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Grover Cleveland

22nd and 24th President of the United States (1837–1908)

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Grover Cleveland
22nd and 24th President of the United States
In office
March 4, 1893 – March 4, 1897
Vice PresidentAdlai Stevenson
Preceded byBenjamin Harrison
Succeeded byWilliam McKinley
In office
March 4, 1885 – March 4, 1889
Vice President
Preceded byChester A. Arthur
Succeeded byBenjamin Harrison
28th Governor of New York
In office
January 1, 1883 – January 6, 1885
LieutenantDavid B. Hill
Preceded byAlonzo B. Cornell
Succeeded byDavid B. Hill
35th Mayor of Buffalo
In office
January 2, 1882 – November 20, 1882
Preceded byAlexander Brush
Succeeded byMarcus M. Drake
17th Sheriff of Erie County
In office
January 1, 1871 – December 31, 1873
Preceded byCharles Darcy
Succeeded byJohn B. Weber
Personal details
Stephen Grover Cleveland

(1837-03-18)March 18, 1837
Caldwell, New Jersey, U.S.
DiedJune 24, 1908(1908-06-24) (aged 71)
Princeton, New Jersey, U.S.
Resting placePrinceton Cemetery, New Jersey
Political partyDemocratic
(m. 1886)
Children6, including Ruth ("Baby"), Esther, Richard
  • Politician
  • lawyer

Stephen Grover Cleveland (March 18, 1837 – June 24, 1908) was an American politician and lawyer who served as the 22nd and 24th president of the United States from 1885 to 1889 and from 1893 to 1897. Cleveland is the only president in American history to serve two nonconsecutive terms in office. [b] He won the popular vote for three presidential elections—in 1884, 1888, and 1892—and was one of two Democrats (followed by Woodrow Wilson in 1912) to be elected president during the era of Republican presidential domination dating from 1861 to 1933.

Born to a Presbyterian minister and his wife, Cleveland grew up in upstate New York. In 1881, he was elected mayor of Buffalo and later, governor of New York. Cleveland was the leader of the pro-business Bourbon Democrats who opposed high tariffs; Free Silver; inflation; imperialism; and subsidies to business, farmers, or veterans. His crusade for political reform and fiscal conservatism made him an icon for American conservatives of the era.[1] Cleveland won praise for his honesty, self-reliance, integrity, and commitment to the principles of classical liberalism.[2] He fought political corruption, patronage, and bossism. As a reformer, Cleveland had such prestige that the like-minded wing of the Republican Party, called "Mugwumps", largely bolted the GOP presidential ticket and swung to his support in the 1884 election.[3] As his second administration began, disaster hit the nation when the Panic of 1893 produced a severe national depression. It ruined his Democratic Party, opening the way for a Republican landslide in 1894 and for the agrarian and silverite seizure of the Democratic Party in 1896. The result was a political realignment that ended the Third Party System and launched the Fourth Party System and the Progressive Era.[4]

Cleveland was a formidable policymaker, and he also drew corresponding criticism. His intervention in the Pullman Strike of 1894 to keep the railroads moving angered labor unions nationwide in addition to the party in Illinois; his support of the gold standard and opposition to Free Silver alienated the agrarian wing of the Democratic Party.[5] Critics complained that Cleveland had little imagination and seemed overwhelmed by the nation's economic disasters—depressions and strikes—in his second term.[5] Even so, his reputation for probity and good character survived the troubles of his second term. Biographer Allan Nevins wrote, "[I]n Grover Cleveland, the greatness lies in typical rather than unusual qualities. He had no endowments that thousands of men do not have. He possessed honesty, courage, firmness, independence, and common sense. But he possessed them to a degree other men do not."[6] By the end of his second term, public perception showed him to be one of the most unpopular U.S. presidents, and he was by then rejected even by most Democrats.[7] Today, Cleveland is considered by most historians to have been a successful leader, and has been praised for honesty, integrity, adherence to his morals and defying party boundaries, and effective leadership, and is generally ranked among the upper-mid tier of American presidents.

