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The Second Cleveland Administration: 1893-1897

 The Second Cleveland Administration (Democratic, 1893-1897)

1892 election map

Grover Cleveland has the distinction of being the only president to win reelection after having been first turned down for reelection by the voters. [1893 inaugural address] [Sound The Grover Cleveland March (1892)]

Race & Gender Issues
In his opposition to temperance, Cleveland won the support of the Irish, German, and eastern European voters who migrated to the U.S. by the tens of thousands in the 1880s. Cleveland was inconsistent in his attitude toward race issues, however. Although he spoke out against injustices being perpetuated toward the Chinese in the West, he agreed with the South's reluctance to treat African Americans as equals socially or politically. He felt that Native Americans should be assimilated into white society as quickly as possible, through paternalistic education and land grants. Finally, though he was careful not to alienate women by speaking out against women's suffrage, he never supported women's right to vote.

President Grover Cleveland
President Grover Cleveland
Pro-Silver political cartoon
"It Won't Work Without a New Wheel," 1895, by Goodall
Issue: The Economy
Cleveland won the election of 1892 in part by blaming Harrison for the downturn in the economy. By February 1893, the economy was in a depression. Seventy-four railroads and six hundred banks failed that year. The Wall Street investor was hit hard as the stock market lost 35% of its value. Additionally, 15,000 businesses failed and unemployment hit 20%. The already indebted farmer has also hit hard, as low crop prices fell even further. When the price of silver dropped, there was a rush to redeem the declining silver certificates for gold, touching off a run on the U.S. treasury. Meanwhile, thousands of Midwestern workers known as "Coxey's Army" tramped toward Washington to demand government action to relieve the economic hardships of war veterans and the unemployed, which Cleveland declined to give.

The Pullman Strike
The economic hardships of the day brought about one of the most violent labor disputes in the country's history, the Pullman Strike of 1894. Following a 30% cut in wages, the workers of the Pullman Palace
Car Company went on strike, under the leadership of the president of the American Railway Union, Eugene V. Debs. Cleveland used the excuse that the strike disrupted delivery of federal mail services in and out of Chicago to obtain a court order restoring the mail service, to be enforced by the U.S. Army. US Marshals and 12,000 troops, commanded by Nelson Miles went in to enforce the order, resulting in massive outbreaks of violence. During the course of the strike, 13 strikers were killed and 57 were wounded. An estimated 6,000 rail workers did $340,000 worth of property damage.

Cleveland called for a special session of congress and the repeal of the 1890 Sherman Silver Purchase Act in favor of the gold standard, but a shortage of gold forced the government to issues bonds, most of which were purchased by New York bankers. Cleveland was attacked for this as having sold the country to wealthy business interests. Cleveland's reputation among populist voters was salvaged temporarily when a new tariff bill was introduced in the House that included an income tax of 2% on incomes over $4,000 annually. The version of the bill produced by the Senate was drastically different. The Wilson-Gorman Bill included 630 amendments, one of which gave the sugar industry an annual windfall of $20 million. The tariff rate fell only from 48% to $41%, much less than the President had requested. Cleveland denounced his own party's politics as "party perfidy and party dishonor," but it did reduce the tariff, and so he let the bill become law without signing it. In this political atmosphere the Democrats were hammered in the 1894 midterm elections, resulting in a 244 to 105 Republican majority in the House. Republicans soon began boasting about their prospects in the 1896 elections.

Adding to the Democrat's woes were three significant Supreme Court rulings all handed down in 1895. The only part of the 1894 Wilson-Gorman tariff bill that was popular with the masses, the income tax on the wealthy, was struck by a 5-4 vote as being unconstitutional. The court also ruled that the American Sugar Refining Company, which controlled 98% of sugar refineries in the United States, was not in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act. Finally, the court refused to grant a writ of habeas corpus to Eugene Debs, president of the American Railway Union, who had been arrested for participating in the Pullman Strike. Debs had challenged the legality of the federal injunction that had forced an end to the strike, but lost in a unanimous decision. This decision cleared the way for the federal government to continue using injunctions to end strikes.
Foreign Policy
Cleveland's foreign policy emphasized opposition to territorial expansion and entangling alliances. His behavior was inconsistent, however, and he took a dangerous position when a dispute arose with Germany over Samoa. He took a similar strategy with respect to Hawaii, where he felt U.S. sugar planters had conspired in the Hawaiian revolution. His most controversial action was his interference in a boundary dispute between Venezuela and Great Britain; believing that the English were violating the Monroe Doctrine, Cleveland actually threatened war against England. While historians continue to debate his stance, the affair brought the Monroe Doctrine back to life as the basis of U.S. foreign policy in South America.
Cleveland Foreign Policy Cartoons
"The Real British Lion" New York Evening World, 1895
"The Real British Lion" New York Evening World, 1895, artist unknown
Venezuelan Boundary Dispute
Venezuelan Boundary Dispute Cartoon, Puck, 1895, by J.S. Pughe
Cleveland did not see himself as an activist president with his own agenda to pursue, but rather as a guardian or watchdog of Congress. While several important pieces of legislation were passed during his terms, most notably legislation controlling the railroads and legislation distributing land to Native Americans, Cleveland was not the initiator of any of them. Cleveland will be remembered for protecting the power and autonomy of the executive branch by refusing to cooperate with Congress in fights over presidential appointments. His record-breaking use of the presidential veto as the "guardian president" enabled him to establish equilibrium between the executive and legislative branches. Hard-working, honest, and independent, Cleveland nevertheless had no real vision for the future; at most historians tend to see his presidency as a preface to the emergence of the modern presidency that began with William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt.
2nd Cleveland Era Gallery
c.1892 Grover Cleveland Valentine Sticker
c.1892 Grover Cleveland Valentine Sticker
"Looking Backward," Puck, January 11, 1893
"Looking Backward," Puck, January 11, 1893, by Joseph Keppler
"A Bicycle Built For Two," Judge, January 27, 1894
"A Bicycle Built For Two," Judge, January 27, 1894, by Victor Gillam
"Looking Forward," Judge, May 26, 1894
"Looking Forward," Judge, May 26, 1894, by Grant Hamilton
"The Babes In The Senatorial Woods," Judge, June 2, 1894
"The Babes In The Senatorial Woods," Judge, June 2, 1894, by Victor Gillam
"The Right Man at The Right Place," Puck, January 23, 1895
"The Right Man at The Right Place," Puck, January 23, 1895, artist unknown
"The Right Kind of Relief," Judge, September 9, 1895
"The Right Kind of Relief," Judge, September 9, 1895, by Victor Gillam
"Both Satisfied," Puck, September 18, 1895
"Both Satisfied," Puck, September 18, 1895, by F.M. Hutchins
Children's Book, A Garrison Tangle, 1896
Children's Book, A Garrison Tangle, 1896, by General Charles King
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Last modified July 21, 2012