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3: The Advent of Cleveland

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The Advent of Cleveland

Popular dissatisfaction with the behavior of public authority had not up to this time extended to the formal Constitution. Schemes of radical rearrangement of the political institutions of the country had not yet been agitated. New party movements were devoted to particular measures such as fresh greenback issues or the prohibition of liquor traffic. Popular reverence for the Constitution was deep and strong, and it was the habit of the American people to impute practical defects not to the governmental system itself but to the character of those acting in it. Burke, as long ago as 1770, remarked truly that "where there is a regular scheme of operations carried on, it is the system and not any individual person who acts in it that is truly dangerous." But it is an inveterate habit of public opinion to mistake results for causes and to vent its resentment upon persons when misgovernment occurs. That disposition was bitterly intense at this period. "Turn the rascals out" was the ordinary campaign slogan of an opposition party, and calumny formed the staple of its argument. Of course no party could establish exclusive proprietorship to such tactics, and whichever party might be in power in a particular locality was cast for the villain's part in the political drama. But as changes of party control took place, experience taught that the only practical result was to introduce new players into the same old game. Such experience spread among the people a despairing feeling that American politics were hopelessly depraved, and at the same time it gave them a deep yearning for some strong deliverer. To this messianic hope of politics may be ascribed what is in some respects the most remarkable career in the political history of the United States. The rapid and fortuitous rise of Grover Cleveland to political eminence is without a parallel in the records of American statesmanship, notwithstanding many instances of public distinction attained from humble beginnings.

The antecedents of Cleveland were Americans of the best type. He was descended from a colonial stock which had settled in the Connecticut Valley. His earliest ancestor of whom there is any exact knowledge was Aaron Cleveland, an Episcopal clergyman, who died at East Haddam, Connecticut, in 1757, after founding a family which in every generation furnished recruits to the ministry. It argues a hereditary disposition for independent judgment that among these there was a marked variation in denominational choice. Aaron Cleveland was so strong in his attachment to the Anglican church that to be ordained he went to England—under the conditions of travel in those days a hard, serious undertaking. His son, also named Aaron, became a Congregational minister. Two of the sons of the younger Aaron became ministers, one of them an Episcopalian like his grandfather. Another son, William, who became a prosperous silversmith, was for many years a deacon in the church in which his father preached. William sent his second son, Richard, to Yale, where he graduated with honors at the age of nineteen. He turned to the Presbyterian church, studied theology at Princeton, and upon receiving ordination began a ministerial career which like that of many preachers was carried on in many pastorates. He was settled at Caldwell, New Jersey, in his third pastorate, and there Stephen Grover Cleveland was born, on March 18, 1837, the fifth in a family of children that eventually increased to nine. He was named after the Presbyterian minister who was his father's predecessor. The first name soon dropped out of use, and from childhood he went by his middle name, a practice of which the Clevelands supply so many instances that it seems to be quite a family trait.

In campaign literature, so much has been made of the humble circumstances in which Grover made his start in life that the unwary reader might easily imagine that the future President was almost a waif. Nothing could be farther from the truth. He really belonged to the most authentic aristocracy that any state of society can produce—that which maintains its standards and principles from generation to generation by the integrity of the stock without any endowment of wealth. The Clevelands were people who reared large families and sustained themselves with dignity and credit on narrow means. It was a settled tradition with such republican aristocrats that a son destined for a learned profession—usually the ministry—should be sent to college, and for that purpose heroic economies were practiced in the family. The opportunities which wealth can confer are really trivial in comparison with the advantage of being born and reared in such bracing conditions as those which surrounded Grover Cleveland. As a boy he was a clerk in a country store, but his education was not neglected and at the age of fifteen he was studying, with a view to entering college. His father's death ended that prospect and forced him to go to work again to help support the family. Some two years later, when the family circumstances were sufficiently eased so that he could strike out for himself, he set off westward, intending to reach Cleveland. Arriving at Buffalo, he called upon a married aunt, who, on learning that he was planning to get work at Cleveland with the idea of becoming a lawyer, advised him to stay in Buffalo where opportunities were better. Young Cleveland was taken into her home virtually as private secretary to her husband, Lewis F. Allen, a man of means, culture, and public spirit. Allen occupied a large house with spacious grounds in a suburb of the city, and owned a farm on which he bred fine cattle. He issued the "American Short-Horn Herd Book," a standard authority for pedigree stock, and the fifth edition, published in 1861, made a public acknowledgment of "the kindness, industry, and ability" with which Grover Cleveland had assisted the editor "in correcting and arranging the pedigrees for publication."

