Biography of Grover Cleveland, 22nd and 24th President of the USA

Standing Up Against Tammany Hall

The Cleveland family, left to right: Esther, Francis, mother Frances Folsom, Marion, Richard, and former President Grover Cleveland.
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Grover Cleveland (1837–1908) 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, U.S.
  • Parents: Richard Falley Cleveland, Ann Neal
  • Died: June 24, 1908, in Princeton, New Jersey, U.S.
  • Education: Fayetteville Academy and the Clinton Liberal Academy
  • Awards and Honors: Namesake for numerous parks, roads, schools; likeness on a US 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 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 in 1855 to live and work with his Uncle in Buffalo, New York where he studied law on his own. Despite the fact that he never attended college, Cleveland was admitted to the bar in 1859 at the age of 22.

Grover Cleveland's Career Before the Presidency

Cleveland went into law practice and became an active member of the Democratic Party in New York. He became Sheriff of Erie County, New York from 1871-73, gaining a reputation for fighting against corruption. His political career then led him to become Mayor of Buffalo in 1882 where 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 who tapped him to become Governor of New York from 1883-85.

Marriage and Children

On June 2, 1886, Cleveland married Frances Folsom in a ceremony in the White House. He was 49 and she was 21. Together they had three daughters and two sons. His daughter Esther was the only President's child born in the White House. Cleveland was alleged to have 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 with Thomas Hendricks chosen as his running mate. His 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 Presidential Administration: March 4, 1885–March 3, 1889

During his first administration, Cleveland championed several important acts:

  • The Presidential Succession Act passed in 1886 which 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 creating the Interstate Commerce Commission. This commission's job was to regulate interstate railroad rates. It was the first federal regulatory agency.
  • In 1887, the Dawes Severalty Act passed granting 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 Vice-Presidential running mate, Adlai Stevenson, he ran again the incumbent Benjamin Harrison to whom Cleveland had lost 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 Presidential Administration: 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 which would have annexed Hawaii because he felt that America 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, he 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.

Sources

  • The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Grover Cleveland.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 14 Mar. 2019, www.britannica.com/biography/Grover-Cleveland.
  • Editors, History.com. “Grover Cleveland.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 27 Oct. 2009, www.history.com/topics/us-presidents/grover-cleveland.
  • “Grover Cleveland: Life Before the Presidency.” Miller Center, 18 July 2017, millercenter.org/president/cleveland/life-before-the-presidency.