York City so he could help to support his mother and younger siblings. By the end of 1854 he was back in upstate New York, where an uncle in Buffalo hired him to assist in compiling a herd book of shorthorn cattle. In December 1855 Cleveland began clerking and reading law with a Buffalo attorney.

Entering Politics. By the time he was admitted to the bar in 1859 he had become involved in local Democratic politics and was appointed assistant district attorney by the newly elected Democratic district attorney of Erie County in November 1862. During the Civil Warwith one brother a newly married, poorly paid clergyman and the other two in the armyCleveland was solely responsible for supporting his mother and sisters, and rather than enter the military he borrowed money to pay a substitute to take his place. After losing an election for district attorney of Erie County in 1865, he became a popular and successful attorney in private practice and served three years as sheriff of Erie County (1871-1873). Known for his honesty and impartiality, he was elected mayor of Buffalo in 1881 on a platform that promised to clean up a corrupt city government controlled by a Republican machine. During the political scandals that swept the New York State Republican Party in the 1880s, Democrats realized they could win over many dissatisfied Republicans if they put forward young, reformminded Democrats for office. Thus the forty-five-year-old Cleveland was elected governor of New York State in 1882.

Running for President. In 1884 the Democratic Party selected Cleveland as its candidate for the presidency. After the publication of letters implicating Republican candidate James G. Blaine in corruption, Republicans tried to find some scandal associated with Cleveland, who had never used political office for personal gain or to grant favors. They found, however, that the unmarried Cleveland had fathered an illegitimate child, whom he supported financially. When asked by his campaign managers what to say about the revelation, Cleveland said to tell the truth. After a bitter campaign, Cleveland was elected to the presidency. He was inaugurated on 4 March 1885, just two weeks before his forty-eighth birthday.

First Term. Cleveland married Frances Folsom, who was more than twenty-five years his junior, at the White House in 1886, and his personal life continued to be a subject of great interest to the press and his political op-ponents, who tried to implicate him in a variety of personal scandals. Besieged by Democratic job-seekers expecting patronage appointments from the first member of their party to serve as president since before the Civil War, Cleveland nonetheless continued the civil-service reform started under Presidents Rutherford B. Hayes, James A. Garfield, and Chester A. Arthur. He also fought for lower tariffs and was conservative in his views on federal spending.

Losing in 1888. Clevelands civil-service reforms and his veto of a bill that would vastly expand the number of Civil War veterans eligible for federal pension hurt him in the election of 1888, which he lost to Republican Benjamin Harrison. He garnered more popular votes than Harrison but lost in the electoral college. Cleveland returned to New York and the practice of law. Opposition to Benjamin Harrison mounted after the passage of the McKinley Tariff of 1890, which raised import duties, and in 1892 the Democrats once again chose Cleveland as their presidential candidate. He beat Harrison in the election, using against his opponent not only the tariff issue but also the drain of the new pensions on the federal budget.

Second Term. Like the Populists of the 1890s, many Democrats supported the idea of inflating the currency through coinage of silver. Cleveland, however, opposed this movement and alienated the Silver Democrats by calling Congress into special session in 1893 to abolish the issuance of silver-backed notes redeemable in silver. The repeal helped to end the drain on the gold reserve that caused the Panic of 1893, but it alienated an influential faction in Clevelands own party. Many Democrats were also angry in 1894, when Cleveland sent federal troops to Chicago to break up the Pullman railroad strike, on the grounds that the strikers had interfered with the delivery of the mails. In 1895, when he made an arrangement with J. P. Morgan and other financiers to help shore up the gold reserve, Cleveland appeared to be working hand-in-hand with big business and lost still more support within the Democratic Party. At a time when public sentiment seemed to lean toward overseas involvement, Cleveland remained a staunch anti-imperialist. He opposed and put a stop to U.S. involvement in both Cuba and Hawaii, and he negotiated a settlement with Great Britain regarding British claims against Venezuela. Cleveland died on 24 June 1908.


Richard E. Welch Jr., The Presidency of Grover Cleveland (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1988).

Cleveland, Stephen Grover

views updated May 14 2018


Grover Cleveland was born stephen grover cleveland on March 18, 1837, in Caldwell, New Jersey. He pursued legal studies in Buffalo, was admitted to the bar in 1859, and established his law practice in Buffalo. He was subsequently granted a doctor of laws degree from Princeton University in 1897.

From 1863 to 1866 Cleveland performed the duties of assistant district attorney of Erie County, New York, and, four years later, served as sheriff for three years. He entered politics in 1881 with his election as mayor of Buffalo and gained public attention with his forceful policy against corruption in the Buffalo government. In 1882 he became governor of New York and, for the next two years, achieved prominence for his reform policies.

"Though the people support the government, the government should not support the people."
Grover Cleveland

Cleveland was elected to the presidency of the United States in 1884. He advocated civil service reforms and less stringent tariffs on foreign commerce and opposed excessive pensions awarded to Civil War veterans. He ran for reelection in 1888 against benjamin harrison but lost. Four years later he successfully waged another campaign for the presidency, defeating the incumbent President Harrison.

The second presidential administration of Cleveland was fraught with difficulties. The financial panic of 1893 caused a controversy between factions favoring the free coinage of silver and those advocating the gold standard; Cleveland belonged to the latter group and pushed to repeal the Sherman Silver Purchase Act of 1890, which had provided for an increase in the purchase of silver. The following year workers of the Pullman Parlor Car Company staged a strike, causing a stoppage of the delivery of the U.S. mail. Cleveland viewed this as sufficient reason to dispatch federal troops to intercede.

Cleveland's decisions in the silver crisis and the pullman strike earned him great disfavor. He was strong in foreign policy, however, and staunchly opposed force by Britain in that country's boundary dispute with Venezuela.

At the end of his second term in 1896 Cleveland settled in Princeton, New Jersey, where he spent the remainder of his years in retirement. In 1904 he wrote Presidential Problems, which attempted to explain his views on many of the controversial issues of his administration.

Cleveland died June 24, 1908, in Princeton.

further readings

Bordsky, Alyn. 2000. Grover Cleveland: A Study in Character. New York : St. Martin's Press.

Graff, Henry F. 2002. Grover Cleveland. New York: Times Books.

Jeffers, Paul S. 2000. An Honest President: the Life and Presidencies of Grover Cleveland. New York: W. Morrow.

Cleveland, (Stephen) Grover

views updated May 18 2018

Cleveland, (Stephen) Grover (1837–1908) 22nd and 24th US president (1885–89, 1893–97). Cleveland rose to prominence as a reforming Democratic mayor of Buffalo (1881–82) and governor of New York (1883–84). With the help of Republican mugwumps, he defeated James G. Blaine to become the first Democratic president since the Civil War. His reforms of the civil service had mixed success, and his attempt to reduce the tariff contributed to Benjamin Harrison's electoral victory in 1888. In his second term, Cleveland faced a monetary crisis (1893), and was forced to send troops to crush the Pullman Strike (1894) called by Eugene V. Debs. His attempt to maintain the gold standard angered radical Democrats and tariff reform proposals were shelved.