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|Top > Society > History > By Region > North America > United States > Presidents > Grover Cleveland|
Grover Cleveland was the 22nd (1885-1889) and 24th (1893-1897) President of the United States, and the only president to serve two non-consecutive terms.
Grover Cleveland was born, the fifth in a family of nine children, in the village of Caldwell, Essex county, New Jersey, on the 18th of March 1837. His father, Richard F. Cleveland, a clergyman of the Presbyterian Church, was of good colonial stock, a descendant of Moses Cleveland, who emigrated from Ipswich, England, to Massachusetts in 1635. The family removed to Fayetteville, N.Y., and afterwards to Clinton, N.Y. It was intended that young Grover should be educated at Hamilton College, but this was prevented by his father's death in 1852. A few years later he drifted westward with twenty-five dollars in his pocket, and the autumn of 1855 found him in a law office in the city of Buffalo. At the end of four years, he was admitted to the bar.
In 1863 he was appointed assistant district attorney of Erie county, of which Buffalo is the chief city. This was his first public office, and it came to him without any solicitation of his own. Two years later (1865) he was the Democratic candidate for district attorney, but was defeated. In 1869 Cleveland was nominated by the Democratic party for the office of sheriff, and, despite the fact that Erie county was normally Republican by a decisive majority, was elected. The years immediately succeeding his retirement from the office of sheriff in 1873 he devoted exdusively to the practice of law, coming to be generally recognized as one of the leaders of the western New York bar.
In the autumn of 1881 he was nominated by the Democrats for mayor of Buffalo. The city government had been characterized by extravagance and maladministration, and a revolt of the independent voters at the polls overcame the usual Republican majority and Cleveland was elected. As mayor he attracted wide attention by his independence and business-like methods, and under his direction the various departments of the city government were thoroughly reorganized. His ability received further recognition when in 1882 he was nominated by his party as its candidate for governor.
The Republican party in the state was at that time weakened by the quarrels between the "Stalwart" and "Halfbreed" factions within its ranks; and the Democrats were thus given an initial advantage which was greatly increased by the Republicans' nomination for governor of Charles J. Folger (1818-1884), then secretary of the treasury. Secretary Folger was a man of high character and ability, who had been chief justice of the New York supreme court when placed in control of the treasury department by President Arthur in 1881. But the cry of Federal interference was raised as a result of the methods employed in securing his nomination, and this, together with the party division and the popularity of Cleveland, brought about Cleveland's election by the unprecedented plurality of 192,854.
As governor Cleveland's course was marked by the sterling qualities that he had displayed in his other public positions. His appointees were chosen for their business qualifications. The demands of party leaders were made subordinate to public interests. He promoted the passage of a good civil service law. All bills passed by the legislature were subjected to the governor's laborious personal scrutiny, and the veto power was used without fear or favour.
In 1884 the Democratic party had been out of power in national affairs for twenty-three years. In this year, however, the generally disorganized state of the Republican party seemed to give the Democrats an unusual opportunity. Upon a platform which called for radical reforms in the administrative departments, the civil service, and the national finances, Cleveland was nominated for president, despite the opposition of the strong Tammany delegation from his own state. The nominee of the Republican party, James G. Blame of Maine, had received the nomination only after a contest in which violent personal animosities were aroused. The campaign that followed was one of the bitterest political contests in American history. The Republican party was still further weakened by the defection of a large body of independen.ts, known as "Mugwumps." The result was close, but Cleveland carried New York, and was elected, obtaining a majority in the electoral college of 219 to 182.
Cleveland's first term was uneventful, but was marked by firmness, justice and steady adherence on his part to the principles which he deemed salutary to the nation. He was especially concerned in promoting a non-partisan civil service. Congress in 1883 had passed the "Pendleton Bill" (introduced by Senator George H. Pendleton) to classify the subordinate places in the service, and to make entrance to it, and promotion therein, depend upon competitive examination of applicants, instead of mere political influence. The first test of the efficiency and permanence of this law came with the shifting of political power at Washington. The new president stood firmly by the new law. It applied only to places of the rank of clerkships, but the president was authorized to add others to the classified service from time to time. He added 11,757 during his first term.
