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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Grover Cleveland – Republican or Democrat – Progressive or Conservative

When more of the people's sustenance is exacted through the form of taxation than is necessary to meet the just obligations of government and expenses of its economical administration, such exaction becomes ruthless extortion and a violation of the fundamental principles of free government.” — Grover Cleveland

Once upon a time in the last part of the 19th century there was a Democratic Party that was more fiscally conservative and dedicated to small government. This party’s principles were dedicated to sound fiscal management, less government intervention of the lives of citizens, states’ rights as enumerated in the 9th and 10th Amendments, and the Constitution — especially Article I, Section 8.

On the other side of the political aisle was the Republican Party that had been in power since Abraham Lincoln. This once small party, that was formed to abolish slavery, had grown over the same period of time to become the party of big business, crony capitalism, and bigger government.

So what happened to these two major political parties controlled our government and our lives?

The Parties did a flip-flop in the first decade of the 20th century. After the administration of Theodore Roosevelt the Democrats became more like to Republicans and the Republicans became more like the Democrats. Under the progressive administrations of Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson the Democrats became the Party of big government and fiscal irresponsibility. There were brief periods during this time when the administration of Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge, and Ronald Reagan attempted to correct the progressive course of the Democrats.

A word about “flip-flopping.” Today the term has become a pejorative in political campaigns. However, I see “flip-flopping” in different context. Suppose you we educated to believe the Earth was flat, as many were in olden times. Then one day after reading scholarly works and scientific papers on Newtonian physics, Geodesy, and Geophysics you came to believe that earth was round (actually it’s an oblate spheroid) and began espousing a round Earth principle. Is this “flip-flopping” of simply education and the rejection cognitive dissidence?

Applying this hypothesis to the political parties we see that the Democrats flipped to the principles held by the Republicans of the latter 19th century and the Republicans flipped the other way. The flipping was not immediate but more of a osmotic process from 1908 to 1920 (Taft to Harding).It should be noted that the corrosive 16th Amendment was introduced and ratified during the Taft administration although it was supported be the progressive Woodrow Wilson. The Democratic Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates, Richard E Byrd (the father of the Polar explorer Admiral Richard E. Byrd, Jr.), mounted such fierce opposition to the 16th Amendment that the House of Delegates refused to ratify it.

Over the past few years I have been guilty of an ignorance of great conservative presidents in American history. The first was Calvin Coolidge and the second was Grover Cleveland. "Coolidge" by Amity Shlaes is certainly a page-turning eye-opener that I highly recommend. Who knew that American presidential history could be so insightful? The second is this book, "The Forgotten Conservative” by John Pafford. Cleveland also garners praise from libertarians such as Dr. Thomas DiLorenzo in his mind-blowing "The Real Lincoln" as being the last Jeffersonian. Cleveland's policies of economic freedom and fiscal responsibility make Reagan look like a big government type. That is not to disparage Reagan's outstanding legacy, however, it is simply to highlight the excellent qualities of principle that guided him and the statesmanship that Cleveland demonstrated.

The Question I ask is “how do we keep forgetting great presidents?” It appears that our progressive public education system seems to focus only on the liberal progressive administrations. Unless you are studying for an advanced degree it is very likely you will not learn much about Presidents like Jackson, Cleveland, Coolidge, or even Reagan. These presidents are considered an anathema by our liberal press and progressive educators.

Stephen Grover Cleveland was the First Democrat elected after the Civil War, Grover Cleveland was the only President to leave the White House and return for a second term four years later.

One of nine children of a Presbyterian minister, Cleveland was born in NewStephenGroverCleveland Jersey in 1837. He was raised in upstate New York. As a lawyer in Buffalo, he became notable for his single-minded concentration upon whatever task faced him.

At 44, he emerged into a political prominence that carried him to the White House in three years. Running as a reformer, he was elected Mayor of Buffalo in 1881, and later, Governor of New York.

Cleveland won the Presidency with the combined support of Democrats and reform Republicans, the "Mugwumps," who disliked the record of his opponent James G. Blaine of Maine.

