Stephen Grover Cleveland (March 18, 1837 – June 24, 1908) was the 22nd and 24th President of the United States. He was the winner of the popular vote for president three times—in 1884, 1888, and 1892—and was one of the two Democrats (alongside Woodrow Wilson) elected to the presidency in the era of Republican political domination dating from 1861 to 1933.
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 crusade for political reform and fiscal conservatism made him an icon for American conservatives of the era. Cleveland won praise for his honesty, self-reliance, integrity, and commitment to the principles of classical liberalism. He relentlessly fought political corruption, patronage and bossism. Indeed, as a reformer his prestige was so strong that the like-minded wing of the Republican Party, called "Mugwumps," largely bolted the GOP presidential ticket and swung to his support in the 1884 election.
As his second term began, disaster hit the nation when the Panic of 1893 produced a severe national depression, which Cleveland was unable to reverse. It ruined his Democratic Party, opening the way for a Republican landslide in 1894 and for the agrarian and silverite seizure of the Democratic Party in 1896. The result was a political realignment that ended the Third Party System and launched the Fourth Party System as well as the Progressive Era.
Cleveland was a formidable policymaker and drew a corresponding criticism. His intervention in the Pullman Strike of 1894 to keep the railroads moving angered labor unions nationwide in addition to the party in Illinois; his support of the gold standard and opposition to Free Silver also alienated the agrarian wing of the Democratic Party. Furthermore, critics complained that he had little imagination and seemed overwhelmed by the nation's economic disasters—depressions and strikes—in his second term. Even so, his reputation for probity and good character survived the troubles of his second term. Biographer Allan Nevins wrote:
- "in Grover Cleveland the greatness lies in typical rather than unusual qualities. He had no endowments that thousands of men do not have. He possessed honesty, courage, firmness, independence, and common sense. But he possessed them to a degree other men do not."
By Dean Hanley
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