Grover Cleveland: The 22nd 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)
Since the Civil War, the presidency had seen 2 assassinations, and 5 less than memorable presidencies. The power of the executive had waned, and the President was not seen as the most powerful man in the land in 1880’s. That title was reserved for J.P. Morgan, John D Rockefeller or Andrew Carnegie. The captains of industry.
It was a time when 25% of people owned 75% of the wealth, and the feelings of economic and political disenfranchisement permeated the public. Scandals had shaken public confidence, leading to the campaign of 1884.
The Democrats nominated Grover Cleveland, a reformer who was wedded to the idea of good governance. It was revealed that he had an illegitimate child, but he took responsibility for the child, and people forgave him. He painted his Republican opponent, James G. Blaine, as a corrupt politician and won the election.
Grover Cleveland was a bachelor when he got married but was secretly hollering at a 20 year old college student. He became the first and only president to get married in the White House.
Cleveland was an honest politician though not proactive. He didn’t implement his own programs, and viewed the job of the President as stopping bad things from happening as opposed to initiating change. He exercised his veto power, holding the largest number on record until FDR. Cleveland had 414 vetos in his first term which was twice as many as all of the previous presidents combined.
President Cleveland saw himself the chief watchdog of government, protecting it from unwarranted drains on the treasury. He believed people should support the government, but government should not support the people. Unfortunately for him, people were looking more and more towards government for support.
Objections to Pensions for Civil War Veterans
This veto on May 8, 1886 would cost Cleveland the veteran’s vote in 1888. It also didn’t help that he did not serve. The Republican political machine, funded by big business, found an attractive challenger in lawyer Benjamin Harrison, a civil war veteran sympathetic to his comrades and the special interests who ran his campaign.
Protective Tariffs On Foreign Goods
This was the big money issue as Republicans were protectionists for most of the 19th century. They felt it was necessary for the emergence of American industy at a time when we lagged. The tariff was the hottest issue in 1888 (Cleveland backed a bill to decrease the tariff in 1886, but it was defeated in the House) splitting the country in half. Much like 2000, Cleveland won the popular vote, but Harrison won the electoral college; and thus, the presidency. Mrs. Cleveland, upon exiting, told the White House staff to keep things in order because they would be back.
We have complaints about the role of the presidency in so far as how much should he exercise his constitutionally limited role of recommending policy. As Cleveland vetoed Congress’ initiatives, we had gridlock in government at a time when income and political inequality were hot button issues. There was discord concerning supporting our troops who had come home from war, and the interests of business loomed large splitting the electorate in half.
Chester A. Arthur preceded him.
Benjamin Harrison would follow him.
The bitching started right at the very beginning with Washington.