Stephen Grover Cleveland, the 22nd and 24th President of the United States, was born in 1837, in Caldwell, New Jersey. He was the fifth child among the nine children of Richard Falley Cleveland and Ann Neal Cleveland. He was named so, after Stephen Grover, who was a minister in the same church that his father worked as a pastor.
As mentioned earlier, George Cleveland is considered as 'Veto President' due to his use of the power of veto to reduce graft, corruption, and other irregularities. His notable accomplishments include:
- As a lawyer, he successfully won the defense of a suit against an editor of a Buffalo-based publishing house.
- As a Mayor of Buffalo, he reduced graft by passing many vetoes. The most notable was the veto concerning the decision of Common Council to award a contract to the highest bidder than to the lowest one.
- As the Governor of New York, he took on his own party to reduce corruption.
- During his first term as President, he vetoed a bill giving special favors to the farmers of Texas.
- During the second term, he solved the border dispute between Great Britain and Venezuela.
In 1842, the Cleveland family shifted to Fayetteville, New York. He completed his early schooling in a local school and at the age of 13, got admitted to the Clinton Liberal Institute. In 1853, his father died. Stephen was 16 years old then. With this tragedy, he lost all hopes of further education as he would have to work to support his family.
For the next two years, he served as an assistant teacher at the New York Institute for the Blind ― a job that he got with the help of his brother William, who was employed there as a teacher. In 1855, he resigned from this position, as he wanted to pursue a career in law. In the meantime, his uncle from Buffalo, New York, insisted him to stay in the same town. Following his uncle's advice, he worked as a clerk and stayed in Buffalo.
With the help of his uncle, he got another clerical job in the Rogers law firm. He studied law while working at the Rogers' and upon his completion of the law degree in 1859, he got a job offer from the same firm. He worked there for three years and in 1862, he left the job with an aim to start his own practice. In the following year, he became the assistant district attorney of Erie County.
As a Lawyer
As the American civil war broke out, Cleveland was drafted to serve in the army. In those times, hiring a substitute was allowed, as per the Conscription Act of 1863. He hired a substitute to serve in place of him and this way, he continued his job with hard work and dedication.
In 1865, Grover Cleveland stood for the Democratic Party in the district attorney election. He lost the post and with this, he stayed out of politics for a few years. By 1868, he was recognized as a successful lawyer; especially after he filed a case against the editor of Buffalo's Commercial Advertiser and won the defense of libel suit. This is considered as one of his major accomplishments as a lawyer. However, even though he earned a hefty income, he preferred a simple life and stayed in a boarding house.
In 1871, he was elected as the Sheriff of Erie county (two-year term). He shouldered the responsibility of a sheriff by executing criminals by himself. As his term ended in 1873, he again began practicing law. This time, he, along with his two friends, started a private law firm. By this time, he had become a popular face in the legal community of Buffalo.
As a Mayor
Grover Cleveland's political career became remarkable when he was elected as the Mayor of Buffalo in 1881. He served for the interest of the people and was best-known for safeguarding public funds. He vetoed the street-cleaning bill passed by the Common Council. He did so as the contract was given to the highest bidder for $422,000 rather than being given to the lowest bidder for $100,000. As a result, the Council reversed its decision and awarded the contract to the lowest bidder. Thus, he succeeded in controlling graft, which was one of his notable achievements as the Mayor of Buffalo.
As a Governor
With his growing popularity, the state Democratic Party considered him for the governor election. As assumed, he won the election and became the Governor of New York in 1882. During his term, he took on his own Democratic Party because of the corrupt political machine of Tammany Hall. Though he attracted the enmity of influential democrats, his role in defiance of corruption in politics earned him acclaim. He passed several vetoes and continued to fight against bribery, graft, and corruption.
In 1884, James G. Blaine, who was considered immoral, was nominated by the Republicans for the Presidential Election. Many of the Republicans opposed the decision of nominating Blaine. Seeing this opportunity, the Democrats nominated Grover Cleveland as their candidate, assuming that this is the ideal time to take back the White House.
As a President - First Term
Grover Cleveland won the Presidential Election of 1884 and took charge on March 4, 1885. During his first term, he appointed candidates based on their merit and not on party basis. He also reduced the number of federal employees so as to reduce unnecessary spending on public funds. He made many reforms in terms of foreign policy, currency coins, and tariffs. Though these were some of his accomplishments, the major one came with vetoing a bill to appropriate $10,000 to distribute seed grain among the drought-stricken farmers of Texas. He did so because he believed in not doling out any special favors to any economic group. He wrote, "Federal aid in such cases encourages the expectation of paternal care on the part of the Government and weakens the sturdiness of our national character". Had he accepted the demand of farmers, he would have faced several such demands from different groups.
In 1886, Grover Cleveland who was 48 then, married Frances Folsom, the 21-year-old daughter of his friend Oscar Folsom. The couple married in the Blue Room of the White House. In American history, he was the only President whose wedding took place in the White House and Frances Folsom became the youngest First Lady. The couple had five children.
As a President - Second Term
In 1888, he lost the Presidential Election to Benjamin Harrison of the Republican Party. He and his wife then shifted to New York City, where Cleveland resumed law practice. His popular image as an honest politician led him to win the Presidential election for the second time in 1893. Thus, he served the second term from March 4, 1893 to March 4, 1897. His second term was marked by some infamous decisions which resulted in lowering his popularity. He faced an acute economic depression and could not deal successfully with it. He also sent Federal troops to enforce an injunction violated by Chicago Railroad strikers. These decisions were largely considered as unpopular and they led to his desertion from the party. Though there weren't any notable achievements in his second term, some historians consider his decision to force Great Britain to accept an arbitration of a disputed boundary in Venezuela, as his accomplishment, particularly with respect to his work in foreign policy.
In 1897, he left the office and stayed in Princeton, New Jersey. He remained engaged in writing, lecturing, and other social activities. He died of heart attack in 1908, in Princeton.