Stephen Grover Cleveland was born on March 18, 1837, to Richard Falley and Ann Neal Cleveland in Caldwell, New Jersey. He was the fifth of nine children and his father was a Presbyterian minister whose income barely provided for the large family. The family moved several times around central New York State for his father’s job.
When his father died in 1853 the family was plunged into financial crisis forcing the 16-year-old Stephen to drop out of school to help support the family. Stephen worked with his older brother at the New York Institute for Special Education, and then as a clerk and part-time law student in Buffalo. The knowledge he gained from these experiences helped him pass the bar exam in 1858 without any formal study.
He worked in a law firm before quitting his job to start his own practice in 1862. He became a popular lawyer known for his hard work and determination. In January 1863 he was appointed as the Assistant District Attorney of Erie County but lost the election for District Attorney in 1865. Congress passed the Conscription Act of 1863, requiring able-bodied men to serve in the army if called upon, or else hire a substitute. Grover chose the latter course, paying $150 for a substitute to serve in his place. He said he needed his income to support his mother and sister.
Stephen Grover Cleveland dropped his first name as an adult, perhaps because he had been called “Big Steve” by friends, he weighed over 250 pounds. He did became known as “Uncle Jumbo” when he was Governor of New York. He was the second-heaviest President after William Howard Taft and Fitness Magazine named him as the least-healthiest President.
In 1870 Grover was elected as the sheriff of Erie County. As the sheriff he was also the town executioner and ended up having to personally hang two murderers. He returned to his law practice after his election as sheriff ended.
He eventually entered politics and aligned himself with the Democratic Party and was elected Mayor of Buffalo in 1881. He assumed office on January 2, 1882 and proceeded to work hard to fight government corruption in order to protect public funds.
His success as the mayor made the New York Democratic Party officials consider Grover as a possible nominee for governor. He easily won the elections and was made the Governor of New York in January 1883. He was opposed to unnecessary government spending and vetoed eight bills sent by the legislature in the first two months in office. He was responsible for forming the Niagara Falls State Park, along with other parks in New York State, setting a model for the National Park system that would later be established.
In 1884 the Democrats were seeking a presidential candidate who would contrast sharply with the Republican nominee, James G. Blaine. Blaine was notorious for his dishonesty and lack of principles. Grover Cleveland was quoted as saying “Whatever you do tell the truth,” had an untarnished reputation as an honest person with strong moral values became the perfect Democratic nominee. Republicans accused him of fathering an illegitimate child in 1874. Cleveland admitted it was possible and took the blame, but the child’s mother had been with other men who were married so he may have done so to protect the other men’s marriages. Cleveland’s honesty helped to blunt the scandal’s impact which allowed him to narrowly win the presidential election in 1884 by just 1,200 votes in his home state 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.
Grover was uncomfortable in the White House, especially as a 47 year old bachelor. He married his ward, the daughter of his deceased Buffalo law partner, Oscar Folsom, who had named Cleveland as his daughter’s financial protector. He had not exactly raised her, but he had been her godparent. It was the first and only wedding held at the White House by a president, making Frances Folsom America’s youngest first lady at 21. They begin to have children with three being born in the White House. The Cleveland’s had five children in all, Ruth, Esther, Marion, Richard, and Frances. The Baby Ruth candy bar was named after Grover’s daughter Ruth and not after the famous baseball player Babe Ruth.
During his first term, Vice President Thomas Hendricks died in his sleep on November 25, 1885. Grover didn’t have a Vice President through the rest of his Presidential term.
He was against subsidies and special interests, which is how his record-breaking use of the veto came about. Grover believed that hardship built character. Congress gave him the nickname: “guardian president,” because he exercised his veto power more than double the number cast by all previous presidents, a total of 584 times. It’s still the highest number of any president except FDR, who had three terms.
Grover vigorously pursued a policy barring special favors to any economic group and vetoed bills like the one to appropriate $10,000 to distribute seed grain among drought-stricken farmers in Texas, and 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, Grover vetoed it.
