In the United States these days the figure of Grover Cleveland is evoked. He is the only president who, after losing an election while in office, won it four years later and managed to return triumphantly to the White House. The question of Donald Trump’s future when he leaves power soon.
Stephen Grover Cleveland (Caldwell, New Jersey, March 18, 1837-Princeton, New Jersey, June 24, 1908) was the twenty-second (1885-1889)1 and twenty-fourth (1893-1897)1 president of the United States and the only president of that country to serve two non-consecutive terms. In addition, he was the only Democrat to reach the presidency in an era of Republican preponderance in government between 1860 and 1912, and the first Democratic president after the Civil War. His admirers praised his tenure for his honesty, independence of mind, and adherence to the principles of liberalism and free trade. In addition, he is considered the most popular president among those who lived in the White House between Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt. However, he is criticized for the overburdening of his second term apparently due to a severe economic crisis and the loss of control of the Democratic Party over its agricultural branches.
Cleveland was born in Caldwell, New Jersey, the fifth of nine children of the Reverend Richard Cleveland and his wife Anne Neal, the daughter of a Baltimore book seller. On his father’s side he was descended from English settlers who settled in Massachusetts in 1645, and on his mother’s side from German Quakers and Anglo-Irish Protestants.
His father, a Presbyterian minister originally from Connecticut, was relocated several times, so Cleveland grew up constantly moving around the East Coast of America, with Fayeteville being one of the places where the family made the most stops during Cleveland’s childhood.
In 1850 the Cleveland family settled in Clinton, where his father had been appointed pastor. His father’s dedication to religion was not enough to pay for the life of his large family, so Grover was forced to leave his studies for a two-year course of commercial apprenticeship, although this experience would be very brief and he would soon resume his studies. In 1853 his father would leave the parish of Clinton to move to Holland Patent, where he would soon die.
He practiced law in Buffalo, New York, where his concentration on work and his commitment to solving cases was already evident. He was elected sheriff of Erie County, New York in 1870, and while in office personally executed at least two death sentences on the gallows of criminals. His political opponents would criticize him years later calling him the “Buffalo Executioner. Cleveland made it clear that he wanted to “take responsibility for the executions to avoid that burden on his subordinates.
At the age of 44, he began his rising political career that would take him to the White House in three years. A proponent of Democratic reform, he was elected Mayor of Buffalo, with the slogan Public Office is a Public Trust as his trademark. In 1882, he was elected governor of New York.
Cleveland won the 1884 presidential election with the combined support of Democrats and reformist Republicans who dissented with the opposition candidate, Maine Senator James G. Blaine, for alleged corruption in his office. The campaign was relatively negative, since the opposition, in order to diminish the image of honesty that Cleveland emanated, awarded him several extramarital children as a result of his years in the practice of law. Cleveland never admitted or denied the rumor, but he did admit to paying child support to a son by the name of Oscar Folsom Cleveland.
In June 1886, Cleveland married Frances Folsom, daughter of a partner in his law firm, in the Blue Room of the White House. He was the second president to marry in office (the previous one had been John Tyler) and the only one to have his wedding in the White House. Folsom was also the youngest first lady in the history of the United States of America. In October 1886 Cleveland inaugurated the Statue of Liberty.
Cleveland’s management can be summarized in one of its most characteristic phrases, “I only have one thing to do and that is to do the right thing”. He himself insisted that his job in the presidency should be to curb the bad ideas of other politicians. The fact is that Cleveland made greater use of public spending than other presidents of his time, almost always using it to curb the classic liberalism of his time. In fact, if the twenty-one previous presidents resorted to the veto 206 times between them, Cleveland did so 414 times in his first term alone, and 584 times in the second.
Among Cleveland’s notable maneuvers to curb public spending was the veto of a law that earmarked 10,000 dollars for the purchase of grain to be distributed to drought-impoverished Texan farmers, in this case writing: “Federal aid in these cases increases the expectation of parental care from the government and lessens the harshness of our national character. This president also vetoed hundreds of petitions for private pensions for U.S. Civil War veterans that he argued were fraudulent.
In foreign policy Cleveland was characterized by an isolationism characterized by a parenthesis in the interventions of the American army over the rest of America. However, there was no significant departure from custom. He rejected his country’s presence at the Berlin Conference, curbing Washington’s claims on the Congo. In economic policy, this president initiated a crusade against the protectionist tariffs implemented by previous administrations, which obtained partial success.
Cleveland’s first campaign objectives were to reduce protectionist tariffs and stop a rampant production of silver coins that was leaving the country’s Treasury Department gold reserves empty. With re-election in 1892, Cleveland became the first and, to date, only president of the United States to be elected to two non-consecutive terms.
Shortly after becoming president he had to face a crisis known as the 1893 panic, characterized by a serious decline in the economy due to the scarce gold reserves of the State, a direct consequence of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act. Dealing directly with unemployment and the bankruptcy of numerous agricultural industries, Cleveland helped by regulatory laws, the J.P. Morgan and Wall Street managed to contain the inflationary spiral.
He fought in vain to lower customs tariffs through laws that were stopped by Congress. In June 1894 he faced a railroad workers’ strike in Chicago, which he severely repressed by sending an army contingent.
Invoking the Monroe Doctrine, he forced the United Kingdom to accept his arbitration on a question of boundaries with Venezuela. He also modernized the US Navy, a strategy that would later serve to win the war against Spain.
After an investigation on the overthrow of Liliʻuokalani, Queen of Hawaii, he supported the restoration of the monarchy in that country, withdrawing from the Senate the project of annexing Hawaii to the Union.
Upon leaving the presidency, he retired to Princeton, where he worked for a time at the university opposing the policies of then-Rector Woodrow Wilson. He died in 1908 of a heart attack and was buried in a Princeton cemetery.