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Grover Cleveland

Grover Cleveland

My friend, Professor Horace Samuel Merrill of the University of Maryland, begins his short but interesting biography entitled; BOURBON LEADER; GROVER CLEVELAND AND THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY with this observation: "The Reverend Richard Cleveland seemed always on the move in the effort to escape poverty. Yet he never succeeded. There were; always more offspring to feed and clothe; and the lovable preacher, although educated at Yale, was too prosaically dull in the pulpit to graduate, beyond village charges." A little over a month after he had married Ann Neal, Richard Cleveland was ordained and installed minister of his first parish, the Congregational Church in Windham, Connecticut.

At the time of Stephen Grover's birth on March 18, 1837, his father was minister of the First Presbyterian Church in Caldwell, New Jersey.

The fifth in a family of nine children, he was named in honor of the Caldwell church’s former pastor, Stephen Grover, who had died the previous year. "One of Richard Cleveland’s successors in the village pulpit said many years later,” as Allan Nevins writes, "that 'during his six years’ pastorate, Mr. Cleveland's father had a child baptized every year,' and while this was not true, it is easy to see how the impression arose." Two additional children were born to the Cleveland's before they left Caldwell. In 1841 Mr. Cleveland accepted a call to a church in Fayetteville, New York.

In his biography GROVER CLEVELAND : A STUDY IN COURAGE, for which he received the Pulitzer Prize, Allan Nevins gives us an insight into young Grover’s religious training: "Discipline in the Fayetteville parsonage was strict. Family worship was held every evening. The children were required to memorize the Westminster Catechism and to become familiar with the Bible. The house contained many books, including Greek and Latin classics, theology and some history, and Milton and Shakespeare; but the most entertaining volume in the collection was Bunyan's PILGRIM’S PROGRESS, which they all knew by heart, while the weekly CHRISTIAN OBSERVER was supposed to supply all contemporary knowledge worth knowing. On Sundays, everyone but the babies attended two long church services, Sunday school, and a prayer- meeting. The New England observance of the Sabbath from Saturday at sundown to Sunday at sundown still prevailed, and no avoidable work was done in this period. On Saturday afternoon the house was put in order, playthings were stored away, and early supper was prepared, and in the evening the children received their weekly bath. The next day, there was no play or secular reading; nothing but religious devotion, broken in the middle of the afternoon by the bountiful dinner prepared by the one family servant, a Canadian woman; a roast, a peck of potatoes, and a rice pudding.' Then came the only real recreation of the day, a walk in the garden and the orchard, near the house..." In later years, Cleveland was grateful for having been a child of the manse.

This feeling was reflected In a letter he wrote: "I have always felt that my training as a minister's son has been more valuable to me as a strengthening influence than any other incident of my life."

As a young man Cleveland had occasion to hear a sermon by the renewed Reverend Henry Ward Beecher in the Plymouth Church of Brooklyn. Beecher's sermon, he later recalled, served as an inspiration for the remainder of his life.

Cleveland’s career began in Buffalo, New York, where he first served as an assistant attorney of Erie County: later he was elected sheriff of Erie County and, in turn, mayor of Buffalo. He went on to become governor of New York, serving one term before he was elected President in 1884. At the age of 48, he became the 22nd President of the United States, having taken the oath on a small Bible which his mother had given him in 1852. This Bible was used again for his second inauguration in 1893 and for the christening of two of his grandchildren. While taking the oath of office, Cleveland rested his hand on Psalm 112 whose opening lines are: "Praise ye the Lord. Blessed is the man that feareth the Lord, that delighteth greatly in his commandments."

While in Washington, President Cleveland regularly attended the National Presbyterian Church, whose minister was the Rev. Dr. Byron Sunderland, before whom the President and his young bride, Frances

Folsom, were married in the White House on June 2, 1886. Miss Folsom, the daughter of a close friend and associate of Cleveland’s, had wanted to he married at the home of her grandfather, near Buffalo; but his death precluded that. And as Kevins observes; "Cleveland refused to be married in a hotel; he belonged to no church, and so objected to a church wedding. After much debate, it was finally decided that under the circumstances there was but one fitting place."

During Cleveland's first year of office, he vetoed hundreds of private pension bills for Civil War veterans; he vetoed a Dependent Pension Bill (1887) that would have granted pensions to all disabled Union War veterans, whether or not their disabilities were suffered while in service; and, as a means of solving a storage problem, he ordered the return of all captured Confederate battle flags to their respective states. All these actions angered the G.A.R., the big, powerful Union veterans organization.

Cleveland's second term of office, 1893-1897, was beset by the worst depression the United States had experienced during the 19th century, a depression I might add that lasted for four years. As with many other presidents, "what Cleveland did during those critical years gratified many people and angered many others." Governor John Peter Altgeld of Illinois, who had objected to Cleveland’s interference in the Pullman Strike of 1894, caustically remarked the following year: "To laud Clevelandism on Jefferson's birthday, is to sing a Te Deum in honor of Judas Iscariot on a Christmas morning."

During Cleveland's first term the United States acquired by a treaty in 1887, the exclusive right to establish a naval base at Pearl Harbor, near Honolulu; and during his second term, this country forced Great Britain to accede to the establishment of an arbitration commission for the Venezuelan Boundary Dispute.

Thomas Bailey in his book, PRESIDENTIAL GREATNESS, to which I earlier referred, rates Cleveland as "...well above the average in his courageous negativism, but below average in a number of other qualities that we value more highly. If he was the ablest President between Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt, the others must have been an indifferent lot indeed. The experts acclaim him a Near Great; I would rank him no better than average." Here, again, I must concur with Professor Bailey.

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Religion In The Lives Of The American Presidents

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President Grover Cleveland

Posted By: Ray Gurganus

Updated: 6-3-2016
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