With his uncle's friendship to back him, Cleveland had, of course, no difficulty in getting into a reputable law office as a student, and thereafter his affairs moved steadily along the road by which innumerable young Americans of diligence and industry have advanced to success in the legal profession. Cleveland's career as a lawyer was marked by those steady, solid gains in reputation which result from care and thoroughness rather than from brilliancy, and in these respects it finds many parallels among lawyers of the trustee type. What is exceptional and peculiar in Cleveland's career is the way in which political situations formed about him without any contrivance on his part, and as it were projected him from office to office until he arrived in the White House.

At the outset nothing could have seemed more unlikely than such a career. Cleveland's ambitions were bound up in his profession and his politics were opposed to those of the powers holding local control. But the one circumstance did not shut him out of political vocation and the other became a positive advantage. He entered public life in 1863 through an unsought appointment as assistant district attorney for Erie County. The incumbent of the office was in poor health and needed an assistant on whom he could rely to do the work. Hence Cleveland was called into service. His actual occupancy of the position prompted his party to nominate him to the office; and although he was defeated, he received a vote so much above the normal voting strength of his party that, in 1869, he was picked for the nomination to the office of sheriff to strengthen a party ticket made up in the interest of a congressional candidate. The expectation was that while the district might be carried for the Democratic candidate for Congress, Cleveland would probably fail of election. The nomination was virtually forced upon him against his wishes. But he was elected by a small plurality. This success, reenforced by his able conduct of the office, singled him out as the party's hope for success in the Buffalo municipal election; and after his term as sheriff he was nominated for mayor, again without any effort on his part. Although ordinarily the Democratic party was in a hopeless minority, Cleveland was elected. It was in this campaign that he enunciated the principle that public office is a public trust, which was his rule of action throughout his career. Both as sheriff and as mayor he acted upon it with a vigor that brought him into collision with predatory politicians, and the energy and address with which he defended public interests made him widely known as the reform mayor of Buffalo. His record and reputation naturally attracted the attention of the state managers of the Democratic party, who were casting about for a candidate strong enough to overthrow the established Republican control, and Cleveland was just as distinctly drafted for the nomination to the governorship in 1882 as he had been for his previous offices.

In his career as governor Cleveland displayed the same stanch characteristics as before, and he was fearless and aggressive in maintaining his principles. The most striking characteristic of his veto messages is the utter absence of partisan or personal designs. Some of the bills he vetoed purported to benefit labor interests, and politicians are usually fearful of any appearance of opposition to such interests: His veto of the bill establishing a five cent fare for the New York elevated railways was an action of a kind to make him a target for calumny and misrepresentation. Examination of the record reveals no instance in which Cleveland flinched from doing his duty or faltered in the full performance of it. He acted throughout in his avowed capacity of a public trustee, and he conducted the office of governor with the same laborious fidelity which he had displayed as sheriff and as mayor. And now, as before, he antagonized elements of his own party who sought only the opportunities of office and cared little for its responsibilities. He did not unite suavity of manner with vigor of action, and at times he allowed himself to reflect upon the motives of opponents and to use language that was personally offensive. He told the Legislature in one veto message that "of all the defective and shabby legislation which has been presented to me, this is the worst and most inexcusable." He once sent a scolding message to the State Senate, in which he said that "the money of the State is apparently expended with no regard to economy," and that "barefaced jobbery has been permitted." The Senate having refused to confirm a certain appointee, he declared that the opposition had "its rise in an overwhelming greed for the patronage which may attach to the place," and that the practical effect of such opposition was to perpetuate "the practice of unblushing peculation." What he said was quite true and it was the kind of truth that hurt. The brusqueness of his official style and the censoriousness of his language infused even more personal bitterness into the opposition which developed within his own party than in that felt in the ranks of the opposing party. At the same time, these traits delighted a growing body of reformers hostile to both the regular parties. These "Mugwumps," as they were called, were as a class so addicted to personal invective that it was said of them with as much truth as wit that they brought malice into politics without even the excuse of partisanship. But it was probably the enthusiastic support of this class which turned the scale in New York in the presidential election of 1884.