Grover Cleveland Intro articles: 20

Early life

Childhood and family history

Caldwell Presbyterian parsonage, birthplace of Grover Cleveland in Caldwell, New Jersey

Stephen Grover Cleveland was born on March 18, 1837, in Caldwell, New Jersey, to Ann (née Neal) and Richard Falley Cleveland.[8] Cleveland's father was a Congregational and Presbyterian minister who was originally from Connecticut.[9] His mother was from Baltimore and was the daughter of a bookseller.[10] On his father's side, Cleveland was descended from English ancestors, the first of the family having emigrated to Massachusetts from Cleveland, England in 1635.[11] His father's maternal grandfather, Richard Falley Jr., fought at the Battle of Bunker Hill, and was the son of an immigrant from Guernsey. On his mother's side, Cleveland was descended from Anglo-Irish Protestants and German Quakers from Philadelphia.[12] Cleveland was distantly related to General Moses Cleaveland, after whom the city of Cleveland, Ohio, was named.[13]

Cleveland, the fifth of nine children, was named Stephen Grover in honor of the first pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Caldwell, where his father was pastor at the time. He became known as Grover in his adult life.[14] In 1841, the Cleveland family moved to Fayetteville, New York, where Grover spent much of his childhood.[15] Neighbors later described him as "full of fun and inclined to play pranks,"[16] and fond of outdoor sports.[17]

In 1850, Cleveland's father Richard moved his family to Clinton, New York, to work as district secretary for the American Home Missionary Society.[18] Despite his father's dedication to his missionary work, his income was insufficient for the large family. Financial conditions forced him to remove Grover from school and place him in a two-year mercantile apprenticeship in Fayetteville. The experience was valuable and brief, and the living conditions quite austere. Grover returned to Clinton and his schooling at the completion of the apprentice contract.[19] In 1853, when missionary work began to take a toll on the health of Cleveland's father, he took an assignment in Holland Patent, New York (near Utica) and moved his family again.[20] Shortly after, he died from a gastric ulcer. The younger Cleveland was said to have learned about his father's death from a boy selling newspapers.[20]

Education and moving west

An early, undated photograph of Grover Cleveland

Cleveland received his elementary education at the Fayetteville Academy and the Clinton Liberal Academy.[21] After his father died in 1853, he again left school to help support his family. Later that year, Cleveland's brother William was hired as a teacher at the New York Institute for the Blind in New York City, and William obtained a place for Cleveland as an assistant teacher. Cleveland returned home to Holland Patent at the end of 1854, where an elder in his church offered to pay for his college education if he would promise to become a minister. Cleveland declined, and in 1855 he decided to move west.[22]

He stopped first in Buffalo, New York, where his uncle, Lewis F. Allen, gave him a clerical job.[23] Allen was an important man in Buffalo, and he introduced his nephew to influential men there, including the partners in the law firm of Rogers, Bowen, and Rogers.[24] Millard Fillmore, the 13th president of the United States, had previously worked for the partnership.[25] Cleveland later took a clerkship with the firm, began to read the law with them, and was admitted to the New York bar in 1859.[26]

Early career and the Civil War

Cleveland worked for the Rogers firm for three years before leaving in 1862 to start his own practice.[27] In January 1863, he was appointed assistant district attorney of Erie County.[28] With the American Civil War raging, Congress passed the Conscription Act of 1863, requiring able-bodied men to serve in the army if called upon, or else to hire a substitute.[26] Cleveland chose the latter course, paying $150 (equivalent to $3,115 in 2019) to George Benninsky, a thirty-two-year-old Polish immigrant, to serve in his place.[29] Benninsky survived the war.[26]

As a lawyer, Cleveland became known for his single-minded concentration and dedication to hard work.[30] In 1866, he successfully defended some participants in the Fenian raid, working on a pro bono basis (free of charge).[31] In 1868, Cleveland attracted professional attention for his winning defense of a libel suit against the editor of Buffalo's Commercial Advertiser.[32] During this time, Cleveland assumed a lifestyle of simplicity, taking residence in a plain boarding house. He devoted his growing income instead to the support of his mother and younger sisters.[33] While his personal quarters were austere, Cleveland enjoyed an active social life and "the easy-going sociability of hotel-lobbies and saloons."[34] He shunned the circles of higher society of Buffalo in which his uncle's family traveled.[35]

Grover Cleveland Early life articles: 37

Political career in New York

Sheriff of Erie County

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

From his earliest involvement in politics, Cleveland aligned with the Democratic Party.[36] He had a decided aversion to Republicans John Fremont and Abraham Lincoln, and the heads of the Rogers law firm were solid Democrats.[37] In 1865, he ran for District Attorney, losing narrowly to his friend and roommate, Lyman K. Bass, the Republican nominee.[30]

