Grover Cleveland

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S. Grover Cleveland
S. Grover Cleveland
Term of office March 4, 1885 – March 3, 1889
March 4, 1893March 3, 1897
Preceded by 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
Spouse Frances Cleveland
Political party Democratic

Stephen Grover Cleveland (March 18, 1837June 24, 1908) was the 22nd (18851889) and 24th (18931897) President of the United States, and the only President to serve two non-consecutive terms. He was the only Democrat elected to the presidency in the era of Republican political domination between the American Civil War and the election of Woodrow Wilson in 1912.

Cleveland was a hard worker and was scrupulously honest at a time when many politicians were neither, but he had little imagination and seemed overwhelmed by the nation's economic problems in his second term.



Cleveland was born in Caldwell, New Jersey to the Rev. Richard Cleveland and Anne Neal. He was one of nine children. His father was a Presbyterian minister. He was raised in upstate New York. As a lawyer in Buffalo, he became notable for his single-minded concentration upon whatever task faced him. He was elected sheriff of Erie County, New York in 1870 and, while in that post, carried out at least two hangings of condemned criminals. Political opponents would later hold this against him, calling him the "Buffalo Hangman." Cleveland stated that he wished to take the responsibility for the executions himself, and not pass it along to subordinates.

At 44, he emerged into a political prominence that carried him to the White House in three years. Running as a reformer, he was elected mayor of Buffalo in 1881, with the slogan "Public Office is a Public Trust" as his trademark of office, and was later elected Governor of New York, where he worked closely with the young Theodore Roosevelt, at the time a leader of reform-minded Republicans in the New York legislature. Roosevelt admired Cleveland's stubborn nature.


Grover Cleveland was the first and only President married in the White House.
Grover Cleveland was the first and only President married in the White House.
Signature - 1882
Signature - 1882

Cleveland won the Presidency with the combined support of Democrats and reform Republicans, the "Mugwumps," who disliked the record of his opponent James G. Blaine of Maine. The campaign was one of the most vicious and negative up to that time. The Republicans claimed that Cleveland had fathered an illegitimate child while he was still Governor of New York. Although Cleveland never admitted or denied the rumor, he did admit to paying child support to Maria Crofts Halpin, the woman who claimed he fathered her child, who was named Oscar Folsom Cleveland, in 1874 (Halpin was involved with several men at the time; Cleveland probably assumed responsibility because he was the only bachelor among them). After Cleveland's election as President, Democratic newspapers added a line to the sound-bite used against Cleveland and made it: "Ma, Ma, where's my Pa? Going to the White House! Ha Ha Ha!"

A bachelor, Cleveland was initially ill-at-ease with all the comforts of the White House. "I must go to dinner," he wrote a friend, "but I wish it was to eat a pickled herring, a Swiss cheese and a chop at Louis's instead of the French stuff I shall find."

In June 1886, Cleveland married 21-year-old Frances Folsom; he was the second President to be married while in office (after John Tyler), and the only President to be married in the White House itself. Frances Cleveland was the youngest First Lady in the history of the U.S. Some of the more salacious sections of the press highlighted the age difference of the two: Cleveland had been the girl's de facto guardian since she was 11 (Folsom had grown up calling Cleveland "Uncle Steve"), and was revealed to have bought her parents a baby carriage for her. Still more salacious allegations followed: in the election of 1888, Republicans spread false rumors that Cleveland beat his wife.

Cleveland himself admitted that, as President, his greatest accomplishment was blocking others' bad ideas. He vigorously pursued a policy barring special favors to any economic group. Vetoing a bill to appropriate $10,000 to distribute seed grain among drought-stricken farmers in Texas, he wrote: "Federal aid in such cases encourages the expectation of paternal care on the part of the Government and weakens the sturdiness of our national character...." He also vetoed hundreds of private pension bills to American Civil War veterans whose claims were fraudulent. When Congress, pressured by the Grand Army of the Republic, passed a bill granting pensions for disabilities not caused by military service, Cleveland vetoed that, too. Cleveland used the veto far more often than any President up to that time.

Statue of Cleveland outside City Hall in Buffalo, New York
Statue of Cleveland outside City Hall in Buffalo, New York

He angered the railroads by ordering an investigation of western lands they held by Government grant, forcing them to return 81,000,000 acres (328,000 km²). He also signed the Interstate Commerce Act, the first law attempting Federal regulation of the railroads.

