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Who is Grover Cleveland?

Grover Cleveland stands out in American history as the only president to serve two non-consecutive terms. His leadership during the Gilded Age was marked by a commitment to honesty and reform. Discover how Cleveland's unique presidency shaped the nation's trajectory and consider what lessons his political career might offer for today's landscape. What impact did his administration have on modern governance?
Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison

Stephen Grover Cleveland (1837-1908) was the 22nd and 24th President of the United States. Born on 18 March 1837, he holds the impressive distinction of being the only President to hold the presidency for non-consecutive terms. His first presidency lasted from 1885 until 1889, and his second term lasted from 1893 until 1897. Grover Cleveland is also remembered as the only Democrat to achieve the office during the time of Republican domination that extended from approximately 1860 until 1912.

Grover Cleveland’s life began in Caldwell, New Jersey. He had four brothers and four sisters and was fifth in line in terms of age. His father was a pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Caldwell; it was because of his father’s association with the church that Grover Cleveland was named Steven after the first pastor of the church at which his father served. Grover Cleveland lived most of the 1840s in Fayetteville, New York, but moved frequently to follow his father's many transfers as a church minister. Generally, however, he lived in the southern and central parts of New York State.

Grover Cleveland oversaw the dedication of the Statue of Liberty.
Grover Cleveland oversaw the dedication of the Statue of Liberty.

Though Grover Cleveland was alive at the time of the Civil War, he did not serve in the war alongside other men his age. In possession of a significant amount of wealth, he was able to pay another man to take his place in the war. However, he was not entirely opposed to public service, as he entered the realm of politics at just 19 years of age, serving with James Buchanan’s presidential campaign. Besides campaign work, Grover Cleveland spent some of his adult years as a lawyer in Buffalo, New York. In 1870, he became the sheriff of Erie County, New York.

President Cleveland was married at the White House.
President Cleveland was married at the White House.

In 1881, Grover Cleveland became mayor of Buffalo, New York. Just a year later, he was elected New York State’s governor, working on some matters with Theodore Roosevelt, who was then a state legislator. Two years later, he was elected President by both Democratic and reform-minded Republicans. Though he was of a different party, Cleveland was able to capitalize on the dislike aimed at his opponent, Senator James G. Blaine. The Republicans who supported Cleveland criticized Blaine, calling him corrupt.

Critics of the Dawes Act argue that the law, which was in effect until 1934, helped fragment and dissolve many Native American communities.
Critics of the Dawes Act argue that the law, which was in effect until 1934, helped fragment and dissolve many Native American communities.

Grover Cleveland’s campaign was not without its fair share of critics. In fact, his opponent spread the word that he may have fathered an illegitimate child while he was a lawyer. Cleveland did admit to paying child support for the child, but it is unclear whether or not he was the child’s father. Some speculated that he agreed to support the child because he was the only unmarried man among the other law partners who could have fathered the child. He did marry eventually, however, wedding Frances Cornelia Folsom in 1886 and enjoying a White House wedding; the couple went on to have five children.

Grover Cleveland is remembered for several notable presidential acts, including his overseeing of the dedication of the Statue of Liberty in 1886. Additionally, the American Federation of Labor, the Interstate Commerce Act, and the Dawes Act were created during his years as President. Those who supported his presidency praised him for being honest, independent and committed to classical federalism. His opponents criticized him for lacking imagination and being overwhelmed by economic problems.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who was Grover Cleveland and what is he known for?

Grover Cleveland, the 22nd and 24th President of the United States, is known for being the only president to serve two non-consecutive terms. His presidency is marked by his commitment to honesty, fight against corruption, and classical liberal philosophy. He was also known for his veto power use, opposing high tariffs and free silver, and supporting the gold standard. Cleveland's leadership during the Pullman Strike and his stance on the Interstate Commerce Commission are significant aspects of his legacy.

What were Grover Cleveland's major accomplishments during his presidency?

During his two terms, Grover Cleveland's major accomplishments included the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887, which regulated railroads to ensure fair rates and prevent rate discrimination. He also successfully repealed the Sherman Silver Purchase Act, which had threatened the nation's gold reserves. Additionally, Cleveland is credited with strengthening the executive branch of government and improving the civil service system through the signing of the Dawes Act, which aimed to assimilate Native Americans into American society.

How did Grover Cleveland's background influence his presidency?

Grover Cleveland's background as the son of a Presbyterian minister and his work as a lawyer in Buffalo, New York, instilled in him a strong sense of moral rectitude and a commitment to public service. His experience as Mayor of Buffalo and Governor of New York before becoming president gave him a reputation as a reformer who fought against corruption and patronage, which influenced his approach to the presidency, particularly in his efforts to reform the civil service and reduce government spending.

What challenges did Grover Cleveland face during his presidency?

Cleveland faced several challenges during his presidency, including economic turmoil such as the Panic of 1893, which led to a severe depression. He also dealt with labor unrest, most notably the Pullman Strike in 1894, which he addressed by sending federal troops to maintain order, a decision that was both controversial and influential in the development of labor policy. Additionally, Cleveland grappled with foreign policy issues, such as the Hawaiian Revolution and the Venezuela Crisis of 1895.

How is Grover Cleveland viewed by historians today?

Historians view Grover Cleveland as a complex figure. He is often praised for his integrity, commitment to principle, and fiscal conservatism. However, his policies and actions, particularly regarding labor relations and Native American assimilation, have been subject to criticism. Cleveland's steadfastness in the face of economic depression and his efforts to maintain a limited and efficient government are seen as significant contributions to the presidency, reflecting the values of the late 19th century.

Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison

Nicole’s thirst for knowledge inspired her to become a PublicPeople writer, and she focuses primarily on topics such as homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. When not writing or spending time with her four children, Nicole enjoys reading, camping, and going to the beach.

Learn more...
Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison

Nicole’s thirst for knowledge inspired her to become a PublicPeople writer, and she focuses primarily on topics such as homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. When not writing or spending time with her four children, Nicole enjoys reading, camping, and going to the beach.

Learn more...

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    • Grover Cleveland oversaw the dedication of the Statue of Liberty.
      By: vlad_g
      Grover Cleveland oversaw the dedication of the Statue of Liberty.
    • President Cleveland was married at the White House.
      By: camrocker
      President Cleveland was married at the White House.
    • Critics of the Dawes Act argue that the law, which was in effect until 1934, helped fragment and dissolve many Native American communities.
      By: ID1974
      Critics of the Dawes Act argue that the law, which was in effect until 1934, helped fragment and dissolve many Native American communities.