In 1870, with the help of friend Oscar Folsom, Cleveland secured the Democratic nomination for Sheriff of Erie County, New York.[38] He won the election by a 303-vote margin and took office on January 1, 1871 at age 33.[39][40] While this new career took him away from the practice of law, it was rewarding in other ways: the fees were said to yield up to $40,000 (equivalent to $853,667 in 2019) over the two-year term.[38]

Cleveland's service as sheriff was unremarkable; biographer Rexford Tugwell described the time in office as a waste for Cleveland politically. Cleveland was aware of graft in the sheriff's office during his tenure and chose not to confront it.[41] A notable incident of his term took place on September 6, 1872, when Patrick Morrissey was executed. He had been convicted of murdering his mother.[42] As sheriff, Cleveland was responsible for either personally carrying out the execution or paying a deputy $10 to perform the task.[42] In spite of reservations about the hanging, Cleveland executed Morrissey himself.[42] He hanged another murderer, John Gaffney, on February 14, 1873.[43]

After his term as sheriff ended, Cleveland returned to his law practice, opening a firm with his friends Lyman K. Bass and Wilson S. Bissell.[44] Elected to Congress in 1872, Bass did not spend much time at the firm, but Cleveland and Bissell soon rose to the top of Buffalo's legal community.[45] Up to that point, Cleveland's political career had been honorable and unexceptional. As biographer Allan Nevins wrote, "Probably no man in the country, on March 4, 1881, had less thought than this limited, simple, sturdy attorney of Buffalo that four years later he would be standing in Washington and taking the oath as President of the United States."[46]

It was during this period that Cleveland began courting a widow, Maria Halpin. She later accused him of raping her.[47][48] He accused her of being an alcoholic and consorting with men. In an attempt to discredit her, he had her institutionalized and had their child taken away and raised by his friends. The institution quickly realized that she did not belong there and released her.[49] The illegitimate child became a campaign issue for the GOP in Cleveland's first presidential campaign.[50]

Mayor of Buffalo

In the 1870s, the municipal government in Buffalo had grown increasingly corrupt, with Democratic and Republican political machines cooperating to share the spoils of political office.[51] In 1881 the Republicans nominated a slate of particularly disreputable machine politicians; the Democrats saw the opportunity to gain the votes of disaffected Republicans by nominating a more honest candidate.[52] The party leaders approached Cleveland, and he agreed to run for Mayor of Buffalo, provided that the rest of the ticket was to his liking.[53] When the more notorious politicians were left off the Democratic ticket, Cleveland accepted the nomination.[53] Cleveland was elected mayor with 15,120 votes, as against 11,528 for Milton C. Beebe, his opponent.[54] He took office January 2, 1882.

Cleveland's term as mayor was spent fighting the entrenched interests of the party machines.[55] Among the acts that established his reputation was a veto of the street-cleaning bill passed by the Common Council.[56] The street-cleaning contract had been competed for bidding, and the Council selected the highest bidder at $422,000, rather than the lowest of $100,000 less, because of the political connections of the bidder.[56] While this sort of bipartisan graft had previously been tolerated in Buffalo, Mayor Cleveland would have none of it. His veto message said, "I regard it as the culmination of a most bare-faced, impudent, and shameless scheme to betray the interests of the people, and to worse than squander the public money."[57] The Council reversed itself and awarded the contract to the lowest bidder.[58] Cleveland also asked the state legislature to form a Commission to develop a plan to improve the sewer system in Buffalo at a much lower cost than previously proposed locally; this plan was successfully adopted.[59] For this, and other actions safeguarding public funds, Cleveland began to gain a reputation beyond Erie County as a leader willing to purge government corruption.[60]

Governor of New York

Gubernatorial portrait of Grover Cleveland

New York Democratic party officials began to consider Cleveland a possible nominee for governor.[61] Daniel Manning, a party insider who admired Cleveland's record, was instrumental in his candidacy.[62] With a split in the state Republican party in 1882, the Democratic party was considered to be at an advantage; several men contended for that party's nomination.[61] The two leading Democratic candidates were Roswell P. Flower and Henry W. Slocum. Their factions deadlocked, and the convention could not agree on a nominee.[63] Cleveland, in third place on the first ballot, picked up support in subsequent votes and emerged as the compromise choice.[64] The Republican party remained divided, and in the general election Cleveland emerged the victor, with 535,318 votes to Republican nominee Charles J. Folger's 342,464.[65] Cleveland's margin of victory was, at the time, the largest in a contested New York election; the Democrats also picked up seats in both houses of the New York State Legislature.[66]

