Grover Cleveland (March 18, 1837-June 24, 1908) was the 22nd and 24th President of the United States, and the only president to be elected to two non-consecutive terms from 1885-1889 and again in 1893-1897. During his time in office he was known for attempting to take a bipartisan view, and not waiver to the political pressures of his party. As a result, he offended nearly every political group, as well as several influential private interests. In sharp contrast to most politicos, he is remembered for the steadfast nature of his integrity, as opposed to any specific achievement during his tenure as President.


Four years after his birth in 1837 to Presbyterian minister Richard Falley Cleveland and Ann Neal Cleveland, the family Relocated to Fayetteville, New York, where his father became pastor of the Presbyterian church. At 13 Cleveland entered an academy in nearby Clinton. his father’s death in 1853 made it impossible for him to attend college. For sustenance and in support of his mother, he moved to New York City, where he worked for one year teaching at the state institution for the blind.

In 1855 Cleveland decided on a whim to go to Cleveland, Ohio, looking for work. He made it only to Buffalo, New York, where his uncle, who was a wealthy cattle breeder, hired him to look after his cattle company. After a year, Cleveland studied law in the offices of friends of his uncle and in 1859 was licensed to practice law.

Birth of Political Career

Cleveland soon showed the independence that characterized his life. His uncle was active in local politics; having organized Erie County's Republican Party, but Cleveland joined the Democratic Party. Cleveland later said that he became a Democrat in 1856 because that party represented solid, conservative thought.

During the Civil War (1861-1865), when men of his age were in the Union Army, Cleveland borrowed money to hire a substitute to serve in his place. This was a practice permitted under the Federal Conscription Act and was widely used in the North. Cleveland defended his action, saying that he had to earn enough money to support his mother and sisters.

Cleveland was appointed to the office of District Attorney of Erie County, New York in 1863, where he earned an excellent reputation. In 1871 he became county sheriff. His success was generally attributed to hard work rather than talent

Cleveland As Mayor

In 1881 a coalition of Democrats, reform Republicans, and independents elected him as mayor of Buffalo, New York, mostly due to his reputation as an upstanding citizen. While in office, Cleveland was known for his efforts in fighting the graft of the Buffalo aldermen, who would regularly pass laws that increased the value of their private investments. Cleveland thus became known as the "veto mayor."

Cleveland’s political advancement beyond mayor seems mostly accidental. In 1882 there was a deadlock between two candidates wanting the Democratic nomination for Governor of New York. Cleveland was nominated mostly due to party leaders deciding that a new face, Cleveland’s, was needed to unite quarreling factions in their own party.

Governor of New York

While governor, Cleveland remained steadfast to his ethics. States at this time operated on the ‘spoils system’. Winning politicians gave government jobs to those loyal party members who had helped them get elected. In opposition to this system, Cleveland appointed individuals he thought would best fit the job.

Just as when he was Mayor, Cleveland easily frequently vetoed legislation that was forwarded to him by the state senate. Most famously, the veto in 1883 of the Five Cent Fare bill, which would have lowered transit fares in New York City in violation of the transit company's charter.

The Election of 1884

In 1884 the Republicans nominated James G. Blaine for president. Reformation Republics were outraged at Blaine's nomination, since he had been accused of accepting bribes from the railroads. These independents, derisively called Mugwumps (meaning "big chiefs"), appealed to the voters to support any Democrat who ran against Blaine, as long as he was honest. The anti-Blaine independents could rally around Cleveland since his public record was unassailable.

At the DNC in July of 1884, Cleveland was nominated for president. Republican editors alleged that Cleveland had fathered an illegitimate child, which Cleveland courageously acknowledged. Democrats accused Blaine of trying to aid the railroads at public expense.

A variety of factors combined giving Cleveland a victory over Blaine. Voters in New York City voted heavily Democratic, in part because of Reverend Samuel D. Burchard, who called the Democrats the party of "rum, Romanism, and rebellion," an insulting reference to Irish Americans, Roman Catholics, and Southerners, all of whom supported the Democratic Party. The statement lost Blaine the Irish vote in New York City.

New York's 36 electoral votes swung the election to Cleveland. He won the state's vote by only about 1000 in a total vote of more than 1,000,000, and the national election by 219 electoral votes to Blaine's 182.

Life As President

Cleveland was inaugurated March 4, 1885, and he immediately showed his independence and disregard for the opinion of his supporters in the selection of his Cabinet. The president further demonstrated his independence by promising no "relaxation on my part" in enforcing the law regulating government employment, called the Pendleton Act of 1883. Cleveland more than doubled the number of government jobs that came under the Civil Service Commission; these jobs were given to people who were qualified to fill the positions, rather than to party loyalists, as was usually the case at that time.

In June of 1886, the 49-year-old president married Frances Folsom. Cleveland was the first president to be married in the White House. The couple had three daughters and two sons.

During his first term, Cleveland supported two major pieces of legislation. One was the Dawes Act of 1887. This act attempted to imbue Native Americans' with a sense of individualism by distributing tribal lands to individual Native Americans. The act failed to achieve its goal. Instead, much of the land fell into the hands of whites, further impoverishing a decreasing Native American population

The second major bill was the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887, which said that charges on railroads must be "reasonable and just." This law established the principle of federal regulation of the economy. It created the Interstate Commerce Commission but did not give it sufficient powers to regulate railroads effectively.

When Cleveland left public office in 1889, he returned to New York City and resumed his law practice. Three years later, the Democrats again turned to him as their party's greatest vote-getter. At their national convention Cleveland was nominated on the first ballot.

Cleveland stood his ground against western Democrats who demanded free coinage of silver. The unrestricted, or free, coinage of silver would have increased the amount of money available, causing the value of the dollar to decline

The Republicans in their campaign defended their high-tariff policy against repeated and strong Democratic criticism, but that was not enough. Despite the arguments within his own party, Cleveland decisively defeated President Harrison, 277 electoral votes to 145.

In 1893 a financial crisis struck the country, brought on mostly by the overexpansion of the railroad industry. Many businesses failed, bringing unemployment, poverty, and suffering. Instead of surrendering to the public clamor for free coinage of silver as the remedy for the depression, the president persuaded Congress, which was controlled by Democrats, to repeal the Sherman Silver-Purchase Act of 1890. Almost as soon as Cleveland won repeal of the silver-purchase law, he faced the tariff issue again. Cleveland continued the fight for a low tariff to reduce the government surplus. However, a group of Senate Democrats from Eastern manufacturing states joined with high-tariff Republicans to raise rates in certain categories in the Wilson-Gorman Tariff Act. Cleveland neither signed nor vetoed the bill, and it became law without his signature.

One of the most serious incidents of Cleveland's second term was the Pullman strike of 1894 in Chicago, Illinois. The American Railway Union, led by Eugene V. Debs, halted railroad traffic with a sympathy strike in support of the employees of the Pullman Palace Car Company. Cleveland used army troops to break the strike, claiming that the strikers had interfered with the U.S. mail. Cleveland's action was supported by the business community and much of the public, but trade-unionists, liberals, and intellectuals criticized the use of troops.

Cleveland’s Last Years

After turning over the presidential office to McKinley on March 4, 1897, Cleveland retired to a home he had bought in Princeton, New Jersey. In 1904 there was talk of a third term for Cleveland, but he discouraged it. In that year he published a book called Presidential Problems, a defense of his administrations.

During his last years, Cleveland served Princeton University Trustee. There he met the university's president and future U.S. President Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921). After a three-month illness, Grover Cleveland died in 1908 at his Princeton home.

Cleveland was also featured on the now defunct thousand dollar bill.

This biography was written based on information available at

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