Great Leaders and National Issues of 1896/Chapter 8/Cleveland

VIII. Political Giants of the Present Day—

Grover Cleveland

Grover Cleveland


Successful Lawyer, Governor and President

Grover Cleveland, twenty-second and twenty-fourth President of the United States, was born in the village of Caldwell, Essex county, New Jersey, March 18, 1837. He was the son of Richard Falley Cleveland, a Presbyterian minister, who was graduated at Yale in 1824, and five years later married Annie Neal, daughter of a Baltimore merchant.

When the son was four years old, his father accepted a call to Fayetteville, near Syracuse, New York, where the boy attended the academy, and afterward served as clerk in a country store. Some time later the family removed to Clinton, in Oneida county, and Grover was a student at the academy there. At the age of sixteen he became a clerk and assistant teacher in the New York Institution for the Blind, in New York city. In the same institution his elder brother, William, now a preacher, was also a teacher.

Cleveland Goes West


Grover was an excellent teacher, but yielding to ambition, he decided to go West, where he believed greater opportunities for mental growth and success awaited him. He stopped at Black Rock, now a part of the city of Buffalo, and called upon his uncle, Lewis F. Allen, who persuaded him to stay and help in the compilation of a volume of the “American Herd Book.” He assisted in the preparation of several more volumes, and in August, 1855, became a clerk and copyist for the law firm of Rogers, Bowen & Rogers, in Buffalo. He took up the study of law and was admitted to the bar in 1859. Meanwhile his father died, and, that he might be able to support his mother, Grover remained three years longer with the firm at a moderate salary.

His worth and ability had attracted favorable notice, and he was appointed assistant district attorney of Erie county, January 1, 1863, holding the office for three years. He was defeated, in 1865, as the Democratic candidate for district attorney, and became a law partner of Isaac V. Vanderpool, uniting, in 1869, with the firm of Lanning & Folsom. By this time he had attained marked success, and in 1870 was elected sheriff of Erie county. At the end of his three years' term, he formed a law partnership with his intimate friend, Lyman K. Bass, who had defeated him for the district attorneyship, the firm being Bass, Cleveland & Bissell. Ill health compelled the retirement of Mr. Bass, when the firm became Cleveland & Bissell. It was very successful, and Mr. Cleveland's reputation increased.

Cleveland's Early Public Career


One of the marked features of Mr. Cleveland's early public career was his great popularity when he appeared as a candidate for the suffrages of the people. Being nominated by the Democrats for mayor of Buffalo, in the autumn of 1881, he received the largest majority (3,530) ever given to a candidate in that city, although the Republican ticket was successful in other directions. He was supported not only by his own party, but by the independent and the “reform” movements. He fulfilled the expectations of his supporters, vetoing extravagant measures, and conducting his office in so prudent and economical a manner that he saved fully $1,000,000 to Buffalo during the first six months of his term. His course gave him such a popularity that in September, 1882, he was nominated for governor of the State. His opponent was Charles J. Folger, then Secretary of the United States Treasury. Both men had a record that could not be assailed, and the result was astounding. In a vote of 918,894, Cleveland received a plurality of 192,854, giving him a majority over his opponent, the greenback, prohibition, and scattering vote, of 151,742, the like of which was never before known in the Empire State. The vote was so tremendous that it attracted national attention and convinced the Democratic party that if the new governor made no blunder during his administration, he would be the most available candidate for the Presidency.

Cleveland as Governor


Governor Cleveland made no blunders that could mar his prospects. He was able, honest, and wholly devoted to the interests of the State. At the Democratic national convention, held in Chicago, in July, 1884, after several days devoted to organization and the presenting of the names of the candidates, he received the nomination, which he formally accepted by letter on the 18th of August.

Four candidates were before the country in November, 1884: Cleveland of New York, the regular Democratic nominee; James G. Blaine of Maine, Republican; Benjamin F. Butler of Massachusetts, labor and greenback; and John P. St. John of Kansas, prohibition. One of those little incidents which can never be foreseen, and which often overturn the best-laid plans, led to the defeat of Blaine. At a public reception, Reverend Dr. Burchard, in addressing Mr. Blaine, referred to the Democratic party as that of “Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion.” Mr. Blaine did not catch the expression, or, as he afterward declared, he would have reproved it, but the mischief was done so far as he was concerned. The charge against him was used so skilfully that the Republican candidate lost the vote of New York by a trifling majority. This gave Cleveland 219 electoral votes to 182 for Blaine, while the popular vote stood: Cleveland, 4,874,986; Blaine, 4,851,081.