Cleveland brought his opposition to needless spending to the governor's office; he promptly sent the legislature eight vetos in his first two months in office.[67] The first to attract attention was his veto of a bill to reduce the fares on New York City elevated trains to five cents.[68] The bill had broad support because the trains' owner, Jay Gould, was unpopular, and his fare increases were widely denounced.[69] Cleveland, however, saw the bill as unjust—Gould had taken over the railroads when they were failing and had made the system solvent again.[70] Moreover, Cleveland believed that altering Gould's franchise would violate the Contract Clause of the federal Constitution.[70] Despite the initial popularity of the fare-reduction bill, the newspapers praised Cleveland's veto.[70] Theodore Roosevelt, then a member of the Assembly, had reluctantly voted for the bill to which Cleveland objected, in a desire to punish the unscrupulous railroad barons.[71] After the veto, Roosevelt reversed himself, as did many legislators, and the veto was sustained.[71]

Cleveland's defiance of political corruption won him popular acclaim, and the enmity of the influential Tammany Hall organization in New York City.[72] Tammany, under its boss, John Kelly, had disapproved of Cleveland's nomination as governor, and their resistance intensified after Cleveland openly opposed and prevented the re-election of Thomas F. Grady, their point man in the State Senate.[73] Cleveland also steadfastly opposed nominees of the Tammanyites, as well as bills passed as a result of their deal making.[74] The loss of Tammany's support was offset by the support of Theodore Roosevelt and other reform-minded Republicans who helped Cleveland to pass several laws reforming municipal governments.[75]

Grover Cleveland Political career in New York articles: 28

Election of 1884

Nomination for president

An anti-Blaine cartoon presents him as the "tattooed man", with many indelible scandals.
An anti-Cleveland cartoon highlights the Halpin scandal.

The Republicans convened in Chicago and nominated former Speaker of the House James G. Blaine of Maine for president on the fourth ballot. Blaine's nomination alienated many Republicans who viewed Blaine as ambitious and immoral.[76] The GOP standard bearer was weakened by alienating the Mugwumps, and the Conkling faction, recently disenfranchised by President Chester Arthur.[77] Democratic party leaders believed the Republicans' choice gave them an opportunity to win the White House for the first time since 1856 if the right candidate could be found.[76]

Among the Democrats, Samuel J. Tilden was the initial front-runner, having been the party's nominee in the contested election of 1876.[78] After Tilden declined a nomination due to his poor health, his supporters shifted to several other contenders.[78] Cleveland was among the leaders in early support, and Thomas F. Bayard of Delaware, Allen G. Thurman of Ohio, Samuel Freeman Miller of Iowa, and Benjamin Butler of Massachusetts also had considerable followings, along with various favorite sons.[78] Each of the other candidates had hindrances to his nomination: Bayard had spoken in favor of secession in 1861, making him unacceptable to Northerners; Butler, conversely, was reviled throughout the South for his actions during the Civil War; Thurman was generally well liked, but was growing old and infirm, and his views on the silver question were uncertain.[79]

Cleveland, too, had detractors—Tammany remained opposed to him—but the nature of his enemies made him still more friends.[80] Cleveland led on the first ballot, with 392 votes out of 820.[81] On the second ballot, Tammany threw its support behind Butler, but the rest of the delegates shifted to Cleveland, who won.[82] Thomas A. Hendricks of Indiana was selected as his running mate.[82]

Campaign against Blaine

Corruption in politics was the central issue in 1884; Blaine had over the span of his career been involved in several questionable deals.[83] Cleveland's reputation as an opponent of corruption proved the Democrats' strongest asset.[84] William C. Hudson created Cleveland's contextual campaign slogan "A public office is a public trust."[85] Reform-minded Republicans called "Mugwumps" denounced Blaine as corrupt and flocked to Cleveland.[86] The Mugwumps, including such men as Carl Schurz and Henry Ward Beecher, were more concerned with morality than with party, and felt Cleveland was a kindred soul who would promote civil service reform and fight for efficiency in government.[86] At the same time that the Democrats gained support from the Mugwumps, they lost some blue-collar workers to the Greenback-Labor party, led by ex-Democrat Benjamin Butler.[87] In general, Cleveland abided by the precedent of minimizing presidential campaign travel and speechmaking; Blaine became one of the first to break with that tradition.[88]