Corruption in politics was the central issue in 1884, and Cleveland's reputation as an opponent of corruption proved the Democrats' strongest asset. Reform-minded Republicans denounced Blaine as corrupt and flocked to Cleveland. The Mugwumps, including such men as Carl Schurz and Henry Ward Beecher, were more concerned with morality than with party, and felt Cleveland was a kindred soul who would promote civil service reform and fight for efficiency in government. At the same time the Democrats gained support from the Mugwumps, they lost some blue-collar workers to the Greenback-Labor party, led by ex-Democrat Benjamin Butler.

The campaign focused on the candidates' personalities, as each candidate's supporters cast aspersions on their opponents. Cleveland's supporters rehashed the old allegations that Blaine had corruptly influenced legislation in favor of the Little Rock and Fort Smith Railroad and the Union Pacific Railway, later profiting on the sale of bonds he owned in both companies. Although the stories of Blaine's favors to the railroads had made the rounds eight years earlier, this time Blaine's correspondence was discovered, making his earlier denials less plausible. On some of the most damaging correspondence, Blaine had written "Burn this letter," giving Democrats the last line to their rallying cry: "Blaine, Blaine, James G. Blaine, the continental liar from the state of Maine, 'Burn this letter!"

To counter Cleveland's image of superior morality, Republicans discovered reports that Cleveland had fathered an illegitimate child while he was a lawyer in Buffalo, and chanted "Ma, Ma, where's my Pa?" When confronted with the emerging scandal, Cleveland's instructions to his campaign staff were: "Tell the truth."Cleveland admitted to paying child support in 1874 to Maria Crofts Halpin, the woman who claimed he fathered her child named Oscar Folsom Cleveland. Halpin was involved with several men at the time, including Cleveland's friend and law partner, Oscar Folsom, for whom the child was also named. Cleveland did not know which man was the father, and is believed to have assumed responsibility because he was the only bachelor among them.

Both candidates believed that the states of New York, New Jersey, Indiana, and Connecticut would determine the election. In New York, the Tammany Hall Democrats, after vacillating, decided that they would gain more from supporting a Democrat they disliked than a Republican who would do nothing for them. Blaine hoped that he would have more support from Irish Americans than Republicans typically did; while the Irish were mainly a Democratic constituency in the 19th century, Blaine's mother was Irish Catholic, and he had been supportive of the Irish National Land League while he was Secretary of State. The Irish, a significant group in three of the swing states, did appear inclined to support Blaine until one of his supporters, Samuel D. Burchard, gave a speech denouncing the Democrats as the party of Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion". The Democrats spread the word of this insult in the days before the election, and Cleveland narrowly won all four of the swing states, including New York by just over one thousand votes. While the popular vote total was close, with Cleveland winning by just one-quarter of a percent, the electoral votes gave Cleveland a majority of 219–182. Following the electoral victory, the "Ma, Ma ..." attack phrase gained a classic rejoinder: "Gone to the White House. Ha! Ha! Ha!"

A bachelor, Cleveland was ill at ease at first with all the comforts of the White House. "I must go to dinner," he wrote a friend, "but I wish it was to eat a pickled herring a Swiss cheese and a chop at Louis' instead of the French stuff I shall find." In June 1886 Cleveland married 21-year-old Frances Folsom; he was the only President married in the White House.

In his third annual message to Congress (December 6, 1887) Cleveland stated:

"When we consider that the theory of our institutions guarantees to every citizen the full enjoyment of all the fruits of his industry and enterprise, with only such deduction as may be his share toward the careful and economical maintenance of the Government which protects him, it is plain that the exaction of more than this is indefensible extortion and a culpable betrayal of American fairness and justice. The public Treasury, which should only exist as a conduit conveying the people's tribute to its legitimate objects of expenditure, becomes a hoarding place for money needlessly withdrawn from trade and the people's use, thus crippling our national energies, suspending our country's development, preventing investment in productive enterprise, threatening financial disturbance, and inviting schemes of public plunder."

This sounded very much like Frederick Bastiat, Calvin Coolidge, Ronald Reagan, or Ron Paul than any Republican or Democrat since.