President Cleveland's First Administration


President Cleveland was inaugurated on the 4th of March following, and called around him an able Cabinet. He proved himself sincere when he declared he would do his utmost to carry out the policy of civil service reform. This course alienated some of his supporters who believed in the doctrine that “to the victors belong the spoils,” and who considered all ante-election pledges to the contrary as intended simply to catch votes, but President Cleveland adhered to the policy to the end, earning the respect of both parties by his courage and sincerity. He used the veto power with the same severity as when Mayor and Governor. He favored a reduction of the tariff, with the ultimate establishment of freer trade.

A pleasing incident of President Cleveland's first administration was his marriage, at the White House, June 2, 1886, to Miss Frances Folsom, daughter of Oscar Folsom, the President's intimate friend. The whole country felt an interest in the happy event, and Mrs. Cleveland, as the leading lady of the land, has commanded the admiring respect of the nation and of all with whom she has come in contact. No more graceful or accomplished lady has ever presided at the White House.

In the autumn of 1888 President Cleveland found himself pitted against General Benjamin Harrison, with the result that has already been stated. Of the popular vote, Cleveland received 5,540,329 and Harrison 5,439,853, while of the electoral votes, 168 went to Cleveland and 233 to Harrison.

Cleveland Re-elected


In 1892 the same gentlemen were the leading candidates and the verdict was reversed; Cleveland received 5,553,142 and Harrison 5,186,931 on the popular vote, while in the electoral college 276 votes went to Cleveland and 145 to Harrison. It was the first time in our history that a President was re-elected after being out of office for one term.

It is not the province of this sketch to give a history of the leading features of President Cleveland's administrations. A monetary stringency and a great depression of business were accompanied by a formidable railway strike which necessitated the calling out of the United States troops in several parts of the country.

“Struck Fire”


The time when President Cleveland “struck fire,” however, was in his message to Congress, on December 17, 1895. England, whose “earth hunger” is insatiable, and who has appropriated land in all parts of the world, often without regard to right and justice, had disputed for years with Venezuela over the boundary between that country and British Guiana, obtained by England from The Netherlands in 1814. Learning that the interior of Venezuela contains valuable gold mines, England set up a claim, which if allowed would have split Venezuela almost in half. That weak country protested, but was powerless. England refused to arbitrate, but meant to win by the bullying course which she is so fond of adopting with feeble nations.

The United States could not view with indifference this dismemberment of a sister republic on the American continent, for it would be a flagrant violation of the Monroe Doctrine enunciated in 1823, which declared in language not to be mistaken that no part of North or South America from that time forward should be open for colonization by any foreign Power. Lord Salisbury, the British prime minister, was slow in replying to the communications of our Government. When his reply came, however, the President submitted it to Congress with the statement that the action Great Britain contemplated was a violation of the Monroe Doctrine, which it was the duty of the American Government to resist, and proposed the appointment of a commission by the President to determine the correct boundary.

This declaration, as we have stated, “struck fire.” It was instantly responded to by an outburst of patriotic fervor from one end of the country to the other. The President was endorsed everywhere. In the North and South the veterans were as eager as their sons to be led against their old hereditary enemy. President Cleveland was declared to be an American in the highest sense of the word, and an exalted patriot who had sounded the bugle to which hundreds of thousands of loyal spirits would respond.

Evidently England had not reckoned on raising such a storm as this. She found herself confronted by a nation that could not be bullied, a nation that was ready to fight at “the dropping of a handkerchief” for principle. Great as would be the calamity of a war between the two nations, it would be less a calamity than dishonor. The result is known. England was forced to make a virtue of necessity, and, with the best grace she could command, yielded to the inevitable, admitting, that if the Monroe Doctrine is not international law, it is the abiding law of America and must be respected by all nations. And with this happy ending, it is to be hoped that, England having learned more of us than she ever knew, the two great nations will hereafter remain friends.