The campaign focused on the candidates' moral standards, as each side cast aspersions on their opponents. Cleveland's supporters rehashed the old allegations that Blaine had corruptly influenced legislation in favor of the Little Rock and Fort Smith Railroad and the Union Pacific Railway, later profiting on the sale of bonds he owned in both companies.[89] Although the stories of Blaine's favors to the railroads had made the rounds eight years earlier, this time Blaine's correspondence was discovered, making his earlier denials less plausible.[89] On some of the most damaging correspondence, Blaine had written "Burn this letter", giving Democrats the last line to their rallying cry: "Blaine, Blaine, James G. Blaine, the continental liar from the state of Maine, 'Burn this letter!'"[90]

Regarding Cleveland, commentator Jeff Jacoby notes that, "Not since George Washington had a candidate for President been so renowned for his rectitude."[91] But the Republicans found a refutation buried in Cleveland's past. Aided by the sermons of Reverend George H. Ball, a minister from Buffalo, they made public the allegation that Cleveland had fathered an illegitimate child while he was a lawyer there,[92] and their rallies soon included the chant "Ma, Ma, where's my Pa?".[93] When confronted with the scandal, Cleveland immediately instructed his supporters to "Above all, tell the truth."[50] Cleveland admitted to paying child support in 1874 to Maria Crofts Halpin, the woman who asserted he had fathered her son Oscar Folsom Cleveland and he assumed responsibility.[50] Shortly before the 1884 election, the Republican media published an affidavit from Halpin in which she stated that until she met Cleveland, her "life was pure and spotless", and "there is not, and never was, a doubt as to the paternity of our child, and the attempt of Grover Cleveland, or his friends, to couple the name of Oscar Folsom, or any one else, with that boy, for that purpose is simply infamous and false."[94]

Results of the 1884 election

The electoral votes of closely contested New York, New Jersey, Indiana, and Connecticut would determine the election.[95] In New York, the Tammany Democrats decided that they would gain more from supporting a Democrat they disliked than a Republican who would do nothing for them.[96] Blaine hoped that he would have more support from Irish Americans than Republicans typically did; while the Irish were mainly a Democratic constituency in the 19th century, Blaine's mother was Irish Catholic, and he had been supportive of the Irish National Land League while he was Secretary of State.[97] The Irish, a significant group in three of the swing states, did appear inclined to support Blaine until a Republican, Samuel D. Burchard, gave a speech pivotal for the Democrats, denouncing them as the party of "Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion".[98] The Democrats spread the word of this implied Catholic insult on the eve of the election. They also blistered Blaine for attending a banquet with some of New York City's wealthiest men.[99]

After the votes were counted, Cleveland narrowly won all four of the swing states, including New York by 1200 votes.[100] While the popular vote total was close, with Cleveland winning by just one-quarter of a percent, the electoral votes gave Cleveland a majority of 219–182.[100] Following the electoral victory, the "Ma, Ma ..." attack phrase gained a classic riposte: "Gone to the White House. Ha! Ha! Ha!"[101]

Grover Cleveland Election of 1884 articles: 28

First presidency (1885–1889)


Cleveland portrayed as a tariff reformer

Soon after taking office, Cleveland was faced with the task of filling all the government jobs for which the president had the power of appointment. These jobs were typically filled under the spoils system, but Cleveland announced that he would not fire any Republican who was doing his job well, and would not appoint anyone solely on the basis of party service.[102] He also used his appointment powers to reduce the number of federal employees, as many departments had become bloated with political time-servers.[103] Later in his term, as his fellow Democrats chafed at being excluded from the spoils, Cleveland began to replace more of the partisan Republican officeholders with Democrats;[104] this was especially the case with policy making positions.[105] While some of his decisions were influenced by party concerns, more of Cleveland's appointments were decided by merit alone than was the case in his predecessors' administrations.[106]

Cleveland also reformed other parts of the government. In 1887, he signed an act creating the Interstate Commerce Commission.[107] He and Secretary of the Navy William C. Whitney undertook to modernize the navy and canceled construction contracts that had resulted in inferior ships.[108] Cleveland angered railroad investors by ordering an investigation of western lands they held by government grant.[109] Secretary of the Interior Lucius Q. C. Lamar charged that the rights of way for this land must be returned to the public because the railroads failed to extend their lines according to agreements.[109] The lands were forfeited, resulting in the return of approximately 81,000,000 acres (330,000 km2).[109]

Cleveland was the first Democratic president subject to the Tenure of Office Act which originated in 1867; the act purported to require the Senate to approve the dismissal of any presidential appointee who was originally subject to its advice and consent. Cleveland objected to the act in principle and his steadfast refusal to abide by it prompted its fall into disfavor and led to its ultimate repeal in 1887.[110]


