Grover Cleveland - Key Events
Former New York Governor Grover Cleveland is sworn in and takes office as the twenty-second President of the United States. Cleveland is the nation's first Democratic President since James Buchanan, who served prior to the onset of the Civil War. In his inaugural address, Cleveland promises to adhere to “business principals,” indicative of his conservative outlook.
Vice President Thomas Hendricks dies.
On January 19, 1886, President Grover Cleveland signed the Presidential Succession Act. The act specified that in the absence of a President and vice president, heads of executive departments would succeed to the presidency in the order in which the departments were created, starting with the secretary of state. The Presidential Succession Act of 1886 remained in force until 1947.
Vice President Thomas Hendricks died in his Indianapolis home in November 1885. President Grover Cleveland's message to Congress on December 8 regarding the death of the new vice president called for a constitutional amendment to clarify the line of succession should both the President and vice president die or become unable to serve. While the Presidential Succession Act that was proposed and passed shortly afterward on January 15, 1886, was primarily the work of the Congress, President Cleveland supported the legislation and signed the bill into law.
In 1792, Congress had passed a law that addressed presidential succession; the law stipulated that if the President and vice president should both be unable to serve, the President Pro Tempore of the Senate would take office, followed by the Speaker of the House. The Presidential Succession Act changed the previous legislation by placing in line for the presidency, after the vice president, the heads of each executive department in the order in which the department was created. The new system provided a long list of successors, making it all but impossible for the nation to be without a chief executive.
Congress changed the law again in 1947, when it was argued that those at the top of the list for presidential succession should be elected, not appointed, officials. The order established in 1947, which remains in place today, set up the line of succession in the form of President, vice president, Speaker of the House, President Pro Tempore of the Senate, and the heads of each executive department in the order of their creation beginning with the secretary of state and the secretary of the treasury.
In a message to Congress, Cleveland asserts that labor is a vital element of national prosperity and should be a concern of the federal government. He suggests the creation of a government committee to resolve disputes between labor and capital, making him the first President to do so.
Cleveland vetoes the first of several bills granting military pensions to Civil War Union veterans who had appealed to Congress after their claims were rejected by the Pensions Bureau. Hundreds of these claims are bogus.
Cleveland recommends to Congress that the nation accept France's gift of the Statue of Liberty. The gift commemorates the alliance between the two countries during the Revolutionary War. The statue will be placed on Liberty Island, adjacent to Ellis Island off the New Jersey coast. Ellis Island will serve as a welcoming center for the soaring number of immigrants to New York City.
Cleveland announces that he is to marry 21-year-old Frances Folsom, touching off a media frenzy.
Cleveland and Francis Folsom marry.
The Statue of Liberty is dedicated.
Samuel Gompers forms the American Federation of Labor (AFL), a trade union. Gompers, the son of Jewish immigrants from London, arrives in New York City in 1863. The AFL grows for two decades; by 1904, its members comprise ten percent of all nonagricultural wageworkers. In 1912, the AFL will back presidential hopeful Woodrow Wilson in an effort to establish political coalitions.
Following complaints about railroad rates and policies, the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) is created to ensure fairness in the management of interstate railroads. Eventually, the scope of the ICC will expand to include all common carriers. The commission is the nation's first independent regulatory agency. Although Cleveland approves its creation, he has reservations about the agency.
On February 8, 1887, President Grover Cleveland signed the General Allotment Act into law. The law, commonly known as the Dawes Act after Senator Henry L. Dawes of Massachusetts who proposed it, divided tribal lands of Native Americans into individual allotments and encouraged the assimilation of Native Americans into American society.
In 1881, Helen Hunt Jackson published A Century of Dishonor, detailing the federal government's mistreatment of American Indians. Her work created a strong general sentiment for reform of the government's policy toward Native Americans. Senator Dawes proposed the General Allotment Act in 1886 to attempt to put an end to the abuses described in Jackson's book.
The bill gave 160 acres of land to each family, 80 acres to single adults and 40 acres to orphaned children, and prohibited recipients from selling the land for a period of 25 years. Indians who renounced their tribal holdings were made eligible for U.S. citizenship. The federal government purchased the land remaining after the allotments were made and then sold much of it to non-Indians.
President Grover Cleveland was an enthusiastic supporter of the bill, and he helped it through Congress. He was a strong believer in assimilation of Indians as a means to improve their living conditions. The bill passed in the Senate on February 25, 1886, and the House on December 16.
