Biography of Grover Cleveland, 22nd and 24th U.S. President

Grover Cleveland and his family
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Grover Cleveland (March 18, 1837–June 24, 1908) was a New York lawyer who went on to become governor of New York and then president of the United States. He remains the only American president to serve two non-consecutive terms in office (1885–1889 and 1893–1897). A Democrat, Cleveland supported fiscal conservatism and fought against the cronyism and corruption of his time.

Fast Facts: Grover Cleveland

  • Known For: 22nd and 24th president of the United States
  • Also Known As: Stephen Grover Cleveland
  • Born: March 18, 1837 in Caldwell, New Jersey
  • Parents: Richard Falley Cleveland, Ann Neal
  • Died: June 24, 1908 in Princeton, New Jersey
  • Education: Fayetteville Academy and the Clinton Liberal Academy
  • Awards and Honors: Namesake for numerous parks, roads, schools; likeness on a U.S. postage stamp
  • Spouse: Frances Folsom
  • Children: Ruth, Esther, Marion, Richard, Francis Grover, Oscar (illegitimate)
  • Notable Quote: “A cause worth fighting for is worth fighting for to the end.”

Early Life

Cleveland was born on March 18, 1837, in Caldwell, New Jersey. He was one of nine offspring of Ann Neal and Richard Falley Cleveland, a Presbyterian minister who died when Grover was 16. He started attending school at the age of 11, but when his father died in 1853, Cleveland left school to work and support his family. He moved to Buffalo, New York in 1855 to live and work with his uncle. He also studied law there on his own. Despite the fact that he never attended college, Cleveland was admitted to the bar in 1859 at age 22.

Career Before the Presidency

Cleveland went into law practice and became an active member of the Democratic Party in New York. He was the sheriff of Erie County, New York from 1871–1873 and gained a reputation for fighting against corruption. His political career then led him to become the mayor of Buffalo in 1882. In this role, he exposed graft, lowered the costs of transportation, and vetoed pork barrel allocations of funds. His reputation as an urban reformer appealed to the Democratic Party, which tapped him to become governor of New York from 1883–1885.

Marriage and Children

On June 2, 1886, Cleveland married Frances Folsom at the White House during his first presidential term. He was 49 and she was 21. Together they had three daughters and two sons. His daughter Esther was the only child of a president born in the White House. Cleveland was alleged to have had a child by a premarital affair with Maria Halpin. He was unsure of the child's paternity but accepted responsibility.

Election of 1884

In 1884, Cleveland was nominated by the Democrats to run for president. Thomas Hendricks was chosen as his running mate. Their opponent was James Blaine. The campaign was one largely of personal attacks rather than substantive issues. Cleveland narrowly won the election with 49% of the popular vote while gaining 219 of the possible 401 electoral votes.

First Term: March 4, 1885–March 3, 1889

During his first administration, Cleveland championed several important acts:

  • The Presidential Succession Act passed in 1886 and provided that, upon the death or resignation of both the president and vice president, the line of succession would go through the cabinet in chronological order of creation of the cabinet positions.
  • In 1887, the Interstate Commerce Act passed and created the Interstate Commerce Commission. This body's job was to regulate interstate railroad rates. It was the first federal regulatory agency.
  • In 1887, the Dawes Severalty Act passed and granted citizenship and title to reservation land for Native Americans who were willing to renounce their tribal allegiance.

Election of 1892

Cleveland won the nomination again in 1892 despite New York's opposition through the political machine known as Tammany Hall. Along with his running mate Adlai Stevenson, Cleveland ran against the incumbent President Benjamin Harrison, who defeated Cleveland four years prior. James Weaver ran as a third-party candidate. In the end, Cleveland won with 277 out of a possible 444 electoral votes.

Second Term: March 4, 1893–March 3, 1897

Economic events and challenges became a major focus of Cleveland's historic second presidency.

In 1893, Cleveland forced the withdrawal of a treaty that would have annexed Hawaii because he felt the United States was wrong in helping with the overthrow of Queen Liliuokalani.

In 1893, an economic depression began called the Panic of 1893. Thousands of businesses went under and riots broke out. However, the government did little to help because it was not seen as constitutionally allowed.

A strong believer in the gold standard, Cleveland called Congress into session to repeal the Sherman Silver Purchase Act. According to this act, silver was purchased by the government and was redeemable in notes for either silver or gold. Cleveland's belief that this was responsible for reducing the gold reserves was not popular with many in the Democratic Party.

In 1894, the Pullman Strike occurred. The Pullman Palace Car Company had reduced wages and the workers walked out under the leadership of Eugene V. Debs. When violence broke out, Cleveland ordered federal troops in and arrested Debs, thus ending the strike.

Death

Cleveland retired from active political life in 1897 and moved to Princeton, New Jersey. He became a lecturer and member of the Board of Trustees of Princeton University. Cleveland died on June 24, 1908, of heart failure.

Legacy

Cleveland is considered by historians to have been one of America's better presidents. During his time in office, he helped usher in the beginning of federal regulation of commerce. Further, he fought against what he saw as private abuses of federal money. He was known for acting upon his own conscience despite opposition within his party.

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