Cleveland vigorously pursued a policy barring special favors to any economic group. Vetoing a bill to appropriate $10,000 (well over a quarter of a million dollars in today’s money) to distribute seed grain among drought-stricken farmers in Texas, 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." Cleveland also stated: he could find no warrant in the Constitution (Article I, Section 8) that would permit the government to give financial aid to the states or private persons as a group or individuals. Cleveland stated:

“I can find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution and I do not believe that the power and duty of the general government ought to be extended to the relief of individual suffering which is in no manner properly related to the public service or benefit. A prevalent tendency to disregard the limited mission of this power and duty should, I think, be steadfastly resisted, to the end that the lesson should be constantly enforced that, though the people support the government, the government should not support the people. The friendliness and charity of our countrymen can always be relied upon to relieve their fellow-citizens in misfortune. This has been repeatedly and quite lately demonstrated. 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, while it prevents the indulgence among our people of that kindly sentiment and conduct which strengthens the bonds of a common brotherhood.”

He was no doubt referring to the intent limiting Congress’ authority and power as enumerated in Article I, Section 8.

He also vetoed many private pension bills to Civil War veterans whose claims were fraudulent. When Congress, pressured by the Grand Army of the Republic, passed a bill granting pensions for disabilities not caused by military service, Cleveland vetoed it, too.

Cleveland was the leader of the pro-business Bourbon Democrats who opposed high tariffs, Free Silver, inflation, imperialism and subsidies to business, farmers or veterans. His battles for political reform and fiscal conservatism made him an icon for American conservatives of the era. Cleveland won praise for his honesty, independence, integrity, and commitment to the principles of classical liberalism expressed by men like John Locke and our Founders. Cleveland relentlessly fought political corruption, patronage, and bossism.


Cleveland's last cabinet.
Front row, left to right:
Daniel S. Lamont, Richard Olney, Cleveland,John G. Carlisle, Judson Harmon
Back row, left to right: David R. Francis, William L. Wilson, Hilary A. Herbert, Julius S. Morton

He angered the railroads by ordering an investigation of western lands they held by Government grant. He forced them to return 81,000,000 acres. He also signed the Interstate Commerce Act, the first law attempting Federal regulation of the railroads.

In December 1887 he called on Congress to reduce high protective tariffs. Told that he had given Republicans an effective issue for the campaign of 1888, he retorted, "What is the use of being elected or re-elected unless you stand for something?" But Cleveland was defeated in 1888; although he won a larger popular majority than the Republican candidate Benjamin Harrison, he received fewer electoral votes.

Elected again in 1892, Cleveland faced an acute depression. He dealt directly with the Treasury crisis rather than with business failures, farm mortgage foreclosures, and unemployment. He obtained repeal of the mildly inflationary Sherman Silver Purchase Act and, with the aid of Wall Street, maintained the Treasury's gold reserve.

Labor unrest continued to haunt Cleveland during his second term. When 150,000 railroad strikers in Chicago violated an injunction, Cleveland sent Federal troops to enforce it. Even though the governor of Illinois, John Altgeld, did not want Cleveland to use federal troops to break the strike, the President did so anyway. Many observers wondered whether the nation was on the brink of either anarchy or presidential tyranny. Cleveland's handling of the strike alienated many Northern workers from the Democratic Party. If it takes the entire army and navy of the United States to deliver a post card in Chicago," he thundered, "that card will be delivered."

Cleveland's blunt treatment of the railroad strikers stirred the pride of many Americans. So did the vigorous way in which he forced Great Britain to accept arbitration of a disputed boundary in Venezuela. But his policies during the depression were generally unpopular. His party deserted him and nominated William Jennings Bryan in 1896, who was defeated by the Ohio Republican William McKinley a burgeoning progressive. Upon McKinley’s assassination on September 14, 1901 and the ascendency of his vice president Theodore Roosevelt to the presidency the progressive movement in the United States began with renewed vigor.

In the midst of the fight for repeal of Free Silver coinage in 1893, Cleveland sought the advice of the White House doctor, Dr. O'Reilly, about soreness on the roof of his mouth and a crater-like edge ulcer with a granulated surface on the left side of Cleveland's hard palate. Samples of the tumor were sent anonymously to the army medical museum.