In December 1887, he called on Congress to reduce high protective tariffs. Told that he had given Republicans an effective issue for the campaign of 1888, he retorted, "What is the use of being elected or re-elected unless you stand for something?" He often opposed the Republican-controlled Senate. A joke of the day had the First Lady waking in the middle of the night and whispering to Cleveland, "Wake up, Grover. I think there's a burglar in the house." Cleveland sleepily mumbled, "No, no. Perhaps in the Senate, my dear, but not in the House."

Cleveland was defeated in the 1888 presidential election. Although he won a larger share of the popular vote than Republican candidate Benjamin Harrison, he received fewer electoral votes and thus lost the election - as did Samuel Tilden in the 1876 election and Al Gore in the 2000 election. Upon leaving the White House in 1889, Frances Cleveland told the servants, "I want you to take good care of all the furniture and ornaments in the house, for I want to find everything just as it is now when we come back again....four years from today."

She was as good as her word. The primary issues for Cleveland for the 1892 campaign were reducing the tarriff and stopping free minting of silver which had depleted the gold reserves of the U.S. Treasury. Cleveland was elected again in 1892, thus becoming the only person ever elected to non-consecutive terms as President. Once back in office, Cleveland soon faced an acute economic depression. He dealt directly with the Treasury crisis rather than with business failures, farm mortgage foreclosures, and unemployment. He obtained repeal of the mildly inflationary Sherman Silver Purchase Act and, with the aid of Wall Street, maintained the Treasury's gold reserve. Critics accused him of being unfeeling and heartless, but Cleveland believed that the nation's finances had to be maintained in sound condition, and to his credit the depression had ended and the financial situation had stabilized by the time he had left office.

He was an adamant opponent of labor union strikes that interfered with interstate commerce and the operation of the government, as shown in his disapproval of the Pullman Strike. When railroad strikers in Chicago, Illinois violated a court injunction, Cleveland sent Federal troops to enforce it. "If it takes the entire army and navy of the United States to deliver a postcard in Chicago," he thundered, "that card will be delivered." It should be noted that other presidents, up until 1932, including Theodore Roosevelt used injunctions against labor unions.

Invoking the Monroe Doctrine, Cleveland also forced the United Kingdom to accept arbitration of a disputed boundary in Venezuela. His administration is also credited with the modernization of the U.S. Navy that allowed the U.S. to decisively win the Spanish-American War in 1898, one year after he left office.

In 1893, Cleveland appointed former Congressman James Henderson Blount as the Minister to Hawaii to investigate the unauthorized invasion of the Kingdom of Hawaii by U.S. Marines, which resulted in the fake revolution (aka "overthrow") against the government of Queen Liliuokalani by sugar planters and American businessmen. On December 18, 1893, Cleveland made an address to Congress reporting on the findings of Commissioner Blount in which he called the invasion an "act of war, committed with the participation of a diplomatic representative of the United States and without authority of Congress," called for the restoration of the government of Liliuokalani, and withdrew from the Senate the treaty of annexation of Hawaii, which was not submitted again for the remainder of his term.

Just after beginning his second term in 1893, Dr. R. M. O’Reilly found an ulcerated sore a little less than one inch in diameter on the left lingual surface of Cleveland’s hard palate. Samples taken proved the growth to be malignant. Due to the financial depression of the country, Cleveland decided to have surgery performed on the tumor in secrecy to avoid further market panic. The surgery occurred on July 1, to give Cleveland time to make a full recovery for an August 7 address to Congress, which had recessed at the end of June. Under the guise of a vacation, Cleveland, accompanied by lead surgeon Dr. Joseph Bryant, left for New York. Bryant, joined by his assistant Dr. John F. Erdmann, Dr. W. W. Keen Jr., Dr. Ferdinand Hasbrouck (dentist and anesthesiologist) and Dr. Edward Janeway, prepared to operate aboard the yacht Oneida as it sailed in the East River to Long Island Sound. The surgery was conducted through the mouth, to avoid any scars or other signs of surgery. The team, sedating Cleveland with nitrous oxide (laughing gas), removed his upper left jaw and portions of his hard palate. The size of the tumor and the extent of the operation left Cleveland’s mouth severely disfigured. During another surgery, an orthodontist fitted Cleveland with a hard rubber prosthesis that corrected his speech and covered up the surgery. Of course, absolute secrecy did not surround the operation. A cover story about the removal of two bad teeth kept the suspicious press somewhat placated. Even when a newspaper story appeared, giving details of the actual operation, the participating surgeons discounted the severity of what transpired during Cleveland’s vacation. In 1917, one of the surgeons present on the Oneida wrote an article detailing the operation. (see 'Presidential disability prior to 1967' in Acting President of the United States). The lump was preserved and is on display at the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Oil painting of Grover Cleveland, painted in 1899 by the Swedish painter Anders Zorn.
Oil painting of Grover Cleveland, painted in 1899 by the Swedish painter Anders Zorn.

