Grover Cleveland   (1837-1908)

By Anders Zorn, 1899. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of the Reverend Thomas G. Cleveland

Twenty-second President, 1885-1889
Twenty-fourth President, 1893-1897

Grover Cleveland was the only president to be elected to two non-consecutive terms. A staunch political and social conservative, Grover Cleveland was known for his integrity and reformist activities. When he was elected governor of New York in 1882, he went after the corrupt Democratic political machine of Tammany Hall, courageously defying the "Bosses" who controlled the party. Nominated on the second ballot at the 1884 Democratic convention, Cleveland won election by the smallest popular margin in American history.

The first Democratic president since the Civil War, Cleveland appointed Southerners to a number of posts. For the most part, he believed in a "hands off" presidency, avoiding involvement in proposed legislation, but quickly rejecting congressional actions he disapproved of. In fact, Cleveland vetoed more legislation than any president before him, gaining him the nickname "Old Veto." During his first term in office, Cleveland married 21-year old Francis Folsom. Twenty-eight years his junior, the young and beautiful First Lady became very popular with the public.

Cleveland lost the 1888 election over his proposal to reduce tariffs on foreign goods, but was reelected in 1893 on a platform of economy in government--and tariff reduction. Soon after his reelection, the country suffered a severe economic depression, the Panic of 1893; despite the suffering of the unemployed, Cleveland stayed true to his "hands off" government policy and would not intervene. However, when Pullman railroad workers went on strike over a pay cut in 1894, interfering with the delivery of the U.S. mail, Cleveland sent in federal troops to break it up. Cleveland did better with foreign affairs, citing the Monroe Doctrine to force arbitration of a boundary between Venezuela and British Guiana.