Grover Cleveland Returns (1893 – 1897): The 24th Retrospective
“Whatcha got ain’t nothin new. This country’s hard on people, you can’t stop what’s coming, it ain’t all waiting on you. That’s vanity.” – Ellis, No Country for Old Men (2007)
Grover Cleveland returns to the White House. He was the first and still the only President to win two nonconsecutive terms in office. He campaigned to reduce the Mckinley Tariff, and won in a landslide. Cleveland returns to a White House with a young wife and new daughter, and an impending economic disaster.
Cleveland Returns and States Are Admitted Into The Union
- Utah became the 45th state on January 4, 1896 partially from the Utah Territory.
Cleveland Returns to The Panic of 1893
The Panic of 1893 was an economic depression in the United States that began in 1893 and ended in 1897. It deeply affected every sector of the economy, and produced political upheaval that led to the political realignment of 1896 and the presidency of William McKinley.
Similar to the Panic of 1873, the Panic of 1893 ( lasting from May to November) was marked by the collapse of railroad overbuilding and shaky railroad financing which set off a series of bank failures. The great industrial bubble of the 19th century burst, and resulted in the worst economic depression in the nation’s history. At this time, there was virtually no social safety net.
This was a protest march by unemployed workers from the United States led by Ohio businessman Jacob Coxey. They left Massillon, Ohio on March 25, 1894 (Easter Sunday) for Washington marching in protest for government aid. Grover Cleveland had them arrested for trespassing. He just did not think it was the government’s responsibility to provide jobs or help of any kind during a depression. This line of thinking was par for the course at this time.
Bituminous Coal Miner’s Strike of 1894
The bituminous coal miners’ strike was an unsuccessful national eight-week strike by miners of bituminous coal in the United States, which began on April 21, 1894. The panic of 1893 hit the coal mining industry particularly hard. Wage cuts in the industry began immediately, and wages were slashed again in early 1894.
By the late spring of 1894, the United Mine Workers, which had a mere $2,600 in its treasury and a paid membership of 13,000, called a general strike in the bituminous coal mining industry. The demand was for wages to return to the level they were at on May 1, 1893.
Initially, the strike was a major success. More than 180,000 miners in Colorado, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia struck. In Illinois, 25,207 miners went on strike, while only 610 continued to work through the strike, with the average Illinois miner out of work for 72 days because of the strike.
But the mine owners were unwilling and/or unable to restore wages. Some owners adjusted wages slightly upward, but most refused to budge.
In some areas of the country, violence erupted between strikers and mine operators or between striking and non-striking miners. On May 23 near Uniontown, Pennsylvania, 15 guards armed with carbines and machine guns held off an attack by 1500 strikers, killing 5 and wounding 8.
On May 24 and 25 in LaSalle, Illinois, a firefight erupted between strikers and 40 sheriff’s deputies. The deputies eventually ran out of ammunition and were forced to flee, most of them wounded. The situation in LaSalle remained tense into early July, when a posse of 60 well-armed men was raised to fend off a force of 2000 miners.
On June 13 in McLainesville, Ohio (west of Bellaire), strikers armed with stones and clubs clashed with National Guard troops. In Iowa, the National Guard was mobilized to protect miners in Givens and Muchakinock who had not joined the strike.
As the depression deepened, the miners were unable to hold out. By late June, almost all the miners had returned to work. The strike shattered the United Mine Workers with the union’s secretary-treasurer writing to the American Federation of Labor (AFL) a year later, declaring, ‘The National is busted…’
The union almost ceased to exist. It suspended publication of its newsletter and ceased paying per capita dues to the AFL. It would be a quarter of a century before John L. Lewis would turn the Mine Workers into a successful union again.
The Pullman Strike was a nationwide railroad strike in the United States that lasted from May 11 to July 20, 1894, and a turning point for US labor law. It pitted the American Railway Union (ARU) against the Pullman Company, the main railroads, and the federal government of the United States under President Grover Cleveland. The strike and boycott shut down much of the nation’s freight and passenger traffic west of Detroit, Michigan.