President Cleveland made large use of the veto power upon bills passed by Congress, vetoing or "pocketing" during his first term 413 bills, more than two-thirds of which were private pension bills. The most important bill vetoed was the Dependent Pension Bill, a measure of extreme profligacy, opening the door, by the vagueness of its terms, to enormous frauds upon the treasury.
In 1887 there was a large and growing surplus in the treasury. As this money was drawn from the channels of business and locked up in the public vaults, the president looked upon the condition as fraught with dangei to the commercial community and he addressed himself to the task of reducing taxation. About two-thirds of the public revenue was derived from duties on imports, in the adjustment of which the doctrine of protection to native industry had a large place. Cleveland attacked the system with great vigour in his annual message of 1887. He did not propose the adoption of free trade, but the administration tariff measure, known as the Mills Bill, from its introducer Congressman Roger Q. Mills (b. 1832) of Texas, passed the House, and although withdrawn owing to amendments in the Republican Senate, it alarmed and exasperated the protected classes, among whom were many Democrats, and spurred them to extraordinary efforts to prevent his re-election.
In the following year (i888), however, the Democrats renominated Cleveland, and the Republicans nominated Benjamin Harrison of Indiana. The campaign turned on the tariff issue, and Harrison was elected, receiving 233 electoral votes to 168 for Cleveland, who however received a popular plurality of more than 100,000. Cleveland retired to private life and resumed the practice of the law in New York. He had married on the 2nd of June 1886 Miss Frances Folsom, a daughter of a former law partner in Buffalo.
Congress had passed a law in 1878 requiring the treasury department to purchase a certain amount of silver bullion each month and coin it into silver dollars to be full legal tender. As no time had been fixed for this operation to cease, it amounted to an unlimited increase of a kind of currency that circulated at a nominal value much above its real value. Both political parties were committed to this policy, and strong passions were aroused whenever it was called in question. Cleveland had written a letter for publication before he became president, saying that a financial crisis of great severity must result if this coinage were continued, and expressing the hope that Congress would speedily put an end to it. In 1890 Congress, now controlled by the Republican party, passed the McKinley Bill, by which the revenues of the government were reduced by more than $60,000,000 annually, chiefly through a repeal of the sugar duties. At the same time expenditures were largely increased by liberal pension legislation, and the government's purchase of silver bullion almost doubled by the provisions of the new Sherman Silver Purchase Act of 1890.
In 1892 Cleveland was nominated for president a third time in succession. President Harrison was nominated by the Republicans. Cleveland received 277 electoral votes and Harrison 145, and 22 were cast for James B. Weaver (b. 1833) of Iowa, the candidate of the "People's" party. Cleveland's second term embraced some notable events. The most important was the repeal of the silver legislation. Nearly $600,000,000 of "fiat money" had been thrust into the channels of commerce in addition to $346,000,000 of legal tender notes that had been issued during the Civil War. A reserve of $ioo,ooo,ooo of gold had been accumulated for the redemption of these notes. In April 1893 the reserve fell below this sum. President Cleveland called an extra session of Congress to repeal the Silver Law. The House promptly passed the repealing act. In the Senate there was a protracted struggle.
The Democrats now had a majority of that body and they were more decidedly pro-silver than the Republicans. The president had undertaken to coerce his own party to do something against its will, and it was only by the aid of the Republican minority that the passage of the repealing bill was at last made possible (October 30th). The deficit in the treasury made it inevitable that the gold reserve should he used to meet current expenses. Holders of the government's legal tender notes anticipating this fact presented them for redemption. Borrowing was resorted to by the government. Bonds were issued and sold u the amount of $162,000,000. The business world was in a state of constant agitation. Bank failures were numerous and commercial distress widespread.
Among the consequences of the panic was a reduction of wages in many employments, accompanied by labour troubles more or less serious. The centre of disturbance was the Pullman strike at Chicago, whence the disorder extended to the Pacific coast, causing riot and bloodshed in many places. President Cleveland waited a reasonable time, as he conceived, f0r Governor Altgeld of Illinois to put an end to the disorder in that state. On the 6th of July 1894, despite Governor Altgeld's protest, he directed the military forces of the United States to clear the way for trains carrying the mails. The rioters in and around Chicago were dispersed in a single day, and within a week the strike was broken.
