Grover Cleveland: Top 9 Achievements
Grover Cleveland, a two non-consecutive term President of the United States of America, was a New York-born lawyer who holds the record of being the first Democrat to occupy the White House after the American Civil War. His terms as president were characterized by fiscal conservatism. He also had to grapple with the economic depression of 1893 (i.e. the Panic of 1893).
Praised for his honesty and principled approach to doing politics, he pushed for a host of reforms to arrest the economic crisis, most notably his repeal of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act of 1890. Cleveland waged war against political corruption and the patronage system. A fiscal conservative, Grover Cleveland’s non-consecutive terms as president meant that he was America’s 22nd (1885- 1889) and 24th (1893 – 1897) president.
The following discusses nine major accomplishments of Grover Cleveland:
Elected Sheriff of Erie County, New York
Starting his political career in the Democratic Party, Cleveland tasted defeat in an attempt to become the District Attorney in 1865. However, he went on to get elected as the Sheriff of Erie County with a staggering 303 votes. He was sworn into office in January, 1871 at the age of 33.
Although the office was not the most beneficial for him politically, Cleveland got a lot of experience on the job. On two occasions, he even served as the executioner in a criminal case, executing Patrick Morrissey on September 6, 1872 and John Gaffney on February 14, 1873. Both men were convicted of murder. For this unpalatable acts, he came to be called the “Hangman of Buffalo”.
34th Mayor of Buffalo
After his Sheriff days, Cleveland contested and won a mayoral election against Milton C. Beebe. He was elected with 15,120 votes against 11,528 votes secured by Milton.
Cleveland was sworn into office on January 2, 1882 as the 34th Mayor of Buffalo. As mayor, he vetoed the street-cleaning bill because the Common Council had selected the highest bidder for the job. He considered this the “most bare-faced and shameless” act he had ever seen. His veto forced the council to pick the lowest bidder instead.
Governor of New York
Cleveland defeated Republican Charles J. Folger to become the 28th governor of New York. He won by a margin of about 200,000 votes. As New York governor, he fought against political corruption among state officials and the elites. Owing to his anti-corruption campaign and a plethora of vetoes, he even came into confrontations with Tammany Hall and its leader John Kelly.
He opposed state programs that he considered too lavish or in the special-privilege category. During his tenure, which was from 1883 to 1885, Cleveland helped pass a host of reforms that resulted in New York’s municipal governments functioning better and more efficiently.
Elected 22nd President of the United States
On July 7, 1884, the Democratic National Convention met in Chicago and nominated Grover Cleveland for President. With Thomas A. Hendricks as his running mate, Grover Cleveland went on to defeat Republican candidate James G. Blaine (former Speaker of the House) in the 1884 presidential election. Some factions from the Republican Party, including the “Mugwumps” and the Conklings, even supported Grover Cleveland’s candidacy. The “Mugwumps” were opposed to Republican presidential nominee Blaine, a man they described as very corrupt. Cleveland secured a narrow win over Blaine – 219 against Blaine’s 182 in the popular votes.
Grover Cleveland was sworn into the White House in 1885 as the 21st President of the United States. Everyone expected President Cleveland to continue with the various civil service reforms instituted by his predecessors such as Rutherford B. Hayes and Chester Arthur.
Waged war against political corruption and the patronage system
Cleveland decided to keep well-performing Republicans in their federal jobs. He also promised not to appoint anyone based on his/her party affiliation.
Additionally, he tried to reduce the somewhat bloated civil service, thereby saving a lot of tax payers’ dollars. Basically, majority of his decisions and reforms in the civil service were guided by the principle of merit. For example, he vehemently opposed all Congressional bills that he considered too intrusive on state rights and extravagant in nature.
All in all, he used his veto powers about 584 times (that figure puts him only second to Franklin D. Roosevelt), including vetoing the Dependent Pension Bill of 1887 and the Texas Seed Bill. The latter bill was aimed at allowing the federal government disburse 10,000 seeds to drought-rocked farmers in Texas.
Helped secure the return of 81,000,000 acres of land
President Cleveland tasked his Secretary of the Interior Lucius Q.C. Lamar to ensure that western lands under government grant be returned to the federal government. This directive of his incurred the displeasure of several railroad investors. Regardless, the president was able to get back about 81,000,000 acres of land.
Nominated four Justices to the U.S. Supreme Court
His first term saw the nomination of two justices to the U.S. Supreme Court. The men were Lucius Q. C. Lamar, a former Secretary of the Interior, and Melville Fuller. Both were confirmed by the Senate with 32 to 28 and 41 to 20 respectively.
In addition to the Supreme Court Justices, President Cleveland nominated a total of 41 federal court judges.
His second term in office saw him nominate two more Justices to the Supreme Court. They were Senator Edward Douglass White of Louisiana and Rufus Wheeler Peckham. Both men got confirmed by the Senate very easily.
24th President of the United States
After his defeat in 1888 by Republican Benjamin Harrison (23rd President of the U.S.), Cleveland and his family moved to New York City. Cleveland worked in a law firm for the majority of the four years that he was not in Washington.
Although he was met by strong opposition from David B. Hill, Cleveland won the Democratic Party nomination and went on to defeat incumbent President Benjamin Harrison. Thus Cleveland became the first person in the history of the nation to get re-elected in this manner.
Cleveland won both the popular and electoral votes in an election that was a relatively somber event due to the death of Harrison’s wife, Caroline Harrison, two weeks before the election.
Halted the depletion of gold reserve in the Treasury
Cleveland’s second term in the White House was characterized by him trying to deal with the Panic of 1893. He also had to contend with the Silverates, who opposed scrapping the coinage provisions in the Sherman Silver Purchase Act. In the end, he was able to get the repeal across the line with a 48 to 37 votes. The repeal helped to prevent the nation’s gold reserves from depleting any further.
Other notable accomplishments of President Grover Cleveland
- In 1887, President Grover Cleveland signed an act that gave birth to the Interstate Commerce Commission. The commission, which came to be as a result of the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887, was established to regulate the railroad sector. The commission was thus the first regulatory authority in the United States. Cleveland hope the Commission bring some level of sanity and control the monopolistic tendencies of railroad operators.
- Cleveland also picked up from where his predecessor Chester A. Arthur left by investing a lot in the nation’s Navy. He worked brilliantly well with Secretary of the Navy William C. Whitney. Together, they faced out the old fleets of the U.S. Navy and brought in new ones.
- After Frederick Douglass resigned from his post as recorder of deeds in the nation’s capital, President Cleveland picked an African American by the name of James Campbell Matthews to fill the vacant position.
- Cleveland also pushed for the Dawes General Allotment Act of 1887 which facilitated the redistribution of Indian Reservation lands to individuals within the Native American community.
- He pushed for an amicable solution to the border dispute between Britain Guyana and Venezuela. He forced Great Britain to come to the negotiating table and comply with the verdict of the arbitration.
Retirement and Death
His pursuit of a third term was met with strong opposition from the Silverites, who were in complete control of Democratic Party. Cleveland silently bowed out, retiring to his Westland Mansion in Princeton, New Jersey. He spent majority of his time in retirement working as a faculty member and then later a trustee in Princeton University.
On June 24, 1907, Grover Cleveland suffered a heart attack and passed away at the age of 71. He was buried at Princeton Cemetery of the Nassau Presbyterian Church.
Grover Cleveland is often described as the most conservative Democratic politician since the Civil War. Although his legacy is not as flamboyant as other more renowned U.S. presidents, he is often ranked in the upper half of best-performing U.S. Presidents of all time.