In the national conventions of that year, there was an unusually small amount of factional strife. In the Republican convention, President Arthur was a candidate, but party sentiment was so strong for Blaine that he led Arthur on the first ballot and was nominated on the fourth by a large majority. In the Democratic convention, Cleveland was nominated on the second ballot. Meanwhile, his opponents had organized a new party from which more was expected than it actually accomplished. It assumed the title Anti-Monopoly and chose the notorious demagogue, General Benjamin F. Butler, as its candidate for President.

During this campaign, the satirical cartoon attained a power and an effectiveness difficult to realize now that it has become an ordinary feature of journalism, equally available for any school of opinion. But it so happened that the rise of Cleveland in politics coincided with the artistic career of Joseph Keppler, who came to this country from Vienna and who for some years supported himself chiefly as an actor in Western theatrical companies. He had studied drawing in Vienna and had contributed cartoons to periodicals in that city. After some unsuccessful ventures in illustrated journalism, he started a pictorial weekly in New York in 1875. It was originally printed in German, but in less than a year it was issued also in English. It was not until 1879 that it sprang into general notice through Keppler's success in reproducing lithographed designs in color. Meanwhile, the artist was feeling his way from the old style caricature, crowded with figures with overhead loops of explanatory text, to designs possessing an artistic unity expressive of an idea plain enough to tell its own story. He had matured both his mechanical resources and his artistic method by the time the campaign of 1884 came on, and he had founded a school which could apply the style to American politics with aptness superior to his own. It was Bernhard Gillam, who, working in the new Keppler style, produced a series of cartoons whose tremendous impressiveness was universally recognized. Blaine was depicted as the tattooed man and was exhibited in that character in all sorts of telling situations. While on the stump during the campaign, Blaine had sometimes literally to wade through campaign documents assailing his personal integrity, and phrases culled from them were chanted in public processions. One of the features of a great parade of business men of New York was a periodical chorus of "Burn this letter," suiting the action to the word and thus making a striking pyrotechnic display.(1) But the cartoons reached people who would never have been touched by campaign documents or by campaign processions.

Notwithstanding the exceptional violence and novel ingenuity of the attacks made upon him, Blaine met them with such ability and address that everywhere he augmented the ordinary strength of his party, and his eventual defeat was generally attributed to an untoward event among his own adherents at the close of the campaign. At a political reception in the interest of Blaine among New York clergymen, the Reverend Dr. Burchard spoke of the Democratic party as "the party of rum, Romanism, and rebellion." Unfortunately Blaine did not hear him distinctly enough to repudiate this slur upon the religious belief of millions of American citizens, and alienation of sentiment caused by the tactless and intolerant remark could easily account for Blaine's defeat by a small margin. He was only 1149 votes behind Cleveland in New York in a poll of over 1,125,000 votes, and only 23,005 votes behind in a national poll of over 9,700,000 votes for the leading candidates. Of course Cleveland in his turn was a target of calumny, and in his case the end of the campaign did not bring the customary relief. He was pursued to the end of his public career by active, ingenious, resourceful, personal spite and steady malignity of political opposition from interests whose enmity he had incurred while Governor of New York.

The situation which confronted Cleveland when he became President was so complicated and embarrassing that perhaps even the most sagacious and resourceful statesman could not have coped with it successfully, though it is the characteristic of genius to accomplish the impossible. But Cleveland was no genius; he was not even a man of marked talent. He was stanch, plodding, laborious, and dutiful; but he was lacking in ability to penetrate to the heart of obscure political problems and to deal with primary causes rather than with effects. The great successes of his administration were gained in particular problems whose significance had already been clearly defined. In this field, Cleveland's resolute and energetic performance of duty had splendid results.