Cleveland decided to have surgery secretly, to avoid further panic that might worsen the financial depression. The surgery occurred on July 1, to give Cleveland time to make a full recovery in time for the upcoming Congressional session.] Under the guise of a vacation cruise, Cleveland and his surgeon, Dr. Joseph Bryant, left for New York. The surgeons operated aboard the Oneida, a yacht owned by Cleveland's friend E. C. Benedict, as it sailed off Long Island. The surgery was conducted through the president's mouth, to avoid any scars or other signs of surgery. The team, sedating Cleveland with nitrous oxide and ether, successfully removed parts of his upper left jaw and hard palate. The size of the tumor and the extent of the operation left Cleveland's mouth disfigured. During another surgery, Cleveland was fitted with a hard rubber dental prosthesis that corrected his speech and restored his appearance. A cover story about the removal of two bad teeth kept the suspicious press placated. Even when a newspaper story appeared giving details of the actual operation, the participating surgeons discounted the severity of what transpired during Cleveland's vacation. In 1917, one of the surgeons present on the Oneida, Dr. William W. Keen, wrote an article detailing the operation.

Cleveland enjoyed many years of life after the tumor was removed, and there was some debate as to whether it was actually malignant. Several doctors, including Dr. Keen, stated after Cleveland's death that the tumor was a carcinoma. Other suggestions included ameloblastoma or a benign salivary mixed tumor (also known as a pleomorphic adenoma). In the 1980s, analysis of the specimen finally confirmed the tumor to be verrucous carcinoma, a low-grade epithelial cancer with a low potential for metastasi

Cleveland's agrarian and Silverite enemies gained control of the Democratic party in 1896, repudiated his administration and the gold standard, and nominated William Jennings Bryan on a Silver Platform. Cleveland silently supported the Gold Democrats' third-party ticket that promised to defend the gold standard, limit government, and oppose high tariffs, but declined to accept their nomination for a third term. The party won only 100,000 votes in the general election, and William McKinley, the Republican nominee, triumphed easily over Bryan. Agrarians would later nominate Bryan again in 1900, but in 1904 the conservatives, with Cleveland's support, regained control of the Democratic Party and nominated Alton B. Parker.

After leaving the White House on March 4, 1897, Cleveland lived in retirement at his estate, Westland Mansion, in Princeton, New Jersey. For a time he was a trustee of Princeton University, and was one of the majority of trustees who preferred Dean West's plans for the Graduate School and undergraduate living over those of Woodrow Wilson, then president of the university. Cleveland consulted occasionally with President Theodore Roosevelt (1901–1909), but was financially unable to accept the chairmanship of the commission handling the Coal Strike of 1902. Cleveland still made his views known in political matters.

When Grover Cleveland became President in 1885, he was the first Democrat to occupy the White House since James Buchanan was elected just prior to the Civil War. For most of his first term, Cleveland was more concerned with preventing Congress from granting privileges to special interests than with pursuing his own legislative agenda. He did not see himself as an activist President. Beyond making speeches, he did not send much legislation to Congress or demonstrate much leadership. Instead, he focused on making the federal government more efficient by appointing officials based on merit. Cleveland's management style was to name qualified cabinet members, delegate authority to them, and use them for advice and counsel.

Cleveland did, however, push two legislative initiatives, during his first term,: the repeal of the Bland-Allison Silver Purchase Act of 1878 and tariff reduction. His efforts, however, were ineffective and poorly presented. Always a hard-currency advocate (he thought that paper money should be backed by gold), Cleveland believed that inflating the money supply through the purchase and coinage of silver undermined confidence in the American dollar and punished creditors by paying them money less valuable than the dollars they had originally loaned. On this issue Cleveland stood apart from his constituency, especially in the South and West. The Bland-Allison Act remained law until the Sherman Silver Purchase Act of 1890 replaced it. Tariff reduction, on the other hand, had the support of many Democrats. However, Cleveland's ineffective leadership generated little change in the tariff structure.

Consistent with his actions as governor of New York, Cleveland was not shy about using his veto power. For example, he turned away hundreds of veterans' pension bills because he thought they were fraudulent. He also vetoed a bill to provide drought relief to farmers in the West owing to his belief that such assistance was not the province of national government.

