The only man to ever serve two non-consecutive terms as President, Grover Cleveland (1837-1908) performed the greatest comeback in American politics, he succeed his successor.
With a limited formal education, Cleveland managed to study law and establish himself as a scrupulously honest office-holder in Buffalo and western New York state. By 1882 his reputation as a dedicated and effective administrator won him the Governorship of New York, a post in which he gained further renown by fighting the New York City Democratic machine in cooperation with a young Republican assemblyman, Theodore Roosevelt. “We love him for the enemies he has made,” said the delegate nominating Cleveland for the Presidency at the 1884 Democratic convention, for “Grover the Crusader” had not hesitated to stamp out corruption, even in his own party.
To many men in both parties, he was the incarnation of clean, honest government. After the corruption, oppression, injustice and outright tyranny of the Reconstruction era, it was time for a change: “Grover the Good” was elected in 1884, the first Democratic President in twenty-four years. In office Cleveland was a doer—and as a result, he made plenty of enemies as doers are wont to in Washington. He made civil service reform a reality by courageously placing a number of political jobs under the protection of civil service, and he stood firmly against a high protective tariff, moves that contributed to his defeat in 1888.
While out of office Cleveland assumed the role of party spokesman and became an active critic of the new administration of Benjamin Harrison. In 1892 he soundly defeated the man who had replaced him in the White House. But he returned to power in grim times. With a depression cutting deep into the nation’s economy; strong measures were called for—and in forcing the repeal of silver legislation and halting a Pullman labor strike, Cleveland demonstrated a firm hand.
Nevertheless, rioting broke out on this day in Chicago and several other cities, as panic spread across the nation. Cleveland however did not yield to the pressures of the tyranny of the moment and slowly was able to steer the nation’s affairs toward stability.
Throughout a difficult term he remained an honest, independent leader, a man who left office with the hard-won respect of members of both parties.