At the time of Cleveland's inauguration as President, the Senate claimed an extent of authority which, if allowed to go unchallenged, would have turned the Presidency into an office much like that of the doge of Venice, one of ceremonial dignity without real power. The Federalist—that matchless collection of constitutional essays written by Hamilton, Madison, and Jay—laid down the doctrine that "against the enterprising ambition" of the legislative department "the people ought to indulge all their jealousy and exhaust all their precautions." But some of the precautions taken in framing the Constitution proved ineffectual from the start. The right conferred upon the President to recommend to the consideration of Congress "such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient," was emptied of practical importance by the success of Congress in interpreting it as meaning no more than that the President may request Congress to take a subject into consideration. In practice, Congress considers only such measures as are recommended by its own committees. The framers of the Constitution took special pains to fortify the President's position by the veto power, which is treated at length in the Constitution. By a special clause, the veto power was extended to "every order, resolution or vote... except on a question of adjournment"—a clause which apparently should enable the President to strike off the "riders" continually put upon appropriation bills to coerce executive action; but no President has ventured to exercise this authority. Although the Senate was joined to the President as an advisory council in appointments to office, it was explained in "The Federalist" that "there will be no exertion of choice on the part of Senators." Nevertheless, the Senate has claimed and exercised the right to dictate appointments. While thus successfully encroaching upon the authority of the President, the Senate had also been signally successful in encroaching upon the authority of the House. The framers of the Constitution anticipated for the House a masterful career like that of the House of Commons, and they feared that the Senate could not protect itself in the discharge of its own functions; so, although the traditional principle that all revenue bills should originate in the House was taken over into the Constitution, it was modified by the proviso that "the Senate may propose or concur with amendments as on other bills." This right to propose amendments has been improved by the Senate until the prerogative of the House has been reduced to an empty form. Any money bill may be made over by amendment in the Senate, and when contests have followed, the Senate has been so successful in imposing its will upon the House that the House has acquired the habit of submission. Not long before the election of Cleveland, as has been pointed out, this habitual deference of the House had enabled the Senate to originate a voluminous tariff act in the form of an amendment to the Internal Revenue Bill voted by the House.

In addition to these extensions of power through superior address in management, the ascendancy of the Senate was fortified by positive law. In 1867, when President Johnson fell out with the Republican leaders in Congress, a Tenure of Office Act was passed over his veto, which took away from the President the power of making removals except by permission of the Senate. In 1869, when Johnson's term had expired, a bill for the unconditional repeal of this law passed the House with only sixteen votes in the negative, but the Senate was able to force a compromise act which perpetuated its authority over removals.

(2) resident Grant complained of this act as "being inconsistent with a faithful and efficient administration of the government," but with all his great fame and popularity he was unable to induce the Senate to relinquish the power it had gained.

The Act of April 5, 1869, required the President, within thirty days after the opening of the sessions, to nominate persons for all vacant offices, whether temporarily filled or not, and in place of all officers who may have been suspended during the recess of the Senate.

This law was now invoked by Republicans as a means of counteracting the result of the election. Such was the feeling of the times that partisanship could easily masquerade as patriotism. Republicans still believed that as saviors of the Union they had a prescriptive right to the government. During the campaign, Eugene Field, the famous Western poet, had given a typical expression of this sentiment in some scornful verses concluding with this defiant notice:

These quondam rebels come today In penitential form, And hypocritically say The country needs "Reform!" Out on reformers such as these; By Freedom's sacred powers, We'll run the country as we please; We saved it, and it's ours.

Although the Democratic party had won the Presidency and the House, the Republicans still retained control of the Senate, and they were expected as a matter of course to use their powers for party advantage. Some memorable struggles, rich in constitutional precedents, issued from these conditions.


(1) The allusion was to the Mulligan letters, which had been made public by Mr. Blaine himself when it had been charged that they contained evidence of corrupt business dealings. The disclosure bad been made four years before and ample opportunity had existed for instituting proceedings if the case warranted it, but nothing was done except to nurse the scandal for campaign use.

(2) The allusion was to the Mulligan letters, which had been made public by Mr. Blaine himself when it had been charged that they contained evidence of corrupt business dealings. The disclosure bad been made four years before and ample opportunity had existed for instituting proceedings if the case warranted it, but nothing was done except to nurse the scandal for campaign use.

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