In one area, however, Cleveland exhibited tact and effective energy. Almost as soon as he assumed office, Cleveland's congressional opponents attempted to limit his power to remove Republican-appointed federal officials. They argued that the Tenure of Office Act of 1867 required congressional consent for the dismissal of executive branch office-holders. Cleveland refused to accept this interpretation, made speeches in opposition, and forced the Republicans to back down. His decisive action in this matter stands as the exception rather than the rule when it came to his leadership of Congress.

Although a reformer, Cleveland used patronage and party organization to win elections. He stood with his party in opposition to temperance, thus winning the support of others who opposed it—including the Irish, Germans, and East Europeans who had migrated to the United States by the tens of thousands in the 1880s. On the issue of race, he agreed with white southerners in their reluctance to treat African Americans as social and political equals, and made special efforts to reach out to Democrats and former Confederates in the South to assure them that they had a friend in the White House. He also opposed integrated schools in New York and saw African Americans as essentially inferior. In believing that government should not interfere with what he regarded as a social problem, he opposed efforts to protect the suffrage of African Americans.

In his first term as President, Cleveland condemned the "outrages" being committed against the Chinese on the nation's west coast. He soon concluded, however, that prejudice towards the Chinese in the region was so deep and their culture so alien that America could not absorb this immigrant group. Thereafter, he worked to limit Chinese immigration and to prohibit those who had left the United States to visit relatives in China from returning. The principal difference between Chinese and European immigrants, he believed, was the unwillingness of the former to assimilate into American society.

When Cleveland took office, 204,000 Native Americans were scattered among 171 reservations on 135 million acres of land. In Cleveland's view, the Native Americans were wards of the nation, like wayward but promising children in need of a guardian. Regarding himself as an Indian reformer, Cleveland sought to persuade Native Americans to forego their old tribal ways. He sought to assimilate them into white society by means of education, private land ownership, and parental guidance from the federal government. Though he did not campaign for the bill, he eagerly supported and signed into law the Dawes Act of 1887, which empowered the President to allot land within the reservations to individual Indians—with all surplus land reverting to the public domain. It was a disastrous policy that robbed Native Americans of much of their land and did little to improve their way of life.

Cleveland was mostly silent on the issue of women's suffrage. He understood the value of women's clubs and political organizations in drumming up the vote of husbands and fathers, and was careful not to alienate either group by speaking out against female suffrage. Neither, however, did he speak in favor of it. His one stance in support of women's rights was to criticize polygamy.

In a 1905 article in The Ladies Home Journal, Cleveland weighed in on the women's suffrage movement, writing that "sensible and responsible women do not want to vote. The relative positions to be assumed by men and women in the working out of our civilization were assigned long ago by a higher intelligence.”

Cleveland's second administration began in 1893, just as the nation entered the most severe depression in its history. By 1894, nearly 18 percent of the nation's workers were unemployed. One-third of the wage earners in manufacturing and 25 percent of urban workers stood idle and hungry. Confidence in the economy was low, as one out of ten banks had shut their doors to depositors. Railroad construction had fallen by 50 percent, and the market for steel rails fell by one-third, forcing dozens of steel companies into bankruptcy. Charities and relief societies were unable to cope with the overwhelming demand for aid.

One response to the depression came by way of Ohioan Jacob Coxey, whoCoxey_commonweal_army_brightwood_leaving organized unemployed workers from the Midwest to march to Washington, D.C., and appeal to the government for provide public works projects and relief. Known as Coxey's Army, thousands of workers tramped across the nation to Washington, D.C., though only 500 actually arrived. The press gave the march wide coverage. Ultimately, however, Coxey's efforts were unsuccessful. Cleveland did not believe that the government should sponsor work projects to relieve the depression, and the march did nothing to change his mind.

Cleveland's most forceful response to the depression was to blame the Sherman Silver Purchase Act of 1890, passed during the Harrison administration, for the nation's economic troubles. This law required the Treasury to purchase 4.5 million ounces of silver a month to be coined as silver dollars. As a result, the production of silver increased while the supply of gold fell, making gold more expensive. By 1893, the gold value of the silver dollar fell to 60 cents.

