We've entered that part of the countdown that gets really tough. The reason being is that on the next few Presidents could all be characterized as "fair". Not good. Not bad. Just fair. Any one of the next few entries could swap places with another and you wouldn't hear an argument from me. It is also difficult because finding real legislative or diplomatic, achievements for our next group of leaders is quite a challenge. So, lets start with some fun facts:
Grover Cleveland is the only President to be elected to two non-consecutive terms. He served four years, before being defeated in 1888 by Benjamin Harrison. Cleveland went home for four years before returning to the White House in 1892. Making Cleveland both our nation's 22nd and 24th President.
As President, Grover Cleveland, age 49, married the 21 year old Francis Folsom. Cleveland had served as Francis's legal guardian after her father died when she was a child. Though their marriage is considered odd by today's standards (and very creepy by my students) in her day Francis Cleveland became an adored celebrity by the American public.
During his second term, Cleveland took a "vacation" aboard a friend's yacht. The true purpose of the expedition on the Long Island Sound was so that a doctor could secretly remove a cancerous tumor from the President's mouth without the press or Congress learning about the illness. Surgery was tricky in the 1890s. Surgery aboard a yacht was downright dangerous. Cleveland survived, the surgery remained a secret for years, and the tumor is on display to this day.
Cleveland had developed a reputation for hard work and honesty throughout his legal and political career. Known as Grover "The Good" for his character, he was difficult to attack during the campaign. However, his opponents pounced on claims that he had fathered a child out of wedlock. Despite the wishes of his advisers, Cleveland came clean. Yes, he had a child with a woman that wan't his wife. Yes, he had taken responsibility for his son. This kind of honesty was well received by the voters and should serve as a lesson for all politicians embroiled in an embarrassing scandal. Tell the truth. In November 1884, Grover Cleveland became the first Democrat in a generation to be elected to the nation's highest office.
During his time in Albany, Grover Cleveland became known for his strong and sincere belief in limited government. If his legislature passed laws he thought were frivolous, unnecessary, inappropriate for the government, or simply a waste of money, Cleveland had no problem vetoing them. His tendency to use such executive power earned him the name the "veto governor." As President, Cleveland brought the same by-the-book prudence to Washington. Not only would he veto bills he thought were wasteful, regardless of their intention, he encouraged Congress to take actions to limit the government's ability to grow.
A good example of this was his campaign against the federal tariff. Protective tariffs were a favorite tool of northern industrialists and Republicans. Many Democrats thought the increased prices created by taxes on imports were bad for the consumer. Cleveland agreed, but also felt that the federal government was simply bringing in too much money. The government was regularly running a surplus (what a problem to have) and Cleveland believed it was unfair to the people to take more of their money than was absolutely necessary. Furthermore, having so much extra treasure in the federal coffers would lead to wasteful spending on unnecessary programs. Cleveland successfully negotiated a lowering of the tariff.
Cleveland's support of a lower tariff was certainly based upon principle, but it probably cost him the election on 1888. The focus of the Republican campaign was tariff. They claimed that reducing the tariff hurt industrial workers in the North. Furthermore, they wisely chose a vice presidential candidate from New York in an effort to steal votes from President Cleveland's home state. Cleveland's association with an unpopular New York Governor, no doubt hurt as well. The plan worked and the Republican Benjamin Harrison won the election. Cleveland actually narrowly won the popular vote, but did not secure the necessary electoral votes. This fact hindered Harrison's presidency and would serve Cleveland well when he ran again in 4 years. On inauguration, Cleveland, gracious in defeat, held an umbrella over President Harrison while he took the oath of office. Francis Cleveland, meanwhile, instructed the White House staff to take good care of the place until they returned.
Four years, after a less than inspiring, largely ineffective Harrison administration, the Democrats nominated Grover Cleveland once again. In 1892, the economy was beginning to show signs of decline. A new political movement, populism began to take hold in western states. The populists called for greater government involvement in the economy. They advocated for policies that would protect workers, limit the power of monopolies, and give a greater voice to average Americans in the electoral process. Though Cleveland was far from a populist (certainly not economically), but he was more preferable to most Americans than the Republican Harrison. In 1892, Grover Cleveland became the first (and only) person to be elected President after previously being defeated as an incumbent.
Cleveland's lack of responsiveness to calls for action by the American people would come to define the President's second term. What was becoming evident in the 1890s, was that Americans expected more from their government The seeds of Progressivism were being sown in state capitols of the Midwest, big cities in the East, and farmer's organizations of the West. The hands-off, laissez-faire approach to governance that had come to symbolize the Gilded Age was ending and a new era of democratic activism was rapidly approaching as the nation prepared to enter the 20th century. Grover Cleveland was an decent, respectable, capable administrator. He served the United States with honor, but it appears he was unable to adjust to changing political climate of his second term. In the end, he proved to be Grover "The Good"...enough.