Roland Hugins.

Grover Cleveland; a study in political courage (Volume 1) online

. (page 1 of 5)
Online LibraryRoland HuginsGrover Cleveland; a study in political courage (Volume 1) → online text (page 1 of 5)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


o • *







v»9





▼ •«.





























4?^*.



• «




• v>



r-^



♦4^ ^, •























♦ ^ ^ «-H/J8ILMr*





M O






*.^'




^"'^*.











GROVER CLEVELAND



"/ want to tell you now that if every
other man in the country abandons
this issue, I shall stick to it."

Grover Cleveland.




President Cleveland at His Desk



Admirable Americans -I



GROVER CLEVELAND

A Study in Political Courage

By
ROLAND HUGINS




Washington, D. C.

The Anchor-Lee Publishing Company

1922



Copyright, 1922, by
The Anchor-Lee Publishing Company



Published May, 1922



©n!,A674322 ^



.^k. ^A ., i n .^\. A



A Foreword

Admirable Americans is a series of brief
but complete biographies, dealing, for the
most part, with leaders of the last genera-
tion who have died within recent memory.
A tentative and partial list follows:

1. Grover Cleveland

2. Theodore Roosevelt

3. John Hay

4. Andrew D. White

5. John Fiske

6. "0. Henry"

7. **Mark Twain"

Much of the biography which has appeared
recently in America and in England has
been written in a satirical or defamatory
vein. The temper of the present series is
quite different. Although these biographical
sketches are intended to be just and impar-
tial estimates, giving both the lights and
shadows, the subjects themselves have been
chosen for the reason that they are, on the
whole, men worthy of esteem.

Surely it should not be necessary to apolo-
gize, in these days of studied mockery and



supercilious ridicule, for the exercise of a
little generous admiration. Says La Roche-
foucauld : "To praise good actions heartily is
in some measure to take part in them."

It is a mark of really first-rate men that
the more we study them the greater grows
our respect, liking and admiration. Grover
Cleveland is one of the Americans who meets
this test; he well repays a closer acquaint-
ance.




Contents

Chapter Page

Foreword 5

I Life and Character. 9

II Public Utterances 61

III Correspondence 73

IV Anecdotes and Estimates 80

V Bibliography 94



Chronological Summary

Event Date Age

Born, Caldwell, N. J March 18, 1837

Admitted to Bar May, 1859 22

Took oflSce as Mayor of Buf-
falo, N. Y January 1, 1882 45

Took office as Governor of
New York State January 1, 1883 46

Inaugurated as President of
the United States _ March 4, 1885 48

Married to Miss Frances
Folsom June 2, 1886 49

Defeated in Presidential

Election - November, 1888 51

Inaugurated as President,

Second Time „ March 4, 1893 56

Died, Princeton, N. J June 24, 1908 71




GROVER CLEVELAND

I

LIFE AND CHARACTER

ROVER CLEVELAND left the
White House at the end of his
second occupancy, and retired to
private life, in March, 1897.
While a public leader is felt as contempora-
neous, no one can be sure of his calibre. But
in the retrospect across a quarter of a cen-
tury it is possible to see a man justly. The
controversies v^hich quickened men*s pulses
a generation ago, before Bryan ever ran for
President or the Maine sank, are now curi-
ously cold. We are able today to read the
lineaments of Cleveland's character without
the distraction and distortion of partisan-
ships.

Cleveland came rapidly to the fore once
he had attracted the attention of the public.
In the fall of 1881, at the age of forty-five,
he was elected mayor of the city of Buffalo.
Three years later he was elected President
of the United States. In the decade that fol-
lowed he was the leader and idol of the Dem-
ocratic Party, and easily the dominant figure

[9]



in the political life of the nation. The qual-
ities in Cleveland which caught and held
public esteem for him were these: moral
courage and independence of spirit, pains-
taking industry, caution and thoroughness in
the exploration of public questions, firmness
in action after his mind was made up, and
personal honesty raised almost to the pitch
of a passion. People often spoke, in his
time, of "Cleveland luck." It was a phrase
misapplied. Roosevelt had luck — and made
good use of it. But Cleveland's advance-
ment, though rapid, was logical and
orderly. He fought his way step by step.
He had to fight both against the hostilities
and rivalries which every public man en-
counters, and against his own limitations.
He was intellectually able, but not brilliant.
He developed the capacity to handle situa-
tions as they arose, but he did not make oc-
casions. Although he never lost his hold on
the respect of the country, there were times
when his popularity and influence flickered
low. When he stepped from power in 1897
he was under something of an eclipse. When
he died, in 1908, he was everywhere recog-
nized as a man who had not altogether
missed greatness; and since his death his
reputation and good repute have grown
steadily.