In successfully calling for repeal of the Purchase Act, Cleveland split the Democratic Party down the middle. He lost the support of western and southern Democrats, who thereafter looked upon Cleveland as more Republican than the Republicans. Upon repeal of the act, holders of U.S. government bonds (and the silver certificates the government once used to purchase silver) began cashing them in for gold. By 1892, the nation's gold reserves dipped below $100 million. Between 1894 and 1896, Cleveland authorized four new government bonds to raise enough gold to prevent the government from defaulting on its international obligations. He was forced to turn to investment banker J. P. Morgan to support the bonds. In relying on Morgan, Cleveland was derided for allying with powerful Wall Street interests instead of helping the average American. The President, however, felt that he had no choice but to replenish the country's gold reserves.

In the congressional elections of 1894, Cleveland's failure to deal with the depression instigated the greatest realignment of voters since the Civil War. The Democrats lost everywhere but in the Deep South. One Missouri Democrat said that the election was "the greatest slaughter of innocents since Herod," referring to the King of Judea under the Roman regime who was infamous for his tyranny, violence, and wickedness. Cleveland felt besieged, surrounded by enemies, and beset by hecklers at every turn. He left the White House in 1897 as an embittered but arrogant man, convinced that he had been betrayed by the "agrarian radicals" and "Silverites" within his own party.

Historians do not rank Grover Cleveland as a great President. Historians prefer Lincoln and progressives like Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and Franklin Roosevelt. The consensus is that he achieved mixed results at best. Cleveland did help to create a Solid South for the Democrats by encouraging former Confederates to believe they had a friend in the White House who supported the 10th Amendment; his return of captured Confederate battle flags and his decision to go fishing on Memorial Day — a Civil War holiday — aided in this regard. He also strengthened the party outside the South by linking it to civil service reform. On the other hand, his stubborn enmity toward the Silverites and agrarian populists nearly split the Democrats and contributed to their defeat in 1896. He distanced himself from party machines by insisting that the President had a special relationship with the people that superseded any obligation to party workers as did George Washington.


Cleveland's portrait was on the U.S. $1000 bill of series 1928 and series 1934. He also appeared on the first few issues of the $20 Federal Reserve Notes from 1914. Since he was both the 22nd and 24th president, he was featured on two separate dollar coins released in 2012 as part of the Presidential $1 Coin Act of 2005.

Although, according to historians, not a great President, Cleveland almost single-handedly restored and strengthened the power and autonomy of the executive branch. Notable in this regard was his use of executive privilege in refusing to hand over department files to Congress in the fight over presidential appointments. No President prior to Richard M. Nixon had ever made such an extreme assertion of executive privilege in peacetime. His record-breaking use of the presidential veto also enabled him to reestablish the equilibrium between the executive and legislative branches, another precedent-setting example of presidential power. Equally important, Cleveland laid claim to a strong presidency in ways that had lasting impact. His assertion of authority in calling out federal troops during the Pullman strike, sending warships to Panama, and threatening Britain with war over the Venezuelan boundary dispute set the tone for the modern energetic executive. Regarding social policy, Cleveland comes across as much more racially intolerant, and certainly when compared to Presidents such as Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and Franklin Roosevelt.

Following Cleveland's retirement from political office in 1897, he played the stock market and practiced law in order to support his substantial family — though it is estimated that by 1896 he had amassed a moderate personal fortune of $350,000 (8.2 million today). He moved to a spacious house in Princeton, New Jersey, where he was treated like royalty by the town's inhabitants. He also became a trustee of Princeton University and began writing essays and political commentary, including a book — Presidential Problems (1904) — which focused on some of his most controversial decisions. However, he never wrote his autobiography. Cleveland also served on several corporate boards and gave public speeches. The death of his oldest daughter Ruth, in 1904, visibly aged the old Democrat. Some of his friends said that he never fully recovered.

