Genealogy Trails

Grover Cleveland



Grover Cleveland portrait

Those who have made it their business to search among the colonial records of New England, assure us that the pedigree of Grover Cleveland, twenty-second and twenty-fourth President of the United States, is to be traced through seven generations of clergymen, farmers and well-to-do-tradesmen, to Moses Cleveland, an immigrant from Ipswich, in England, in or about the year 1635. At the time of his birth, March 18, 1837, his father, Rev. Richard F. Cleveland, was pastor of the Presbyterian Church at Caldwell, N. J. In honor of the memory of one of the former pastors of this church, Mr. Cleveland christened his third son, the fifth of his nine children, Stephen Grover; but the first name has been allowed to fall into disuse.

From his fourth year until his fourteenth, Grover Cleveland's home was at Fayetteville, in Central New York, not far from Syracuse. Here he attended the common school and the academy, and here he played at ball and kite and top, engaged in various pranks, got into quarrels, and did a great many very ordinary things, such as have been recorded of every boy who has grown to be a great man, since the world began. He was a good scholar, but soon his studies had to be interrupted that he might begin to earn his own living. At twelve, he was placed behind the counter of a general country store, where for a year he worked hard to please his employer, not wholly neglecting his books, either. In 1851, the family removed to Clinton, N. Y., the seat of Hamilton College, at which institution it was Grover's ambition to pursue his studies. His elder brother, William, did enter the college, and in due time graduated, and became, like his father, a clergyman; but Grover was doomed to disappointment. A short time was spent in a preparatory school, and then he was again obliged to seek employment for his own support. He returned to his former situation at Fayetteville, and there remained two years longer. Following the death of his father, in October, 1853, about a month after his installation at Holland Patent, near Utica, came a general separation of the family, and Grover obtained a position as tutor and accountant in an institution for the blind, in New York City.

Young Cleveland remained in the metropolis about a year. He was desirous of entering the legal profession, but could find no good opening in New York, and so, after spending a short time with his mother, he borrowed twenty-five dollars of a generous neighbor, and set out westward to seek his fortune. At Buffalo he had an uncle named Allen, who had once been a lawyer, but who was now the owner of an extensive stock farm. Mr. Allen persuaded his nephew to remain with him during the summer - it was in 1855 - assisting him in the farm work and also in the preparation of "The American Short Horn Herd Book" which he was compiling for publication. The work was agreeable to the young man, and his home a pleasant one, and in the fall his uncle obtained for him a clerkship in the office of a Buffalo lawyer.

Grover Cleveland was eighteen years old when he began the study of the law, and he pursued it with great diligence for four years, being admitted to the bar in May, 1859. Meanwhile, he had come of age, and began to vote the Democratic ticket and work at the polls for the success of his party. In the most memorable of all our presidential campaigns that of 1860, he acted with the Breckinridge, or slaveholders' faction of the democracy, casting a vote which helped to precipitate the Civil War, although probably intended to avert that awful catastrophe. When the President called for troops to compel the rebellious States to return to their allegiance, a family council was held, and it was decided that Grover should remain at home and attend to his constantly increasing business, while two of his brothers should go to defend the flag. When the flagging patriotism of the North rendered necessary a draft in 1863, Mr. Cleveland's name was the first one in Buffalo to be drawn, and he promptly provided a substitute to serve in his place.

In 1863, Mr. Cleveland was appointed assistant district attorney for Erie County, and the ill health of his chief caused the burden of the duties of the office to devolve upon him. He was, thereby, brought into still greater prominence; in 1865, received the Democratic nomination for the district attorneyship, and by his personal popularity attracted to himself nearly enough Republican votes to gain him the election. Four years passed away, during which Mr. Cleveland attained a high position among the lawyers of his State, and then he was again a candidate for office - the Erie shrievalty. This time he was successful by a narrow majority, being indebted for his election, then, as he has been upon every occasion since, to the suffrages of citizens who were not wholly in accord with his political beliefs. Leaving his private business to his partners, he entered upon his duties as sheriff, January 1, 1871, and he held the office for three years, fulfilling its requirements with the business-like fidelity which has invariably marked his course in public affairs. At the close of his term, being by the law of New York ineligible for reelection he quietly resumed his practice. Twice while sheriff he was called upon to inflict the extreme penalty of the law in capital cases.

The year 1875 was rendered memorable by the sudden death of Mr. Cleveland's junior partner, Oscar Folsom, father of the lady who is now the mistress of the White House.
It happened in 1881 that the people of Buffalo were brought to believe that their city government was not being properly administered, and that a "reform" was desirable, in which the main feature should be the election of Grover Cleveland as mayor. He was chosen by a handsome majority, and was sworn in January 2, 1882. He made recommendations which failed to meet with the approval of the City Council, and in turn vetoed measures of theirs which he considered unwise, thereby gaining an amount of notoriety, far beyond the city limits, which no previous mayor of Buffalo had enjoyed. No other Democrat in the State of New York was so much admired by the members of both political parties, and therefore the Democratic leaders acted wisely in placing him, in 1882, in nomination for the governorship. The Republican nomination, although in itself unexceptionable, was dictated by those self-appointed leaders, whose rule a large and constantly increasing portion of the party refuse to recognize, and the result was that Mr. Cleveland was elected Governor by the abnormally large majority of one hundred and ninety-three thousand.

Governor Cleveland was inaugurated on the 1st of January, 1883, being now in his forty-sixth year, and still a bachelor. He eschewed all ostentation, and gave directions to the attendants at the Executive Chamber, to "admit anyone who asks to see the governor." He did not foresee that he would one day be obliged, in a still more exalted station, to give orders of a contrary tenor, in sheer desperation at the persecutions of office-seekers. He was probably the most indefatigable worker who ever occupied the office of Governor of New York. His strict attention to the State's business caused a neglect of ceremonial observations which was by no means pleasing to the fine society of Albany. He used his veto power freely to check imperfect or bad legislation, without regard to the political party by which such legislation had been promoted. He especially showed his independence by signing bills, abolishing sinecures, or cutting off perquisites of office in cases where the loss would surely fall upon members of his own party, and it is generally conceded that he justified the confidence which had been so emphatically reposed in him at the polls.

