The last Democrat

Posted: March 15, 2022 by chrisharper in politics
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By Christopher Harper

For the past few months, I’ve been reading biographies of U.S. presidents, starting in chronological order. I’ve made it to Nos. 22 and 24: Grover Cleveland.

That’s right! Cleveland served two terms, but they were interrupted by the election loss in 1888 to his opponent, Benjamin Harrison.

Cleveland, the last conservative Democrat, was a particularly interesting leader. Unfortunately, the Democrats turned toward progressive politics after Cleveland left the White House.

Cleveland served two terms, 1885-1889 and 1893-1897. He won that election in the popular vote in 1888, but he lost in the Electoral College because he angered the corrupt politicians in New York and lost the state. Therefore, Cleveland was the only president to serve two terms that were not consecutive. Furthermore, he and Woodrow Wilson were the only Democrats elected between 1861 and 1933.

The son of a Presbyterian minister, Cleveland was known for his honesty and integrity. In 1881, Cleveland was elected mayor of Buffalo and later governor of New York. He opposed high taxes, imperialism, and government subsidies to businesses, farmers, and veterans. He fought corruption in New York and elsewhere, implementing civil service examinations rather than political patronage.

In his Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Cleveland in 1932, historian Allan Nevins wrote, “[I]n Grover Cleveland, the greatness lies in typical rather than unusual qualities. He had no endowments that thousands of men do not have. He possessed honesty, courage, firmness, independence, and common sense. But he possessed them to a degree other men do not.”

After being elected president in 1884, he faced a distinctly partisan Republican Congress. Keep in mind that the Republicans were much more progressive than the Democrats back then.

Cleveland vetoed dozens of bills passed by Congress; his supporters sustained them. Perhaps his most famous veto occurred when he refused to support $100,000—today’s equivalent of $2.9 million—to buy seed grain for Texas farmers, who had lost their crops during a drought.

In his veto message, he outlined his desire for limited government. “I can find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution, and I do not believe that the power and duty of the general government ought to be extended to the relief of individual suffering …. The friendliness and charity of our countrymen can always be relied upon to relieve their fellow citizens in misfortune. This has been repeatedly and quite lately demonstrated. Federal aid in such cases encourages the expectation of paternal care on the part of the government and weakens the sturdiness of our national character.”

Cleveland nailed it. Look at how dependent so many people have become on federal money!

Cleveland often ranks outside of the top 10 of American presidents despite his many accomplishments. To me, he deserves to be near the top of the list right behind Washington and Lincoln.

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