The conflict began in Pullman, Chicago, on May 11 when nearly 4,000 factory employees of the Pullman Company began a wildcat strike in response to recent reductions in wages. Most of the factory workers who built Pullman cars lived in the “company town” of Pullman on the South Side of Chicago, Illinois, designed as a model community by its namesake founder George Pullman.
When his company laid off workers and lowered wages, it did not reduce rents, and the workers called for a strike. Among the reasons for the strike were the absence of democracy within the town of Pullman and its politics, the rigid paternalistic control of the workers by the company, excessive water and gas rates, and a refusal by the company to allow workers to buy and own houses. They had not yet formed a union.
Founded in 1893 by Eugene V. Debs, the ARU was an organization of railroad workers. Debs brought in ARU organizers to Pullman and signed up many of the disgruntled factory workers. When the Pullman Company refused recognition of the ARU or any negotiations, ARU called a strike against the factory, but it showed no sign of success. To win the strike, Debs decided to stop the movement of Pullman cars on railroads. The over-the-rail Pullman employees (such as conductors and porters) did not go on strike.
Debs and the ARU called a massive boycott against all trains that carried a Pullman car. It affected most rail lines west of Detroit and at its peak involved some 250,000 workers in 27 states. The railroad brotherhoods and the American Federation of Labor (AFL) opposed the boycott, and the General Managers’ Association of the railroads coordinated the opposition. Thirty people were killed in riots and sabotage caused $80 million in damages.
The federal government obtained an injunction against the union, Debs, and other boycott leaders, ordering them to stop interfering with trains that carried mail cars. After the strikers refused, President Grover Cleveland ordered in the Army to stop the strikers from obstructing the trains. Violence broke out in many cities, and the strike collapsed. Defended by a team including Clarence Darrow, Debs was convicted of violating a court order and sentenced to prison; the ARU then dissolved.
1895 New Orleans Dockworkers Massacre
The 1895 New Orleans dockworkers massacre was an attack against black, non-union dockworkers by unionized white workers on March 11 and 12, 1895. The mob killed six black workers. The incident had its roots in both economic pressure and racial hatred and marked the end of fifteen years of racially unified unions in New Orleans; for example, in the successful 1892 New Orleans general strike just three years before.
In February 1895 as a result of the economic slowdown following the Panic of 1893, the Harrison Line of Liverpool led a number of other shippers in announcing that they were letting 300 organized white workers go, and replacing them with unskilled non-union black workers. Union workers had just displayed racial unity in the general strike, even in the face of provocations and harassment from the strongly anti-union New Orleans Times-Democrat, for one example.
But this time, under pressure, a “race to the bottom” bidding war between white and black groups developed into violence. Gangs of white screwmen and longshoremen began organized assaults in March.
On the 11th, a black dock worker named Philip Fisher was wounded by gunfire. The next dawn, a mob of several hundred whites descended on an ocean-going ship being loaded and started firing on black longshoremen. Between this site and a coordinated attack on another cotton vessel upriver, six were killed.
The men killed in the massacre were Henry James, Jules Calise Carrebe, Leonard Mallard, William Campbell and two unknown men. Governor Murphy J. Foster called in the state militia to reinstate order. Despite continuing tensions and the race riot of 1900, in the 20th Century New Orleans black and white dockworkers would implement racially cooperative work rules, for example 50/50 representation on jobs.
Cleveland Returns and Populists Emerge
The Populist movement was a revolt by farmers in the South and Midwest against the Democratic and Republican Parties for ignoring their interests and difficulties. For over a decade, farmers were suffering from crop failures, falling prices, poor marketing, and lack of credit facilities.
The monetary debate was the central political issue of the 1890s, and was representative of a deeper disagreement over public policy, finance, and the equitable distribution of wealth. Eastern industrialists wanted gold as the standard for they controlled the supply. Farmers, westerners and Populists supported bimetalism which allowed both a silver and gold standard.
