An Honest President by H. Paul Jeffers stands as a wonderful account of a president forgotten by all save history majors and New Jersey residents. At any rate, as a citizen of New Jersey, I can be proud that Grover Cleveland is the sole New Jersey born president. Even though we presently number first in political corruption, Grover Cleveland’s presidencies of 1885 – 1889 and 1893 – 1897 distinguish themselves by the integrity of the chief executive.
Grover Cleveland was not a career politician or even really interested in politics. Basically, he worked as a very diligent and honest lawyer and assistant D. A. until some of his friends, impressed by his integrity–an integrity much lacking during the period of Reconstruction, convinced him to run for mayor of Buffalo, New York. After one year as mayor and one term as governor, he found himself president of the United States. The people of America were so impressed by his integrity and honesty that they elected him. This was despite a scandal which erupted over the fact that Cleveland had fathered an illegitimate child in his 37th year (Cleveland remained a bachelor until during his first term as president) and had declined to be drafted during the Civil War by paying someone else to enlist for him. Rather than deny either, he confessed exactly what he had done.
Cleveland used his power to veto quite freely in all of these offices. “Public Office is a Public Trust” stood as Grover Cleveland’s motto, and he refused to sign any bill that was written sloppily, wasted public money, evinced political corruption, or was outside of his Constitutional authority. One of his most famous acts of political courage was to veto a very popular bill which would have lowered elevated train fares in NYC from 10¢ to 5¢. He vetoed this bill despite believing that the public would turn on him, because he felt that he had no Constitutional authority to alter a company’s contract if they had neither violated the contract nor broken any laws. Instead, he found that even newspapers which opposed his politics praised this as an act of political and moral courage.
While president, his staunch defense of the gold standard and attempts to repeal free silver laws caused him to lose re-election, but he never wavered in his policies. Interestingly, both his wife and a close friend believed that Cleveland would return to the White House four years later, which he did! The American voters decided that they missed the honest leadership of Cleveland.
His last words were “I have always tried to do the right.” May God bless this great president and our land with another man of integrity for this office.