The Gilded Age was an era of unprecedented economic development, transcontinental expansion, and Republican politics – all coalescing to the flashpoint election of 1884. As an uncharacteristically pro-business Democrat, President Cleveland was famous for his unwavering candor and rejection of the entrenched party-driven “Spoils System” of political patronage. He always appointed his officials on merit, leading him to support names as influential as Frederick Douglass. Throughout his two, non-consecutive terms in office (1885-1889 and 1893-1897), President Cleveland frequently used his veto power to decrease subsidies, lower tariffs, and control inflation amidst a majority-Republican Congress. In 1887, he vetoed the Texas Seed Bill – a bill to distribute seed grain among drought-stricken farmers in Texas – stating “Federal aid in such cases encourages the expectation of paternal care on the part of the Government and weakens the sturdiness of our national character.”
His honesty, courage, and independence most likely stemmed from his tragic upbringing, as at age 16, President Cleveland’s father died leaving him to care for his sick mother. Soon after, he took up a clerkship in Buffalo, New York and was admitted to the bar in 1859, marking the beginning of his legal and political career. He advanced again in 1863 when he became assistant district attorney of Erie County and in 1870 when he served as county sheriff. At age 44, he was elected mayor of Buffalo – an overwhelming victory due to his respectable reputation as sheriff – and then became governor of New York.
Eventually winning the popular vote three times, he first entered the White House in 1885, being one of two bachelor Presidents. In an attempt to flourish the American economy, President Cleveland’s most notable acts came in his first term when he established the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887, which set up the Interstate Commerce Commission, and the Dawes General Allotment Act of 1887, which redistributed Native American reservation land to individual tribe members.