Cleveland chose to not run again for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1896, but was disappointed when his party nominated William Jennings Bryan on a Silver Platform. Cleveland supported a late-coming Gold Standard ticket that managed only 100,000 votes in the general election. After leaving the White House, he lived in retirement in Princeton, New Jersey. For a time he was a trustee of Princeton University, bringing him into contact with Woodrow Wilson, the only other Democrat elected between 1860 and 1932. In 1904, some conservative pro-business Democrats talked of renominating Cleveland to oppose progressive Republican President Theodore Roosevelt. However, Cleveland declined to reenter politics, and died in 1908 from a heart attack.

Cleveland's portrait was on the U.S. $1000 bill from 1928 to 1946. He also appeared on a $1000 of 1907, and the first few issues of Federal Reserve notes from 1914, on the $20.

George Cleveland, the President's grandson and a New Hampshire social worker and broadcaster, is now a Grover Cleveland re-enactor.

Grover Cleveland 1892 campaign speech (info)
Audio clip of the first minute of Cleveland's 1892 campaign speech.
Problems listening to the files? See media help.

Cabinet (1885–1889)

President Grover Cleveland 1885–1889
Vice President Thomas A. Hendricks 1885
  None 1885–1889
Secretary of State Thomas F. Bayard 1885–1889
Secretary of the Treasury Daniel Manning 1885–1887
  Charles S. Fairchild 1887–1889
Secretary of War William C. Endicott 1885–1889
Attorney General Augustus H. Garland 1885–1889
Postmaster General William F. Vilas 1885–1888
  Don M. Dickinson 1888–1889
Secretary of the Navy William C. Whitney 1885–1889
Secretary of the Interior Lucius Q. C. Lamar 1885–1888
  William F. Vilas 1888–1889
Secretary of Agriculture Norman J. Coleman 1889

Cabinet (1893–1897)

Portrait of Cleveland
Portrait of Cleveland
President Grover Cleveland 1893–1897
Vice President Adlai E. Stevenson 1893–1897
Secretary of State Walter Q. Gresham 1893–1895
  Richard Olney 1895–1897
Secretary of the Treasury John G. Carlisle 1893–1897
Secretary of War Daniel S. Lamont 1893–1895
Attorney General Richard Olney 1893–1895
  Judson Harmon 1895–1897
Postmaster General Wilson S. Bissell 1893–1895
  William L. Wilson 1895–1897
Secretary of the Navy Hilary A. Herbert 1893–1897
Secretary of the Interior Hoke Smith 1893–1896
  David R. Francis 1896–1897
Secretary of Agriculture Julius S. Morton 1893–1897

Supreme Court Appointments

Cleveland appointed the following Justices to the Supreme Court of the United States during his first term.

Cleveland appointed the following Justices to the Supreme Court during his second term.

Two of Cleveland's nominees were rejected by the Senate.

Significant Events

States Admitted to the Union

Related articles

External links

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Preceded by:
Alexander Brush
Mayor of Buffalo
1882 – 1883
Succeeded by:
Marcus Drake
Preceded by:
Alonzo B. Cornell
Governor of New York
1883 – 1885
Succeeded by:
David B. Hill
Preceded by:
Winfield Scott Hancock
Democratic Party Presidential candidate
1884 (won), 1888 (lost), 1892 (won)
Succeeded by:
William Jennings Bryan
Preceded by:
Chester A. Arthur
President of the United States
March 4, 1885March 3, 1889
Succeeded by:
Benjamin Harrison
Preceded by:
Benjamin Harrison
President of the United States
March 4, 1893March 3, 1897
Succeeded by:
William McKinley

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