Grover Cleveland died as he had lived: determined to be in control. In the grip of a gastro-intestinal disease complicated by an ailment of the heart and kidneys, Cleveland suffered great pain in the spring of 1908. A severe attack hit him while on vacation in late March of 1908, causing him to think that the end was near. With great secrecy, he was rushed by automobile to Princeton, where he died early on June 24. "I have tried so hard to do right" were his final words.

Two days later, he was buried. Venezuela indicated that its nation's flags would be flown at half-mast. Theodore Roosevelt's eulogy compared him to a "happy warrior"—one who had served on honorable terms and who understood that the presidency was a "public trust" bestowed upon him by the people.

So while not a governing angel, in the terms of James Madison, Cleveland was a man who believed in the Constitution and the fiscal responsibility of the federal government. In that sense he could be considered a true conservative. On the other hand his intervention into strikes was more in line with his progressive predecessors like the Roosevelt’s and Woodrow Wilson.

In the words of Andrew B. Halldorson, one of the reviewers of Pafford’s book:

In a day where political spin dominates everything, it's fascinating to read of the swift rise of an anti-corruption politician who faced two great obstacles to the White House. One, a sex-scandal, of which he told his supporters, "Whatever you do, tell the truth"; the other, a threat to play ball - or else -- from the powerful Tammany Hall political machine, which Cleveland rejected utterly and publicly.

The author of this book, John Pafford is that rare thing - a conservative optimist, who can make long ago events seem relevant for today, and embolden hearts as they look to both the past and the future

I suspect I'm not the only reader who knew next to nothing of the Cleveland era. Despite all the great differences, some issues had a familiar ring. Faced with economic calamity and a great social upheaval as the job market changed, there was enormous pressure to essentially print money and borrow on the future. But Cleveland would have none of it. He used the veto more than any president before him, and cited again and again the Constitutional limits of the power of federal government.

Cleveland's integrity still has the power to draw admirers from all political backgrounds, just as it did in its own day. Pafford includes anecdotes about an up and coming young Republican opponent - Theodore Roosevelt - who was a friend and admirer of Cleveland. And there is also a memorable exchange involving another supporter - the great writer and moralist Mark Twain.

Though the book looks at Cleveland through the eyes of a modern conservative, one of the best traits of the book is that Pafford never forgets his is writing foremost about a flesh-and-blood man, rather than a set of ideas. And so, by the end of the book, the reader may very well be ready to count Cleveland not only as a near great president, but someone it would have been a privilege to know.”

Cynical and elitists academics and historians will always incline their views of great presidents to the progressive ones, perhaps with the exception of Lincoln. These historians like activist presidents who ignore constitutional limits and push on issues of fairness and social justice while ignoring the limits placed on government by the Constitution. They are quick to find flaws with conservative presidents while overlooking or excusing the unconstitutional actions of a Lyndon Johnson or Barack Obama. Conservatives like Cleveland, Coolidge, or Reagan are just not on their radar.

Our Founders gave the President explicit powers in the Constitution. Greatness was not one of the attributes they were looking for. They also were not looking for greatness in the Congress or Supreme Court. However, what they were looking for was dedication, support, defense, and obedience to the Construction.

Today President Obama and New Jersey Governor Chis Christie toured the Jersey Shore to assess the progress being made after a billion dollars in federal aid has been pumped into the recovery efforts. Both stated that more aid was needed. Compare this with Cleveland’s refusal to grant $10,000 in seed grain relief for the victims of the Texas drought. I am sure Cleveland is turning over in his grave with the statement from Obama and Chrissie. Just ponder for a moment if more “non-activist” and less “great men” had occupied the White House since Grover Cleveland. Today we probably would have no federal agencies or departments such as FEMA, The EPA, Department of Education, HUD, Health and Human Services, Department of Energy, IRS, or ObamaCare.

1 comment:

  1. The Democrats are not the party of fiscal irresponsibility. Mr. Reagan and Mr. Bush were the spenders. The U.S. could probably get its financial house in order if "conservatives" realized they keep voting against their own interests. A huge part of the problem is "conservatives" only seem to know how to make money and jobs via wars (defense industries) and via gambling (wall street). Food stamps never caused a financial crisis in this country. Financial crises are always caused by over-speculation in one of the markets or as a result of needing to pay for the unfunded war.