[10]



On his father's side Cleveland was of Eng-
lish descent, on his mother's Irish and Ger-
man. He was born at Caldwell, New Jer-
sey, March 18, 1837, and christened Stephen
Grover Cleveland. His father was a Pres-
byterian minister, who had received, at
Yale, a college education: an advantage he
was unable to give his sons. In 1841 his
father accepted a pastorate at Fayetteville,
New York, near Syracuse, at $600 a year.
There were nine children. Grover, at the
age of fourteen, left school for a year and
worked in the village grocery store, thereby
swelling the family income for that year
by $50. When his father died in 1853,
Grover followed his older brother, the Rev-
erend William, to New York City, and
worked under him, as clerk, at the New
York Institution for the Blind. At the end
of a year he returned home for a summer's
vacation; sought work, unsuccessfully, in
Utica and Syracuse; started for Cleveland,
Ohio; stopped to visit his uncle in Buffalo;
and there found employment and a home.
He entered a law firm as helper and office
boy. His pay, at first $4 a week, had in five
years risen to the flattering sum of $50 a
month. In that period he acquired a legal
education, and was admitted to the bar in
1859, at the age of 22. He remained in the

[11]



employ of the same firm, as law clerk, for
four years more. In 1863 he was appointed
assistant district attorney of Erie County.

Not a Soldier in Civil War

When the Civil War broke out, in 1861,
Cleveland was 24 years old. To the calls for
volunteers he did not respond. Two of his
brothers served throughout the war, in the
Union armies. Grover stayed with his law
work. In 1863 he was drafted for service. In
the Civil War a drafted man was permitted
to furnish a substitute, or to pay for the
procurement of a substitute. Cleveland paid
$1,000, borrowing the money from his su-
perior, the district attorney. This course
afforded his political opponents, in later
years, when he had become a candidate for
high office, the opportunity to cry slacker.
In 1892, for instance, during his second cam-
paign against General Benjamin Harrison,
Senator John Sherman of Ohio attacked his
war record in the following language:

"There is this to be said of him, that
he was a man full grown at the opening
of the war, an able-bodied man when
the war was on. I have never known,
nor has it ever been proved, that he had
any heart for or sympathies with the
Union soldier or the Union cause."

[12]



In this there may have been a grain of
truth. Cleveland chose to be a Democrat on
attaining his majority, in 1858, when the
War of Secession was brewing, and the align-
ments were being made. He undoubtedly
followed the controversy closely, as did every
other intelligent person; but his conclusions
and convictions have not been recorded.
During all of this period he was contribut-
ing heavily out of his earnings to the sup-
port of his widowed mother. His enlistment
would have cancelled that help. We may at
least be sure that he chose his course delib-
erately. And everything we know about his
character leads us to believe that he was not
a coward.

After a three years' grind as assistant dis-
trict attorney, Cleveland ran for district at-
torney on the Democratic ticket, and was
beaten. During the following fifteen years
he devoted his attention to the practice of
law, with the exception of a three years' in-
terval, 1870-1873, when he was sheriff of
Erie County, his first elective office. He was
successively a member of the firms of Van-
derpoel and Cleveland; Laning, Cleveland,
and Folsom ; Bass, Cleveland and Bissel ; and
Cleveland, Bissel and Sicard. He gradually,
in this period of a decade and a half, built a
success and local reputation. He was known

[13]



as a reliable and clear-headed lawyer, who
took an interest in civic affairs, and who
talked good sense; as a man who paid his
bills on the nail and attended assiduously to
his business : altogether a solid citizen. The
Buffalo Express, a Republican newspaper,
said of him editorially soon after his nomi-
nation for mayor in the autumn of 1881 :

"We know Grover Cleveland. Nearly
all of his fellow-citizens are aware of his
distinguished abilities and reputation
as a lawyer, of his great personal worth,
of his unswerving uprightness, and his
high moral courage. But we know
something more than all this. It has
happened to us to have had personal ex-
perience of that sleepless vigilance, that
tireless devotion, that singular penetra-
tion and that broad good judgment
which Mr. Cleveland has always dis-
played in the interest of his clients, and
from which so many have reaped the
reward of a righteous verdict. If he is
mayor, the city will be to him as his
client^as a client standing more sorely
in need of all his best endeavors than
anyone he ever served before — and woe
would be to the man that should attempt
to rob or otherwise wrong her."