Another important event was the action of the government as regards the question of arbitration between Great Britain and Venezuela, in which Richard Olney, the secretary of state, played a somewhat aggressive part. On the 17th of December 1895 President Cleveland sent to Congress a special message calling attention to Great Britain's action in regard to the disputed boundary line between British Guiana and Venezuela, and declaring the necessity of action by the United States to prevent an infringement of the Monroe Doctrine. .
Congress at once appropriated funds for an American commission to investigate the matter. The diplomatic situation became for the moment very acute, but after a short period of bellicose talk the common-sense of both countries prevailed. Negotiations with Great Britain ensued, and before the American special commission finished its work, Great Britain had agreed, November 1896, to arbitrate on terms which safeguarded the national dignity on both sides.
Cleveland's independence was nowhere more strikingly shown during his second term than in his action in regard to the tariff legislation of his party in Congress. A tariff bill introduced in the House by William Lyne Wilson (1843-1900), of West Virginia, chairman of the Committee of Ways and Means, was so amended in the Senate, through the instrumentality of Senator Arthur Pue Gorman and a coterie of anti-administration democratic senators, that when the bill eventually came before him, although unwilling to veto it, the president signified his dissa~isfaction with its too high rates by allowing it to become a law without his signature. Cleveland's second administration began by vigorous action in regard to Hawaii; he at once withdrew from the Senate the annexation treaty which President Harrison had negotiated.
During his second term Cleveland added 44,004 places in the civil service to the classified list, bringing them within the rules of the merit system. This was a greater number than all that had been placed in the list before, and brought the whole number up to 86,932. Toward the end of his second term the president became very much out of accord with his party on the free-silver question, in consequence of which the endorsement of the administration was withheld by the Democratic national convention at Chicago in 1896. In the ensuing campaign the president and his cabinet, with the exception of Hoke Smith (b. 1855), Secretary of the Interior, who resigned, gave their support to the National, or "Sound Money" Democratic nominees.
Cleveland's second term expired on the 4th of March 1897. He then retired into private life, universally respected and constantly consulted, in the university town of Princeton, New Jersey, where he died on the 24th of June 1908. He was a trustee of Princeton University and Stafford Little lecturer on public affairs. Chosen in 1905 as a member of a committee of three to act as trustees of the majority of the stock of the Equitable Life Assurance Company and acted as rebate referee for it and for the Mutual and New York Life insurance companies. He published Presidential Problems (New York, 1904), made up in part of lectures at Princeton University.
Reference: Excerpts of the above History article are from the 1911 edition Encyclopedia.
Message of President Grover Cleveland nominating Richard Olney of Massachusetts to be Secretary of State, 12/03/1895 (National Archives)
Photograph of article featuring a letter written to President Grover Cleveland from Helen Hunt Jackson on her deathbed. Helen Hunt Jackson was the well-known authorand advocate of Indian rights. The letter said: Dear Sir: From my death-bed I send you message of heartfelt thanks for what you have already done for the Indians. I ask you to read my Century of Dishonor. I am dying happier for the belief I have that it is your hand that is destined to strike the first steady blow toward lifing this burden of infamy from our country and righting the wrongs of the Indian race. With respect and gratitude, Helen Jackson. (National Archives)
Message of President Grover Cleveland nominating Melville W. Fuller to be Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, 05/02/1888 (National Archives)
Rank: 22nd (1885-1889) 24th (1893-1897) Followed: Chester A. Arthur (1885) Benjamin Harrison (1893) Succeeded by: Benjamin Harrison (1889) William McKinley (1897) Date of Birth March 18, 1837 Place of Birth: Caldwell, New Jersey Date of Death: June 24, 1908 Place of Death: Princeton, New Jersey First Lady: Frances Folsom Occupation: lawyer Political Party: Democrat Vice President: Thomas A. Hendricks (1885-1889) Adlai Stevenson (1893-1897)
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