Cleveland opposed bimetalism claiming the gold standard would end the depression. This made him look like a pawn of industrialists, and his popularity with the masses quickly faded.
Cleveland was unable to heal economic crisis and seemed out of touch with the call for government reform. He was dropped from ticket, and marked that last of the laid back 19th century presidents. He hoped to passively sheer the ship of state to the future by maintaining the status quo, but instead found himself unable to deal with the dynamic changes that were quickly pushing the country into the 20th century.
Cleveland Returns and there is a Political Realignment in 1896
The 1896 United States presidential election was the 28th quadrennial presidential election, held on Tuesday, November 3, 1896. Former Governor William McKinley, the Republican candidate, defeated Democrat William Jennings Bryan. The 1896 campaign, which took place during an economic depression known as the Panic of 1893, was a political realignment that ended the old Third Party System and began the Fourth Party System.
Incumbent Democratic President Grover Cleveland did not seek election to a second consecutive term (which would have been his third overall), leaving the Democratic nomination open. Bryan, an attorney and former Congressman, galvanized support with his Cross of Gold speech, which called for a reform of the monetary system and attacked business leaders as the cause of ongoing economic depression.
The 1896 Democratic National Convention repudiated the Cleveland administration and nominated Bryan on the fifth presidential ballot. Bryan then won the nomination of the Populist Party, which had won several states in 1892 and shared many of Bryan’s policies. In opposition to Bryan, some conservative Bourbon Democrats formed the National Democratic Party and nominated Senator John M. Palmer. McKinley prevailed by a wide margin on the first ballot of the 1896 Republican National Convention.
Since the onset of the Panic of 1893, the nation had been mired in a deep economic depression, marked by low prices, low profits, high unemployment, and violent strikes. Economic issues, especially tariff policy and the question of whether the gold standard should be preserved for the money supply, were central issues.
McKinley forged a conservative coalition in which businessmen, professionals, and prosperous farmers, and skilled factory workers turned off by Bryan’s agrarian policies were heavily represented. McKinley was strongest in cities and in the Northeast, Upper Midwest, and Pacific Coast. Republican campaign manager Mark Hanna pioneered many modern campaign techniques, facilitated by a $3.5 million budget.
William Jennings Bryan
Bryan presented his campaign as a crusade of the working man against the rich, who impoverished America by limiting the money supply. Silver, he said, was in ample supply and if coined into money would restore prosperity while undermining the illicit power of the money trust. Bryan was strongest in the South, rural Midwest, and Rocky Mountain states. Bryan’s moralistic rhetoric and crusade for inflation (to be generated by the institution of bimetallism) alienated conservatives.
Bryan campaigned vigorously throughout the swing states of the Midwest, while McKinley conducted a “front porch” campaign. At the end of an intensely heated contest, McKinley won a majority of the popular and electoral vote. Bryan won 46.7% of the popular vote, while Palmer won just under 1% of the vote. Turnout was very high, passing 90% of the eligible voters in many places. The Democratic Party’s repudiation of its Bourbon faction largely gave Bryan and his supporters control of the Democratic Party until the 1920s, and set the stage for Republican domination of the Fourth Party System.
Grover Cleveland Returns
We have an economic depression due to the failing of corporate finance leading to unrest amongst the unemployed, and a general questioning of the relationship between government and business. That doesn’t sound like right now does it? Furthermore, the development of a growing divide between urban and suburban citizens sees two different Americas emerging.
