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Grover Cleveland Biography

Lesson Plans | Quotes

Stephen Grover Cleveland’s quick ascent in politics and firm governing style are these days obscured by his reputation as a “Do-Nothing President.” True, Cleveland did not consider it the President’s job to initiate legislation, nor did he consider legislation a viable solution to many of the country’s problems. However, his strong stances on his role, and the role of the federal government in general, made him distinctive in his own right. He broke records with his use of the presidential veto; he famously defended a veto of $10,000 in federal aid to Texan farmers by writing, "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 [. . . ] " Cleveland also used his veto power to crack down on abuses of veterans’ benefits, an especially pressing issue in the post-Civil War era.

When he exercised presidential power, Cleveland did so with might and decisive authority, taking on both management and labor in the ever-powerful railroad industry. To name a few examples, he took back 81,000,000 acres of government-granted land, signed the Interstate Commerce Act into law, and sent federal troops to enforce an injunction against a crippling workers’ strike. Explaining that controversial move, he declared, “If it takes the entire army and navy of the United States to deliver a post card in Chicago, that card will be delivered.”

A lawyer by trade, Cleveland ran for Mayor of Buffalo, New York, winning both the Democratic nomination and the general election in 1881. The following year, he was elected Governor of New York. In both offices, he was known for targeting corruption and for possessing an honest demeanor and a strong work ethic. He later made history as the first Democrat elected to the presidency following the Civil War and as the only US President ever to serve two non-consecutive terms. (He actually won the popular vote in the 1888 election, but lost the electoral vote to Republican Benjamin Harrison.) However, his second term was largely marred by a perceived failure to adequately address the nation’s unprecedented economic depression.

On a more personal level, one peculiarity of Cleveland’s presidency is that he began it as a bachelor and was married in the White House – no president before or since has been married there. The 49-year-old Cleveland’s marriage to the 21-year-old Frances Folsom created quite a stir in the media at the time. Previously, Cleveland had been charged with fathering an illegitimate child, a scandal which almost derailed his first presidential campaign in 1884.

Grover Cleveland left office in 1987 with little affection remaining between him and the Democratic Party. He retired to Princeton, New Jersey, where he died in 1908. Despite the lack of esteem afforded him in retrospect, he remains an intriguing historical figure and an unusual President.

 


Grover Cleveland 1884 1892 elections Lesson plans

Grover Cleveland Timeline
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Pullman Strike