BEP engraved portrait of Cleveland as president

Cleveland faced a Republican Senate and often resorted to using his veto powers.[111] He vetoed hundreds of private pension bills for American Civil War veterans, believing that if their pensions requests had already been rejected by the Pension Bureau, Congress should not attempt to override that decision.[112] When Congress, pressured by the Grand Army of the Republic, passed a bill granting pensions for disabilities not caused by military service, Cleveland also vetoed that.[113] Cleveland used the veto far more often than any president up to that time.[114] In 1887, Cleveland issued his most well-known veto, that of the Texas Seed Bill.[115] After a drought had ruined crops in several Texas counties, Congress appropriated $100,000 (equivalent to $2,845,556 in 2019) to purchase seed grain for farmers there.[115] Cleveland vetoed the expenditure. In his veto message, he espoused a theory of limited government:

I can find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution, and I do not believe that the power and duty of the general government ought to be extended to the relief of individual suffering which is in no manner properly related to the public service or benefit. A prevalent tendency to disregard the limited mission of this power and duty should, I think, be steadfastly resisted, to the end that the lesson should be constantly enforced that, though the people support the government, the government should not support the people. The friendliness and charity of our countrymen can always be relied upon to relieve their fellow-citizens in misfortune. This has been repeatedly and quite lately demonstrated. 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, while it prevents the indulgence among our people of that kindly sentiment and conduct which strengthens the bonds of a common brotherhood.[116]


One of the most volatile issues of the 1880s was whether the currency should be backed by gold and silver, or by gold alone.[117] The issue cut across party lines, with western Republicans and southern Democrats joining together in the call for the free coinage of silver, and both parties' representatives in the northeast holding firm for the gold standard.[118] Because silver was worth less than its legal equivalent in gold, taxpayers paid their government bills in silver, while international creditors demanded payment in gold, resulting in a depletion of the nation's gold supply.[118]

Cleveland and Treasury Secretary Daniel Manning stood firmly on the side of the gold standard, and tried to reduce the amount of silver that the government was required to coin under the Bland–Allison Act of 1878.[119] Cleveland unsuccessfully appealed to Congress to repeal this law before he was inaugurated.[120] Angered Westerners and Southerners advocated for cheap money to help their poorer constituents.[121] In reply, one of the foremost silverites, Richard P. Bland, introduced a bill in 1886 that would require the government to coin unlimited amounts of silver, inflating the then-deflating currency.[122] While Bland's bill was defeated, so was a bill the administration favored that would repeal any silver coinage requirement.[122] The result was a retention of the status quo, and a postponement of the resolution of the Free Silver issue.[123]


"When we consider that the theory of our institutions guarantees to every citizen the full enjoyment of all the fruits of his industry and enterprise, with only such deduction as may be his share toward the careful and economical maintenance of the Government which protects him, it is plain that the exaction of more than this is indefensible extortion and a culpable betrayal of American fairness and justice ... The public Treasury, which should only exist as a conduit conveying the people's tribute to its legitimate objects of expenditure, becomes a hoarding place for money needlessly withdrawn from trade and the people's use, thus crippling our national energies, suspending our country's development, preventing investment in productive enterprise, threatening financial disturbance, and inviting schemes of public plunder."
Cleveland's third annual message to Congress,
December 6, 1887.

Another contentious financial issue at the time was the protective tariff. These tariffs had been implemented as a temporary measure during the civil war to protect American industrial interests but remained in place after the war.[125] While it had not been a central point in his campaign, Cleveland's opinion on the tariff was that of most Democrats: that the tariff ought to be reduced.[126] Republicans generally favored a high tariff to protect American industries.[126] American tariffs had been high since the Civil War, and by the 1880s the tariff brought in so much revenue that the government was running a surplus.[127]

In 1886, a bill to reduce the tariff was narrowly defeated in the House.[128] The tariff issue was emphasized in the Congressional elections that year, and the forces of protectionism increased their numbers in the Congress, but Cleveland continued to advocate tariff reform.[129] As the surplus grew, Cleveland and the reformers called for a tariff for revenue only.[130] His message to Congress in 1887 (quoted at right) highlighted the injustice of taking more money from the people than the government needed to pay its operating expenses.[131] Republicans, as well as protectionist northern Democrats like Samuel J. Randall, believed that American industries would fail without high tariffs, and they continued to fight reform efforts.[132] Roger Q. Mills, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, proposed a bill to reduce the tariff from about 47% to about 40%.[133] After significant exertions by Cleveland and his allies, the bill passed the House.[133] The Republican Senate failed to come to agreement with the Democratic House, and the bill died in the conference committee. Dispute over the tariff persisted into the 1888 presidential election.