- 1896 Democratic Party platform. (n.d.). Welcome to The American Presidency Project | The American Presidency Project. https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/documents/1896-democratic-party-platform
- 1896: The currency question. (n.d.). https://projects.vassar.edu/1896/currency.html
- 1896: The people’s party. (n.d.). https://projects.vassar.edu/1896/populists.html
- Bituminous coal miners’ strike of 1894 – Rediff pages. (n.d.). https://pages.rediff.com/bituminous-coal-miners–strike-of-1894/648280
- Black New Orleans dock workers attacked by white mob on this day in 1895. (2019, June 19). NewsOne. https://newsone.com/2273695/black-new-orleans-dock-workers-killed-in-1895/
- Bourbon Democrats – encyclopedia article – Citizendium. (n.d.). Citizendium. https://en.citizendium.org/wiki/Bourbon_Democrats
- Bryan’s “Cross of gold” Speech: Mesmerizing the masses. (n.d.). History Matters: The U.S. Survey Course on the Web. https://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/5354/
- The Clarence Darrow home page. (n.d.). School of Law | University of Missouri – Kansas City. https://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/darrow/darrow.htm
- Farmers, the populist party, and Mississippi (1870-1900). (n.d.). Mississippi History Now. https://www.mshistorynow.mdah.ms.gov/articles/163/farmers-the-populist-party-and-mississippi-1870-1900
- The fourth party system: Was it REALLY a realignment? (From the Field series: Political parties in America) : Department of politics and international relations. (2020, May 27). Blogs at Messiah College. https://blogs.messiah.edu/politicsinternationalrelations/2020/05/27/the-fourth-party-system-was-it-really-a-realignment/
- Gene Debs and the American railway union — Illinois labor history society. (2016, January 22). Illinois Labor History Society. https://www.illinoislaborhistory.org/labor-history-articles/gene-debs-and-the-american-railway-union
- Hanna, Marcus Alonzo. (2020, February 12). Encyclopedia of Cleveland History | Case Western Reserve University. https://case.edu/ech/articles/h/hanna-marcus-alonzo
- History. (2021, February 4). UMWA. https://umwa.org/about/history/
- John M. Palmer by Carl Stanton. (n.d.). Welcome to 618 CONNECT.com. https://www.bhil.com/~bhlibrary/DH/palmer.html
- Lepore, J. (2019, February 18). Eugene v. Debs and the endurance of socialism. The New Yorker. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/02/18/eugene-v-debs-and-the-endurance-of-socialism
- Massillon history: General Jacob Coxey. (n.d.). Massillon Museum. https://massillonmuseum.org/61
- Murphy J. Foster. (2016, December 9). 64 Parishes. https://64parishes.org/entry/murphy-j-foster-2
- Our labor history timeline. (n.d.). America’s Unions | AFL-CIO. https://aflcio.org/about-us/history
- Pullman strike. (n.d.). Encyclopedia of Chicago. https://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/1029.html
- Republican Party platform of 1896. (n.d.). Welcome to The American Presidency Project | The American Presidency Project. https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/documents/republican-party-platform-1896
- “The view from the front porch: William Mckinley and the campaign of 1896”. (n.d.). Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library & Museums. https://www.rbhayes.org/hayes/the-view-from-the-front-porch-william-mckinley-and-the-campaign-of-1896/
- Waiting for the redirectiron… (n.d.). Waiting for the redirectiron… https://neworleanshistorical.org/items/show/1406
- William Jennings Bryan. (n.d.). Homepage. https://www.nebraskastudies.org/en/1875-1899/roots-of-progressivism/william-jennings-bryan/
William Mckinley (1897 – 1901) would follow Grover Cleveland.
Benjamin Harrison (1889 – 1893) preceded Grover Cleveland.
Andrew Johnson (1865 – 1869) would assume the presidency after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln (1861 – 1865)
Zachary Taylor (1849-1850) would assume the presidency after the Mexican War.
John Quincy Adams (1825 – 1829) was the first President who wasn’t a founding father and preceded the influential Andrew Jackson (1829 – 1837)
It all started with George Washington (1789 – 1797).
Woodrow Wilson (1913 – 1921) would guide the United States through World War I.
Harry Truman (1945 – 1953) would assume the presidency after the death of the iconic FDR (1933 – 1945)
Jimmy Carter (1977 – 1981) would be the only Democratic President for 25 years post Civil Rights.
George W. Bush (2000 – 2008) is the final President in our series.