He accepted the nomination reluctantly.
The Democrats put him forward because
they believed they could win with him; and

[14]



they did, rather easily. He was elected
mayor by a majority of 3,530. Buffalo, to-
day grown to be a city of over a half a mil-
lion, had in 1881 a population of 160,000. It
was the third city of New York State, and
was typical of most American cities of the
period in the shoddiness and venality of its
politics. Municipal waste and corruption
gave Cleveland his opportunity. The day he
entered office he started to give the city a
business administration. He discovered that
the municipality was paying nearly twice as
much as private persons for the construc-
tion of plank sidewalks; he found that the
city auditor was performing his duties in a
most perfunctory manner ; he called attention
to the fact that the municipal government
was not getting a full working day from its
employees. He pointed out that the city was
paying far too much for street cleaning, for
repairs to school buildings, and for public
printing. He elaborated no general program
of reform, seeking, rather, economy and ef-
ficiency in concrete instances.

A Plain-Spoken Mayor

Within a fortnight of his inauguration the
Mayor vetoed an appropriation of the Com-
mon Council granting $800 to each of three
German newspapers in payment for publish-

[15]



lishing a daily synopsis of the Council's pro-
ceedings. This was a hoary form of patron-
age. Cleveland declared that these subsi-
dies were a sheer waste of public money,
since the papers would in any event, as a
matter of news, furnish their readers with
some account of the proceedings of the Coun-
cil. A few days later he vetoed a resolution
directing the city clerk to draw a warrant
for $500 in favor of the chairman of the
Decoration Day Committee of the Grand
Army of the Republic. He said that he was
in sympathy with the object of the resolu-
tion— *' the efforts of our veteran soldiers to
keep alive the memory of their fallen com-
rades" — but insisted that the money for this
purpose should be obtained through the vol-
untary subscriptions of citizens rather than
through taxation. This act was characteris-
tic of Cleveland. All through his career he
refused to sanction the expenditure of pub-
lic money merely because the object was
deemed to be worthy. As Governor of New
York he vetoed appropriations for soldiers'
and sailors' monuments. As President he
vetoed pension bills by the score. Only the
stiffest kind of political courage will resist
measures that are supposed to carry a patri-
otic appeal. Cleveland had that kind of
courage.

[16]



One of Cleveland's messages to the Com-
mon Council became known as the "plain
speech veto," and was widely quoted. The
council had awarded the contracts for clean-
ing the paved streets and alleys of the city
during the ensuing five years to a favored
bidder named Talbot, at a compensation of
$422,500. The Mayor disapproved the reso-
lution. He said:

**The bid accepted by your honorable
body is more than one hundred thousand
dollars higher than that of another re-
sponsible party for the same work; and
a worse and more suspicious feature
in this transaction is that the bid now
accepted is fifty thousand dollars more
than that made by Talbot himself within
a very few weeks, openly and publicly to
your honorable body, for performing pre-
cisely the same services. This latter
circumstance is to my mind the manifes-
tation on the part of the contractor of a
reliance upon the forbearance and gen-
erosity of your honorable body, which
would be more creditable if it were less
expensive to the taxpayers.

'*I am not aware that any excuse is
offered for the acceptance of this pro-
posal, thus increased, except that the
lower bidders can not afford to do the
work for the sums they name.

''This extreme tenderness and consid-
eration for those who desire to contract

[17]



with the city, and this touching and pa-
ternal solicitude lest they should be in-
providently led into a bad bargain, is,
I am sure, an exception to general busi-
ness rules, and seems to have no place
in this selfish, sordid world, except as
found in the administration of muni-
cipal affairs.

**The charter of your city requires
that the Mayor, when he disapproves any
resolution of your honorable body, shall
return the same with his objections.

'This is a time for plain speech, and
my objection to the action of your hon-
orable body now under consideration
shall be plainly stated. I withhold my
assent from the same, because I regard
it as the culmination of a most bare-
faced, impudent and shameless scheme
to betray the interests of the people and
to worse than squander the public
money.