In general, the supporters of the Dawes Act (including Helen Hunt Jackson) genuinely believed that the act would improve the situation in which American Indians found themselves. Cleveland viewed himself as a protector of the Indians and believed that they would benefit greatly in adopting the norms of American life.
The actual effects of the act were far from beneficial for American Indians. The tradition of tribal lands was a central feature of American Indian culture. The Dawes Act dissolved tribal structure and was a general failure in its attempt to assimilate Indians. In addition to creating greater mistrust among Indians for the U.S. government, the act's provision to allow the government to sell remaining land after allotments were made significantly depleted the quantity of land American Indians held. This was, incidentally, one of the law's goals, as American settlers and rail road entrepreneurs had pressured the President to reduce the quantity of land in reservations, feeling that the federal government had provided Native Americans with more land than they needed. The Dawes Act was a disastrous policy that robbed Native Americans of much of their land and did little to improve their way of life.
Cleveland vetoes the Dependent Pension Bill, which would have given a military pension to anyone serving a minimum of ninety days in any war. He argues that the bill will only encourage fraudulent assertions.
Cleveland vetoes the Texas Seed Bill, which was designed to provide relief to drought-stricken farmers. Cleveland believes the bill oversteps the powers of the federal government.
The Tenure of Office Act of 1867 is repealed after Cleveland challenges its constitutionality. The act had required that the President gain Senate approval to remove from office any individuals who had received Senate confirmation upon appointment. Congress had passed the bill in order gain control over President Andrew Johnson.
Cleveland embarks on a tour that takes him to states in the southern and western United States.
In his annual address to Congress, the President argues against protective tariffs, which he claims are creating an excessive surplus. High tariffs were adopted during the Civil War to protect American industrial interests as a temporary measure; they remained in force, however, after the war. Following Cleveland's message, Representative Roger Q. Mills, a Texas Democrat, introduces a moderate bill that reduces rates and favors the South. The Senate rejects this bill and tariff reform becomes one of the divisive issues of the 1888 presidential election.
Cleveland appoints Lucius Q.C. Lamar of Mississippi to the Supreme Court. Previously, Lamar serves as Cleveland's secretary of the interior.
The Civil Service Commission announces amended rules, prompting Cleveland to respond with a letter containing detailed objections. Cleveland is a proponent of civil service reform, and by the time he leaves office in 1889, he will have expanded the list of classified positions filled under the merit system from sixteen thousand to twenty-seven thousand.
Cleveland appoints Melville W. Fuller chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. During his second term, the President will come in for significant criticism from political opponents as he will be associated with the conservative decisions of the Fuller Court.
The Department of Labor is established.
Republicans nominate Indiana senator Benjamin Harrison for President. He is the grandson of President William Henry Harrison. New York banker Levi P. Morton serves as Harrison's running mate.
Cleveland accepts the Democratic nomination for President. Ex-Ohio senator Allen G. Thurman is the vice-presidential nominee.
On October 8, 1888, President Grover Cleveland signed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which restricted Chinese immigration to the United States. The law prohibited Chinese immigrants who returned to China from coming back to the United States. President Chester Arthur passed the first bill limiting Chinese immigration in 1882, and the federal government did not eradicate barriers to Chinese immigration until 1943.
During the 1880s, racial tension on the West Coast between whites and Chinese laborers put significant pressure on the U.S. government to place restrictions on Chinese immigration. This pressure resulted in an outright ban on immigrant Chinese laborers in the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. But this ban was not enough to quell the growing anti-Chinese sentiment, which erupted in riots in Rock Springs, Wyoming, and Tacoma and Seattle, Washington in 1885. In 1887, Secretary of State Thomas F. Bayard began negotiations with China to produce a treaty banning the immigration of Chinese laborers to the United States. The treaty he produced in 1888 created a new twenty-year ban on the immigration of Chinese laborers, prohibited Chinese residents of the United States from reentry if they returned to China, and paid an indemnity to China as compensation for Chinese immigrants killed in the riots of 1885.