Foreign policy, 1885–1889

Cleveland was a committed non-interventionist who had campaigned in opposition to expansion and imperialism. He refused to promote the previous administration's Nicaragua canal treaty, and generally was less of an expansionist in foreign relations.[134] Cleveland's Secretary of State, Thomas F. Bayard, negotiated with Joseph Chamberlain of the United Kingdom over fishing rights in the waters off Canada, and struck a conciliatory note, despite the opposition of New England's Republican Senators.[135] Cleveland also withdrew from Senate consideration the Berlin Conference treaty which guaranteed an open door for U.S. interests in the Congo.[136]

Military policy, 1885–1889

Cleveland's military policy emphasized self-defense and modernization. In 1885 Cleveland appointed the Board of Fortifications under Secretary of War William C. Endicott to recommend a new coastal fortification system for the United States.[137][138] No improvements to US coastal defenses had been made since the late 1870s.[139][140] The Board's 1886 report recommended a massive $127 million construction program (equivalent to $3.6 billion in 2019) at 29 harbors and river estuaries, to include new breech-loading rifled guns, mortars, and naval minefields. The Board and the program are usually called the Endicott Board and the Endicott Program. Most of the Board's recommendations were implemented, and by 1910, 27 locations were defended by over 70 forts.[141][142] Many of the weapons remained in place until scrapped in World War II as they were replaced with new defenses. Endicott also proposed to Congress a system of examinations for Army officer promotions.[143] For the Navy, the Cleveland administration spearheaded by Secretary of the Navy William Collins Whitney moved towards modernization, although no ships were constructed that could match the best European warships. Although completion of the four steel-hulled warships begun under the previous administration was delayed due to a corruption investigation and subsequent bankruptcy of their building yard, these ships were completed in a timely manner in naval shipyards once the investigation was over.[144] Sixteen additional steel-hulled warships were ordered by the end of 1888; these ships later proved vital in the Spanish–American War of 1898, and many served in World War I. These ships included the "second-class battleships" Maine and Texas, designed to match modern armored ships recently acquired by South American countries from Europe, such as the Brazilian battleship Riachuelo.[145] Eleven protected cruisers (including the famous Olympia), one armored cruiser, and one monitor were also ordered, along with the experimental cruiser Vesuvius.[146]

Civil rights and immigration

Cleveland, like a growing number of Northerners (and nearly all white Southerners) saw Reconstruction as a failed experiment, and was reluctant to use federal power to enforce the 15th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which guaranteed voting rights to African Americans.[147] Though Cleveland appointed no black Americans to patronage jobs, he allowed Frederick Douglass to continue in his post as recorder of deeds in Washington, D.C. and appointed another black man (James Campbell Matthews, a former New York judge) to replace Douglass upon his resignation.[147] His decision to replace Douglass with a black man was met with outrage, but Cleveland claimed to have known Matthews personally.[148]

Although Cleveland had condemned the "outrages" against Chinese immigrants, he believed that Chinese immigrants were unwilling to assimilate into white society.[149] Secretary of State Thomas F. Bayard negotiated an extension to the Chinese Exclusion Act, and Cleveland lobbied the Congress to pass the Scott Act, written by Congressman William Lawrence Scott, which prevented the return of Chinese immigrants who left the United States.[150] The Scott Act easily passed both houses of Congress, and Cleveland signed it into law on October 1, 1888.[150]

Native American policy

Henry L. Dawes wrote the Dawes Act, which Cleveland signed into law.

Cleveland viewed Native Americans as wards of the state, saying in his first inaugural address that "[t]his guardianship involves, on our part, efforts for the improvement of their condition and enforcement of their rights."[151] He encouraged the idea of cultural assimilation, pushing for the passage of the Dawes Act, which provided for distribution of Indian lands to individual members of tribes, rather than having them continued to be held in trust for the tribes by the federal government.[151] While a conference of Native leaders endorsed the act, in practice the majority of Native Americans disapproved of it.[152] Cleveland believed the Dawes Act would lift Native Americans out of poverty and encourage their assimilation into white society. It ultimately weakened the tribal governments and allowed individual Indians to sell land and keep the money.[151]