*'I will not be misunderstood in this
matter. There are those whose votes
were given for this resolution whom I
can not and will not suspect of a willful
neglect of the interests they are sworn
to protect; but it has been fully demon-
strated that there are influences, both
in and about your honorable body,
which it behooves every honest man to
watch and avoid with the greatest



care."



By his "plain speech veto" Cleveland saved
the city $109,000. A little later he effected

[18]



a saving of $800,000, by pushing through,
against the stubborn resistance of the Coun-
cil, his plan for a special commission of five
to supervise the construction of a new sewer
system. The Common Council did not dare
to override the vetoes of this blunt, out-
spoken, hard-hitting executive, for public
opinion had aligned itself behind him. Be-
fore six months of his term of office had
passed his methods and achievements had at-
tracted attention in other parts of the State
and nation.

The New York State Democratic Conven-
tion met that year in Syracuse. The dele-
gates from western New York united to
urge Cleveland as the nominee for governor.
On the eve of the convention his supporters
requested him, by telegraph, to come to
Syracuse. He left Buffalo in the early even-
ing, had a conference in Syracuse with Dan-
iel Manning, party chieftain, and returned to
Buffalo that same night. The next day he
was nominated for governor on the third
ballot. In the campaign which followed
Cleveland attended to his duties as mayor.
He did not make a single speech. His op-
ponent on the Republican ticket was Charles
J. Folger, Secretary of the Treasury under
President Arthur. Cleveland's candidacy
appealed especially to the independent

[19]



voters. He was elected by a majority of
192,850.

In the two years that Cleveland occupied
the Governor's chair at Albany he solidified
his reputation for courage, honesty and
common sense. On his recommendation the
legislature passed a State civil service law.
He scrutinized expenditures; he cut off a
useless Board of Canal Appraisers; disap-
proved a legislative deficiency bill; and
vetoed a grant of $20,000 for the Catholic
Protectory of New York City. He cancel-
led many appropriation items on the ground
that they were gratuities — **purely dona-
tions.'' He said "my conception of public
duty leads me to the conviction that the peo-
ple pay taxes for their benefit and protec-
tion, and that forced contributions of the
public funds are not justified except upon
that theory."

The Governor's Vetoes

His veto messages were vigorous. The
legislature passed a bill to "amend and con-
solidate the several acts relating to the city
of Elmira." The Governor denounced it as
"special legislation of the most objectionable
character." The legislature put through a
tenure of office bill applying especially to of-
ficials in New York City. Cleveland returned

[20]



it with the comment: "Of all the defective
and shabby legislation which has come be-
fore me, this is the worst and most inexcus-
able." A new charter for the city of Lyons
he described as *'a mass of impracticable in-
consistencies and incongruous and useless
crudities, which, if allowed to go upon our
statute books, would be a disgrace to the
State and the law-making power."

Among the scores of bills vetoed by Gov-
ernor Cleveland were several granting spe-
cial favors to corporations. He would not
allow gas-light companies to use land with-
out the owners' consent. He would not per-
mit street car companies to monopolize
municipal rights of way. He would not re-
lease the shareholders of banks and other
corporations from the obligations they had
assumed. These vetoes pleased the people.
Cleveland could easily have posed as a cham-
pion of the people against the encroachment
and greed of the corporations. But he was
not posing. When a Five Cent Fare Bill,
the result of popular clamor, was presented
to him, he vetoed it promptly. At that time
the elevated roads of New York City were
charging different fares at different periods
of the day. During three hours in the early
morning and three in the late afternoon the
fare was five cents; at all other times ten

[21]



cents. The bill which had passed the legis-
lature proposed to make five cents the uni-
form fare throughout the day. Cleveland
held public hearings on the measure. He
heard elaborate arguments from both sides;
he studied the legal history of the question;
and he decided that the proposal was unfair.
In his veto message he said: "It seems to
me that to arbitrarily reduce these fares, at
this time and under existing circumstances,
involves a breach of faith on the part of the
State.'* He explained his reasons for dissent
in a three thousand word argument. He ex-
pected that his rejection of a measure spon-
sored by workingmen, politicians and the
press would raise a storm against him. On
the contrary he found his message very well
received. All the newspapers praised him
for his temerity, and especially for the care
with which he had examined every aspect of
the subject. Cleveland never shirked the
labor necessary to make himself understood.
He stated in full his reasons for his acts.
The people like that trait in a man ; a democ-
racy appreciates the courtesy of explana-
tions.