President Grover Cleveland welcomed immigrants who he thought would be willing to adopt Western culture and assimilate into American society, but he had little tolerance for those who he believed would not. While Cleveland had wanted to ensure that Chinese immigrants were safe from attack, he grew more and more supportive of a ban on Chinese immigration as he came to believe that the differences between Chinese and American culture were too great, and anti-Chinese sentiment in America too strong, to permit assimilation. The Senate did not ratify the 1888 treaty, due to unwillingness to appropriate funds for the indemnity and a desire among many to block the 20,000 Chinese U.S. residents who had gone to visit China from returning to America. In addition, the Chinese government had become reluctant to finalize the treaty, wanting to reduce the length of the immigration ban and reconsider the reentry agreement.
Cleveland, possibly motivated by the coming election, encouraged Congressman William L. Scott to propose a bill to prohibit the return of Chinese immigrants who went back to China. The bill quickly passed through Congress. Cleveland, referring to attempts to assimilate Chinese immigrants into American society as “unwise, impolitic, and injurious to both nations,” signed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1888 into law.
Although Cleveland wins the popular vote in presidential election, he loses to Benjamin Harrison in the electoral vote, 233 to 168.
On November 6, 1888, President Grover Cleveland was defeated in his bid for re-election by the Republican candidate, Benjamin Harrison. Although President Cleveland won the popular vote, Harrison won the Electoral College and thus the presidency.
The Republicans entered the election of 1888 with a well-organized and effective campaign structure. Their candidate, Benjamin Harrison, was the grandson of President William Henry Harrison. He was a former Civil War general and Indiana senator who ran an energetic campaign and exhausted himself delivering more than eighty speeches in sixteen weeks. The Democratic campaign was far less organized, and President Cleveland put forth little effort. Much of the public speaking in the Democratic campaign was left to the nominee for vice president, Allen G. Thurman, who was in poor health.
The central issue in the 1888 campaign was the tariff. Benjamin Harrison advocated the Republican position in support of a high protectionist tariff, while Cleveland pushed for tariff reform. Poor campaigning dashed Cleveland's hopes of educating the public on the importance of tariff reform. Another significant issue was the treatment of Civil War veterans. Harrison argued for better treatment of veterans by the government and criticized Cleveland's veto of Civil War pension legislation.
Two of the major events in the election took place towards the end of the campaign. Buying votes was a relatively common practice in Indiana, and the treasurer of the Republican National Committee, W. W. Dudley, was accused of writing a letter to Republican field workers encouraging them to drive up the prices of votes to exhaust Democratic funds. A mail clerk found the letter and had it published, although the damage this did to Harrison's campaign is debatable. The second event was the publishing of the “Murchison Letter.” Republican George Osgoodby wrote a letter, under the name Charles F. Murchison, to the British ambassador, Lord Lionel Sackville-West. In it, Murchison claimed to be a former British citizen who came to the United States and wanted advice on the 1888 election. The minister responded by endorsing Grover Cleveland; at a time when Anglophobia was on the rise, the news that Britain considered Cleveland a friend may have cost him a number of votes in the crucial state of New York, although the effect of the letter on the election is not certain.
In the end, Cleveland won the popular vote by a margin of more than 4,000 votes, but Harrison won the Electoral College vote 233 to 168, and thus the presidency. The next presidential election in 1892 was a rematch, and Cleveland defeated Harrison and reclaimed the presidency. He thus became the only President to serve nonconsecutive terms, winning the office once again after losing as the incumbent.
Cleveland signs a bill creating the Department of Agriculture.
Cleveland signs a bill that turns the territories of North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, and Washington into states.
Benjamin Harrison is inaugurated. In a prophetic statement, Frances Cleveland tells the White House staff that she and Grover will return in four years.
Cleveland is inaugurated, becoming the only President to serve two nonconsecutive terms.
Cleveland withdraws the Hawaiian annexation treaty, signed just prior to his inauguration. He takes the advice of a special commissioner who reports that proponents of the annexation are sugar planters; the majority of the population opposes such action. Cleveland advocates the restoration of the queen but the provisional government rejects this idea.
For the first time, the U.S. Treasury gold reserve falls below $100 million. This is partially due to the failure of an important British bank which discharges its American holdings in return for gold.
Cleveland vows to defend the gold standard.
The Panic of 1893 begins after the National Cordage Company and the Philadelphia and Reading railroads go bankrupt on May 4. A sharp decline in the New York stock market follows the next day, known as “Industrial Black Friday.” The panic also distresses farm regions.
A malignant growth is detected on the roof of Cleveland's mouth.
