Within weeks of
his taking office, the political in-crowd was howling with anger as he cleaned
out one area of corruption after another, bringing misery to political insiders
- but genuine happiness to the general public of New York State. This was not
lost on the national Democratic Party leadership and at the 1884 national
convention, he was nominated for President and won a close victory that
November, winning both the popular vote and the Electoral college - thus rising
from private citizen to Mayor of Buffalo to Governor of New York and ultimately,
to President of the United States in less than four years!
first term, he ran again, but this time lost the Electoral College despite
winning the popular vote, allowing Benjamin Harrison to become President.
However, Cleveland was re-nominated by the Democratic Party in 1892 and once
again won both the popular and Electoral College to become President once again
- the only man to have "split" terms while also becoming the only man up to that
time (FDR later won four consecutive popular votes) to win the popular vote on
three consecutive occasions.
I have always
regarded Cleveland's Inaugural Address of March 1893 to be one of the most
decisive speeches in America's political history as he clearly outlined what he
believed were his basic fundamental principles for the political life of the
nation. I only wish those same principles were in effect through to this day.
Some of the most important quotes from that address are:
nothing is more vital to our supremacy as a nation and to the beneficent
purposes of our Government than a sound and stable currency. Its exposure to
degradation should at once arouse to activity the most enlightened
statesmanship, and the danger of depreciation in the purchasing power of the
wages paid to toil should furnish the strongest incentive to prompt and
"Closely related to the exaggerated
confidence in our country's greatness which tends to a disregard of the rules of
national safety, another danger confronts us not less serious. I refer to the
prevalence of a popular disposition to expect from the operation of the
Government especial and direct individual advantages."
"...the unwholesome progeny of
paternalism. This is the bane of republican institutions and the constant
peril of our government by the people...It perverts the patriotic sentiments
of our countrymen and tempts them to pitiful calculation of the sordid gain to
be derived from their Government's maintenance. It undermines the self-reliance
of our people and substitutes in its place dependence upon governmental
favouritism. The lessons of paternalism ought to be unlearned and the better
lesson taught that while the people should patriotically and cheerfully support
their Government its functions do not include the support of the people."
"It is a plain dictate of honesty and good
government that public expenditures should be limited by public necessity, and
that this should be measured by the rules of strict economy; and it is equally
clear that frugality among the people is the best guaranty of a contented and
strong support of free institutions."
we proclaim that the necessity for revenue to support the Government furnishes
the only justification for taxing the people, we announce a truth so plain that
its denial would seem to indicate the extent to which judgment may be influenced
by familiarity with perversions of the taxing power."
"I shall to the best of my ability and
within my sphere of duty preserve the Constitution by loyally protecting every
grant of Federal power it contains, by defending all its restraints when
attacked by impatience and restlessness, and by enforcing its limitations and
reservations in favour of the States and the people."
One of the best
summations of Cleveland's life was written by the eminent journalist, H. L.
Mencken. In an essay entitled, "A Good Man in a Bad Trade", Mencken wrote of
"We have had
more brilliant Presidents than Cleveland, and one or two who were considerably
more profound, but we have never had one, at least since Washington, whose
fundamental character was solider or more admirable. There was never any string
tied to old Grover. He got on in politics, not by knuckling to politicians, but
by scorning and defying them, and when he found himself opposed in what he
conceived to be sound and honest courses, not only by politicians but by the
sovereign people, he treated them to a massive dose of the same medicine. No
more self-sufficient man is recorded in modern history...He came into office his
own man and he went out without yielding anything of that character for an
When I look at
the array of today's politicians where sheen is supposed to substitute for
depth, where lack of philosophy is supposed to be an asset and where consistency
of principle is virtually never found, Cleveland stands out - at least in my own
mind - ever the brighter. As Mencken summarized,
"Thus it is
pleasant to remember Cleveland and to speak of him from time to time. He was
the last of the Romans."
This quote is
clearly the source of John F. Kennedy's more famous line written into his
Inaugural Address of 1961.