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.
He stood for re-election in 1888 against the Republican nominee Benjamin Harrison. The Republicans campaigned aggressively this time while the Democrats’ campaign was poorly managed. Cleveland actually won his second election in the popular vote but the Republicans toke the electoral vote making Benjamin Harrison the 23rd President. When moving out of the White House, it is said that Frances Cleveland told the White House staff to take care of the place because they would be returning in four years.
After leaving the White House he resumed his career as a lawyer and took up a job with a prominent law firm. By the early 1890s it became clear that Harrison’s Republican government was growing increasingly unpopular and Grover became the Democratic nominee in the 1892 presidential election. The election proved to be a somber affair because Benjamin Harrison’s wife was ill and he stopped campaigning. Out of respect for Mrs. Harrison, Grover opted not to campaign as well. She died just days before the election. Grover defeated Harrison making him the 24th President, he is the only president in American history to serve two non-consecutive terms.
During his second presidency a severe economic depression developed and ‘The Panic of 1893‘ manifested with the decline of the nation’s gold reserve, the collapse of railroad infrastructure along with financing and banking failures. The Pullman’s Strike took place in 1894, it was the first national strike in US history and involved over 150,000 persons in twenty-seven states. Grover Cleveland sent federal troops to control the crowds and successfully ended the Pullman car workers’ strike in Chicago, Illinois
Grover was inconsistent in his social views, he opposed discrimination against Chinese immigrants in the West but did not support equality for African Americans or voting rights for women. He also thought Native Americans should assimilate into mainstream society as quickly as possible rather than preserve their own cultures.
In 1895 Grover Cleveland became the first president to be filmed, he appeared in a photoplay by Alexander Black called, “A Capital Courtship” in which Grover was signing a bill into law.
Suffering from ill health and losing the support of the Democratic Party, he left his second term on March 4, 1897. William McKinley became the 25th President of the United States until his assassination on September 14, 1901 when Vice President Theodore Roosevelt became President.
On June 24, 1908, at the age of 71, Grover died of a heart attack at his home in Princeton, New Jersey. The children were away at the family country home in New Hampshire, but his wife was at his bedside. Grover had been ill since the previous autumn, suffering from a weak heart and other ailments. His last words were “I have tried so hard to do right.”
He was a hard worker, and idealistic, Grover had an excellent memory and was the only president to deliver his inaugural addresses without notes up to that point.
An unusual aspect of his legacy is that a body part of Grover Cleveland’s resides at the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia. It is his “secret tumor,” an epithelioma removed from the roof of his mouth during his second term without letting the public know, he told everyone that he was going fishing.
The portrait of Grover Cleveland appeared on the $1,000 bill until it was discontinued in 1945.
February of 1913 Frances remarried. Her new husband was Thomas Preston Jr., an art history professor. They moved to London and became involved in the National Security League and during World War I Frances became active in the Needlework Guild. Frances Cleveland died on October 29, 1947, in Baltimore, Maryland. She lived longer than any other first lady had after leaving the White House.
Grover Cleveland Timeline
Grover Cleveland Biography
The Famous People
‘The Panic of 1893’
The Pullman’s Strike
A Capital Courtship
A Yacht, A Mustache: How A President Hid His Tumor
Grover Cleveland Biography
President Grover Cleveland Biography
Voice of Grover Cleveland
Presidents in Our Backyard — Grover Cleveland
HIS 202 22. President Grover Cleveland
HIS 202 24. President Grover Cleveland
The Forgotten Conservative: Rediscovering Grover Cleveland
Grover Cleveland: The American Presidents Series: The 22nd and 24th President, 1885-1889 and 1893-1897
A Secret Life: The Lies and Scandals of President Grover Cleveland
An Honest President: The Life And Presidencies Of Grover Cleveland
The President Is a Sick Man