It was to be expected that the man who could draw a hundred thousand votes away from the Republican candidate in New York, should be looked to by many Democrats, both in New York and elsewhere, as a candidate for the presidency. He was nominated on the second ballot at Chicago, in July, 1884. His candidacy was supported by a large number of Republicans, while many more cast their votes for the Prohibition nominee, or withheld them altogether. After the election in November, the result remained in doubt for several days, owing to the remarkable closeness of the vote in New York, upon which either party must depend for success. It was finally ascertained that Mr. Cleveland would receive two hundred and nineteen electoral votes, and his Republican opponent, Mr. Blaine, one hundred and eighty-two. Thus, for the first time in the history of the country, a President was chosen who was absolutely without experience in public affairs outside of his own State.

Mr. Cleveland resigned the governorship of New York, January 5, 1885, having held it a little over two years, and took the oath of office as President of the United States, on the 4th of the following March. The government patronage had been in the hands of the Republicans for twenty-four years, and Mr. Cleveland was beset by swarms of applicants for every office at his disposal, yet he made an honest endeavor to put business before politics in making his appointments. That his success was not abundant was owing to the coolness of the support received from party associates. The Senate was opposed to him politically throughout his administration, although the House, in both Congresses was Democratic. There was, however, but little friction between the Executive and the Senate in the matter of appointments. On the 25th of November, 1885, Thomas A. Hendricks, Vice-President of the United States, died, and the office remained vacant during the remainder of the four years. As the law then stood, in case of Mr. Cleveland's death, the Republican president pro tempore of the Senate would become President, in opposition to the will of the people. Mr. Cleveland called attention to this state of affairs in his first message, and Congress promptly passed an act, placing the members of the Cabinet, in a fixed order, in the presidential succession in event of the death of both President and Vice President.

Mr. Cleveland's first term was a time of general prosperity. The public debt was reduced two hundred millions. With peace at home and with foreign nations, no occasion arose to call forth the ability of the President as a statesman, but in his messages to Congress, he displayed an admirable knowledge of public affairs. His administration was eminently a business one; the Senate and House being under the control of opposing parties, political legislation was rendered impracticable. His honesty of purpose, and his sturdy refusal to court popularity, was peculiarly shown by his persistent vetoes of bills conferring military pensions upon persons, who were, in his judgment, unworthy of them. On the 2d of June, 1886, Mr. Cleveland was married at the White House, to Miss Frances Folsom, the daughter, as we have already stated, of a former law partner.

Upon several occasions President Cleveland warned Congress of certain dangers which threatened the Nation owing to the existence of a large surplus in the National Treasury. In his message at the opening of the Fiftieth Congress, he made the removal of that surplus, by means of reductions in the tariff, the test of party fealty. His views were embodied in the "Mills bill," which passed in July, 1888, but failed of course, to pass the Senate. The Republican leaders accepted the gage of battle, and the campaign of 1888 was conducted upon the tariff issue. On the 6th of June, at St. Louis, Mr. Cleveland was re-nominated by acclamation, an honor accorded to no Democratic candidate since 1840, when Martin Van Buren was nominated without a vote. The Republicans asked the suffrages of the people for Benjamin Harrison and a continuance of the policy of protection for American manufacturers. The contest resulted in Mr. Cleveland's defeat, only eighteen States with one hundred and sixty-eight electoral votes, giving him their support, while Mr. Harrison received the two hundred and thirty three votes of twenty States.

Mr. Cleveland retired to private life on the 4th of March, 1889, carrying with him the respect even of those who could not agree with his political opinions. "The best thing to do with ex-Presidents" he said, "is to leave them alone to earn an honest living like other people," and accordingly he resumed his law practice in New York. But while preserving all proper dignity, he remained, beyond question, the leading Democrat of the land. Some opposition was manifested to him - singularly enough it took its rise in his own State, but it made little progress, and none among the better elements of the party. It was a foregone conclusion that he should again become the Democratic standard-bearer, and in the National Convention at Chicago in June, 1892, he was nominated, not indeed by acclamation, but upon the first ballot, his principal opponent being Senator Hill of New York, who had succeeded him in the governorship.

The campaign issue was the same as before - the Tariff - but the Republicans had presumed unduly upon their success in 1888. The McKinley tariff act, increasing the rates on certain imported articles, and apparently increasing the average rate, proved more unpopular than the Mills act which proposed a reduction, endangering native industries. At the election in November, 1892, the Republicans met with the most severe defeat which they ever experienced, Mr. Harrison, who also was re-nominated, receiving only one hundred and forty-five electoral votes. The Democrats not only gave their own candidate two hundred and thirty-three electoral votes, but by shrewd combinations, or "fusions," in six States they gave twenty-two votes to a third candidate, James B. Weaver, the nominee of the so called "People's Party."

Grover Cleveland was inaugurated President of the United States for the second time, March 4, 1893. It will come within the province of a future writer to tell the story of President Cleveland's second term, with both Houses of Congress, nominally at least, in sympathy with him - the story of its success or of its failure. We can do no more than to bespeak for him, the cordial and patriotic support of every true American, in his endeavors to execute faithfully the laws of our beloved Country.

[Source: Biographical sketches of preeminent Americans, Volume 4; By Frederick G. Harrison; Publ. 1893; Transcribed for Genealogy Trails by Andrea Stawski Pack.]



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