Grover Cleveland (1837-1908), who served as the 22nd and 24th U.S. president, was known as a political reformer. He is the only president to date who served two nonconsecutive terms, and also the only Democratic president to win election during the period of Republican domination of the White House that stretched from Abraham Lincoln's (1809-65) election in 1860 to the end of William Howard Taft's (1857-1930) term in 1913. Cleveland worked as a lawyer and then served as mayor of Buffalo, New York, and governor of New York state before assuming the presidency in 1885. His record in the Oval Office was mixed. Not regarded as an original thinker, Cleveland considered himself a watchdog over Congress rather than an initiator. In his second term, he angered many of his original supporters and seemed overwhelmed by the Panic of 1893 and the depression that followed. He declined to run for a third term.
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Did You Know?
Grover Cleveland vetoed twice as many congressional bills as all 21 of the presidents who preceded him combined--414 vetoes in his first term.
Stephen Grover Cleveland was born in Caldwell, New Jersey, on March 18, 1837. He was the fifth of nine children of Richard Falley Cleveland (1804-53), a Presbyterian minister, and Anne Neal Cleveland (1806-82). In 1841, the family moved to upstate New York, where Cleveland's father served several congregations before his death in 1853.
Cleveland left school following his father's death and started working in order to help support his family. Unable to afford a college education, he worked as a teacher in a school for the blind in New York City and then as a clerk in a law firm in Buffalo, New York. After clerking for several years, Cleveland passed the state bar examination in 1859. He started his own law firm in 1862. Cleveland did not fight in the American Civil War (1861-65); when the Conscription Act was passed in 1863, he paid a Polish immigrant to serve in his place.
Sheriff, Mayor and Governor
Cleveland's first political office was sheriff of Erie County, New York, a position he assumed in 1871. During his two-year term, he carried out the death sentence (by hanging) of three convicted murderers. In 1873, he returned to his law practice. He was persuaded to run for mayor of Buffalo in 1881 as a reformer of a corrupt city government. He won the election and took office in 1882. His reputation as an opponent of machine politics grew so rapidly that he was asked to run as the Democratic candidate for governor of New York.
Cleveland became governor in January 1883. He was so opposed to unnecessary government spending that he vetoed eight bills sent up by the legislature in his first two months in office. But while Cleveland was popular with the voters, he made enemies within his own party, particularly the powerful Tammany Hall political machine in New York City. However, he won the respect of New York state assemblyman and future U.S. president Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) and other reform-minded Republicans. Cleveland was soon regarded as presidential material.
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