Among the questions which came to the
Governor's attention day by day were many
applications for pardon. Cleveland did not
delegate this task to subordinates, but

[22]



probed personally each appeal for executive
clemency, often reviewing the entire record
of the cases before him. The newspapers
charged that he was too lenient ; that he was
lavish in his pardons and commutations of
sentence. In an interview Cleveland
answered these criticisms:

"The pardoning power is one of the
most difficult and perplexing duties that
a Governor has to perform. * * *
Occasionally there is an epidemic of a
particular class of crime in a section of
the State; the public becomes excited,
and it sometimes occurs that a man is
convicted on insufficient evidence at a
. time when public sentiment is high; he
receives a long sentence and, perhaps,
all contrary to facts."

It was Cleveland's habit to get at the facts.

While Governor, Cleveland made few
speeches. In his two annual messages to the
legislature he confined himself to State is-
sues, with the exception of a single passage
on the decline of the American merchant
marine, in the course of which he quoted de
Tocqueville. Widespread interest had by
this time been aroused in this burly, inde-
pendent figure, who took orders from no-
body, and declined to cater to politicians, or
men of wealth, or representatives of labor.

[23]



His availability as a Presidential candidate
was emphasized by the fact that he had
proved his strength in New York State.
During the quarter century which followed
the Civil War national elections were close,
and popular majorities small. To capture
the electoral vote of the larger States was,
therefore, the primary concern of party
managers.

A Campaign of Personalities

The Democratic national convention which
met at Chicago in July, 1884, nominated
Cleveland on the second ballot. The Chair-
man of the Convention said of Cleveland's
admirers: ''They love him and they respect
him, not only for himself, for his integrity
and judgment and iron will, but they love
him most of all for the enemies he has
made." During the campaign Cleveland
spoke but twice. His Republican opponent,
the brilliant and magnetic James G. Blaine,
of Maine, stumped the country from end to
end. The debate was supposed to center
about the tariff; it actually consisted, in
large part, of bitter personalities and of ap-
peals to partisan prejudice. Blaine argued
that to entrust the Democrats with power
would be ''to call to the administration of
the government the men who organized the

[24]



Rebellion." A Democratic victory, he as-
serted, "would rekindle smouldering pas-
sions." This was familiar ground to Blaine.
For years he had been active in the politics
of Reconstruction, and had been one of the
most adroit of those politicians who made
capital out of the memories of the Civil
War: a game then known as "waving the
bloody shirt." Cleveland, on the other hand,
represented a newer school and a different
interest, which looked chiefly to a reform of
political and economic evils.

In this campaign of 1884 floods of per-
sonal abuse were loosed. In some recent
Presidential contests candidates have been
made the victims of whispering campaigns,
by which slanders have been spread as gos-
sip. In those earlier days the mud was
spread openly in the newspapers, and
thrown by the spellbinders. The Mulligan
letters, which had come to light eight years
previously during a Congressional investiga-
tion of Blaine's conduct as Speaker of the
House, were reprinted and scattered broad-
cast. These letters indicated that Blaine had
used his official position to obtain bonds and
large loans from the Union Pacific, the
Northern Pacific, and the Little Rock and
Fort Smith Railroads. Although the "Plumed
Knight" had defended himself with skill, he

C25]



had failed to convince the more fastidious
that he embodied the soul of honor. Many-
scurrilous stories about Cleveland were cir-
culated. No one impugned his pecuniary
probity; but it was charged that his habits
were coarse and his tastes vulgar; that he
consorted with low companions; that he fre-
quently had been picked up drunk on the
streets of Buffalo and carried home; that
he was a habitual gambler; and that he
courted the society of dissolute women. One
highly embroidered and scandalous tale
elicited from Cleveland the comment: "Tell
the truth!" This message was the only re-
ply that he deigned to make to any of the
slanderers. All of the charges were gross
exaggerations. Some of them sounded
plausible because they were spun around a


1 3 4 5

Online LibraryRoland HuginsGrover Cleveland; a study in political courage (Volume 1) → online text (page 1 of 5)