Cleveland calls a special session of Congress for August 7, with the intent of handling the economic crisis through tariff reform and the repeal of the silver-purchase law. Concerned about the low gold reserve, Cleveland wants to end the practice of issuing silver notes that can be redeemed in gold.
In a secret operation aboard the yacht Oneida in New York's East River, Cleveland's cancerous growth -- and a portion of his jaw -- are removed.
Congress begins debate on the silver issue and tariffs. On August 16, William Jennings Bryan delivers a speech in support of free silver coinage and on August 28, the House votes to repeal the silver clauses of the Sherman Act.
Esther Cleveland, Grover's second child, is born. Her birth is the first in the White House.
The Sherman Silver Purchase Act, implemented under President Harrison, is repealed. Cleveland supports this policy shift.
The United States offers treasury bonds for sale in an effort to increase gold reserves. The measure is unsuccessful, and a second bond sale is offered with similar results.
The House passes a tariff revisions bill.
Led by rich quarry owner and populist Jacob Coxey, the four hundred members of the “Army of the Commonwealth of Christ” departs from Massillon, Ohio, on a march to Washington. They come to demand that the government take action to alleviate economic depression by providing the unemployed with worthwhile jobs.
The “Army of the Commonwealth of Christ” arrives at Capitol Hill. Their arrival had been greatly anticipated and feared by many, but the event proves anti-climactic. Coxey and others are arrested for trespassing.
Eugene Debs, president of the American Railway Union, organizes a strike by employees of the Pullman railway car company, beginning in Pullman, Illinois. Company workers find themselves forced to live in the company town where costs are higher than elsewhere. Additionally, George Pullman lowers wages, in light of the 1893 depression, but maintains rent and other charges. The strike spreads throughout the West and halts rail service, affecting twenty-seven states and territories. Following a recommendation by Attorney General Richard Olney, Cleveland sends federal troops to Chicago on July 3. Eventually, Debs and others are arrested, and the strike is broken.
Hawaii's provisional government declares the Republic of Hawaii. In its constitution, the body includes a provision for possible American annexation. On August 8, the U.S. government recognizes the Republic of Hawaii.
The Wilson-Gorman Tariff Bill becomes law without Cleveland's signature (he refuses to veto or sign the measure). The law includes an income tax of 2 percent on all personal income greater than $4,000 and on all corporate income above operating expenses.
The United States intervenes in a boundary dispute between Venezuela and Britain, eventually invoking the Monroe Doctrine to assert its rights. Britain agrees to arbitration rather than going to war with the United States.
A third treasury bond sale to a syndicate headed by J.P. Morgan restores gold reserves and validates the credit of the government.
A revolution begins in Cuba against Spanish rule. By this point, the United States surpasses Spain in its trade with and investment in Cuba. American sympathy lies with the rebels. Under Cleveland, the United States adopts a policy of neutrality; this changes during the administration of President William McKinley.
The Supreme Court nullifies the income tax law in Pollock v. Farmers' Loan and Trust Company.
The Supreme Court justifies the arrest of Eugene Debs, the leader of the Pullman Strike, upholding the government practice of using injunctions to break strikes in Debs v. United States.
Marion Cleveland, Grover's third child, is born at Gray Gables, the Cleveland family's vacation home.
Utah is admitted to the union as the forty-fifth state.
A fourth bond sale of $100 million is announced. By month's end, it has restored gold reserves to a generally safe level of $124 million. The four bond sales between 1894 and 1896 create $262 million in federal debt.
The Republican National Convention chooses William McKinley, on a gold-standard platform, as its candidate for the upcoming presidential election.
The Democratic Convention meets and nominates William Jennings Bryan, a Nebraska congressman and champion of silver. The move signals the party's abandonment of the gold standard, upsetting many party members. Populists decide to back Bryan.
Democrats unhappy with Bryan's nomination meet in Indianapolis and form the “Gold Democrats.” They ask Cleveland to run again for President. When Cleveland turns down their appeal on September 3, the Gold Democrats nominate Senator John M. Palmer.
William McKinley is elected President, carrying 51 percent of the popular vote and 271 electoral votes to Bryan's 176.
The United States and Britain sign a treaty of arbitration ending the Venezuelan dispute which began in December 1894.
Cleveland vetoes a bill which would ban illiterate immigrants.
William McKinley is inaugurated as the twenty-fifth President of the United States.