In the month before Cleveland's 1885 inauguration, President Arthur opened four million acres of Winnebago and Crow Creek Indian lands in the Dakota Territory to white settlement by executive order.[153] Tens of thousands of settlers gathered at the border of these lands and prepared to take possession of them.[153] Cleveland believed Arthur's order to be in violation of treaties with the tribes, and rescinded it on April 17 of that year, ordering the settlers out of the territory.[153] Cleveland sent in eighteen companies of Army troops to enforce the treaties and ordered General Philip Sheridan, at the time Commanding General of the U. S. Army, to investigate the matter.[153]

Marriage and children

Frances Folsom Cleveland circa 1886

Cleveland was age 47 when he entered the White House as a bachelor, and his sister Rose Cleveland joined him, to act as hostess for the first two years of his administration.[154] Unlike the previous bachelor president James Buchanan, Cleveland did not remain a bachelor for long. In 1885 the daughter of Cleveland's friend Oscar Folsom visited him in Washington.[155] Frances Folsom was a student at Wells College. When she returned to school, President Cleveland received her mother's permission to correspond with her, and they were soon engaged to be married.[155] On June 2, 1886, Cleveland was age 49 when he married Frances Folsom (age 21) in the Blue Room at the White House.[156] He was the second president to wed while in office,[c] and has been the only president to marry in the White House. This marriage was unusual because Cleveland was the executor of Oscar Folsom's estate and had supervised Frances's upbringing after her father's death; nevertheless, the public took no exception to the match.[157] At 21 years, Frances Folsom Cleveland was the youngest First Lady in history, and the public soon warmed to her warm personality.[158]

The Clevelands had five children: Ruth (1891–1904), Esther (1893–1980), Marion (1895–1977), Richard (1897–1974), and Francis (1903–1995). British philosopher Philippa Foot was their granddaughter.[159]

Cleveland also claimed paternity of an additional child named Oscar Folsom Cleveland with Maria Crofts Halpin.[160]

Administration and Cabinet

Cleveland's first Cabinet.
Front row, left to right: Thomas F. Bayard, Cleveland, Daniel Manning, Lucius Q. C. Lamar
Back row, left to right: William F. Vilas, William C. Whitney, William C. Endicott, Augustus H. Garland
The First Cleveland Cabinet
PresidentGrover Cleveland1885–1889
Vice PresidentThomas A. Hendricks1885
Secretary of StateThomas F. Bayard1885–1889
Secretary of the TreasuryDaniel Manning1885–1887
Charles S. Fairchild1887–1889
Secretary of WarWilliam Crowninshield Endicott1885–1889
Attorney GeneralAugustus Hill Garland1885–1889
Postmaster GeneralWilliam Freeman Vilas1885–1888
Donald M. Dickinson1888–1889
Secretary of the NavyWilliam Collins Whitney1885–1889
Secretary of the InteriorLucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar1885–1888
William Freeman Vilas1888–1889
Secretary of AgricultureNorman Jay Coleman1889

Judicial appointments

Chief Justice Melville Fuller

During his first term, Cleveland successfully nominated two justices to the Supreme Court of the United States. The first, Lucius Q. C. Lamar, was a former Mississippi senator who served in Cleveland's Cabinet as Interior Secretary. When William Burnham Woods died, Cleveland nominated Lamar to his seat in late 1887. While Lamar had been well liked as a senator, his service under the Confederacy two decades earlier caused many Republicans to vote against him. Lamar's nomination was confirmed by the narrow margin of 32 to 28.[161]

Chief Justice Morrison Waite died a few months later, and Cleveland nominated Melville Fuller to fill his seat on April 30, 1888. Fuller accepted. He had previously declined Cleveland's nomination to the Civil Service Commission, preferring his Chicago law practice. The Senate Judiciary Committee spent several months examining the little-known nominee, before the Senate confirmed the nomination 41 to 20.[162][163]

Cleveland nominated 41 lower federal court judges in addition to his four Supreme Court justices. These included two judges to the United States circuit courts, nine judges to the United States Courts of Appeals, and 30 judges to the United States district courts. Because Cleveland served terms both before and after Congress eliminated the circuit courts in favor of the Courts of Appeals, he is one of only two presidents to have appointed judges to both bodies. The other, Benjamin Harrison, was in office at the time that the change was made. Thus, all of Cleveland's appointments to the circuit courts were made in his first term, and all of his appointments to the Courts of Appeals were made in his second.

Grover Cleveland First presidency (1885–1889) articles: 99