Grover Cleveland was a successful lawyer who rose in politics through his reputation of fighting corruption while serving as Mayor of Buffalo and Governor of New York in early 1880s. He won the 1884 US Presidential Election; lost the next one; and then won again in 1892. Grover Cleveland thus served as the 22nd and 24th President of the United States; and he remains the only US president to serve two non-consecutive terms. To date, he is also one of only seven US presidents who never attended college and the only one to be married in the White House. In his early life, Cleveland had to drop out of school due to financial stress on his family; and during the Civil War, he controversially hired a substitute to serve for him. He was also involved in an infamous sex scandal in which it was alleged that he fathered an illegitimate child with a woman named Maria Halpin. Know more about the family, life, education, career, sex scandal and death of Grover Cleveland through these 10 interesting facts.
#1 His great great grandfather was an intimate friend of Benjamin Franklin
Born on 18th March 1837 in Caldwell, New Jersey, Stephen Grover Cleveland was the fifth of nine children of Richard Falley Cleveland and his wife Anna Neal Cleveland. His paternal ancestors emigrated from Cleveland, England to Massachusetts, US in 1635. Grover’s great great grandfather Aaron Cleveland, a clergyman, was an intimate friend of Benjamin Franklin and he died in Franklin’s house in Philadelphia. His father Richard Cleveland was a graduate of Yale who became a Presbyterian minister in 1829. Presbyterianism is a tradition within Protestantism. At the time of Grover’s birth, Richard was the pastor of a church at Caldwell. He named his son Stephan Grover after the first pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Caldwell. Grover’s mother Anna Neal was of Irish and German descent. She was the daughter of a book merchant of Baltimore.
#2 Cleveland is one of only seven US Presidents who never attended college
In 1841, the Cleveland family moved to Fayetteville, New York, where Grover spent much of his childhood. In 1850, the family relocated within New York to Clinton in Oneida County. Grover received his elementary education at the Fayetteville Academy and the Clinton Liberal Academy. While at Fayetteville, financial condition of the Cleveland family forced Grover to leave school and work as a clerk in a small store at a salary of $50 a year. Richard Cleveland died in 1853 when Grover was 17 years old. Grover was compelled to leave school again to earn his own living and to aid his mother. His brother William Cleveland obtained a place for him as an assistant teacher at the New York Institute for the Blind. Grover Cleveland never attended college. He is one of only 7 US Presidents who never attended college. 4 other presidents never completed a degree.
#3 During the American Civil War, he hired a substitute to serve in his place
In 1855, Grover Cleveland moved to Buffalo, New York where his uncle Lewis F. Allen gave him a clerical job. Later that year, he began to study law; and work as copyist and clerk in the law firm of Rogers, Bowes & Rogers. He was admitted to the bar in 1859. Cleveland worked for the Rogers firm for three years till 1862, when he left to start his own practice. In January 1863, he was appointed assistant district attorney of Erie County. American Civil War had been going on since 1861 and in 1863, the Enrollment Act was passed by the Union which required able-bodied men to serve in the army if called upon, or else to hire a substitute. Cleveland opted for hiring a man named George Benninsky to serve in his place for $150. The Cleveland family had decided to send his two younger brothers to serve the Union army while Grover was required to earn and take care of his mother.
#4 He became the Sheriff of Erie County at the age of 33
In 1865, Cleveland ran for District Attorney but lost narrowly to his friend and roommate, Lyman K. Bass. He then formed a partnership with Isaac V. Vanderpool; and the business of their firm increased rapidly. In 1869, he formed a law partnership with A. P. Lanning and Oscar Folsom. The following year, with help from Oscar Folsom, Cleveland secured the Democratic nomination for Sheriff of Erie County, New York. He won the election by a 303-vote margin. Cleveland served as Sheriff of Erie County for three years from 1871 to 1873. After his term as sheriff ended, Cleveland returned to his law practice and opened a firm with his close friends Lyman K. Bass and Wilson S. Bissell. He remained with the firm till 1881. Cleveland’s success as a lawyer was considerable and he was among the top brass in Buffalo’s legal community.
#5 He served as Mayor of Buffalo and Governor of New York
In the 1870s, the municipal government in Buffalo had grown increasingly corrupt. Grover Cleveland, who had developed a reputation of being honest and honorable, won the election for the Mayor of Buffalo in 1881. Cleveland became known as the “veto Mayor” as he wielded the power of the veto to gun down what he perceived as extravagant and special-privilege legislation. Cleveland served as Mayor of Buffalo from January 2, 1882 to November 20, 1882. After his rise in popularity for the measures he took against corruption, Cleveland was asked to run as the Democratic candidate for Governor of New York. In the 1882 election for the post, he defeated his opponent Charles J. Folger by more than 190,000 votes, the largest margin till that time. Cleveland maintained his strategy in his new role and sent the legislature eight vetoes in his first two months in office. He served as the Governor of New York from January 1883 to January 1885.
#6 Grover Cleveland is the only US President to serve two non-consecutive terms
In the US presidential election of 1884, Cleveland was elected as the Democratic candidate against the Republican James G. Blaine, a former US Senator. Corruption in politics was the central issue in 1884 and Blaine had been involved in several questionable deals. Cleveland’s reputation as an opponent of corruption proved his biggest asset. He narrowly won the election taking the electoral vote 219 to 182 and the popular vote by around 0.6%. Cleveland was defeated in the 1888 election by the Republican nominee Benjamin Harrison. However, he defeated Harrison in a re-match four years later. Grover Cleveland thus served as the 22nd and 24th President of the United States from 1885 to 1889 and from 1893 to 1897. He remains the only President in American history to serve two non-consecutive terms in office. Cleveland is known for his commitment to the principles of classical liberalism and for limited governance, in keeping with the ideals of the US Constitution.
#7 Cleveland was involved in one of the biggest presidential sex scandals
During the 1870s, Glover Cleveland had a relationship with a widow named Maria Crofts Halpin who gave birth to a son with the surname Cleveland. This surfaced as a major scandal during the 1884 Presidential elections with the Republicans rallies including the chant “Ma, Ma, where’s my Pa?” Cleveland admitted to paying child support to Maria Halpin in 1874 and never denied that he had fathered her son Oscar Folsom Cleveland. The Democratic campaign provided the rationale that Halpin had been rather free with her affections and Cleveland was not certain the child was his; still he claimed paternity and helped Halpin. However, Halpin instead claimed that Cleveland had pursued her relentlessly, forced himself upon her and threatened to ruin her if she went to the authorities. She added that her pregnancy forced her to seek his help and it was agreed that upon payment of $500, Halpin was to surrender her son and make no further demands from her father. The scandal filled all major newspapers but couldn’t prevent Cleveland from becoming President. The “Ma, Ma” attack phrase thus gained a classic riposte, “Gone to the White House. Ha! Ha! Ha!”
#8 His wife Frances Clara Folsom remains the youngest First Lady of the United States
Grover Cleveland entered White House as a bachelor. His sister Rose Cleveland acted as de facto First Lady of the United States in the first two years of his administration. On June 2, 1886, Grover Cleveland, aged 49, married the 21 years old Frances Clara Folsom, daughter of his close friend Oscar Folsom, in the Blue Room at the White House. Oscar Folsom had died in a carriage accident in 1875 and Cleveland had supervised Frances’s upbringing after her father’s death. Grover Cleveland was the second US President to wed while in office and the only one to date to be married in the White House. At 21 years, Frances Folsom Cleveland remains the youngest First Lady in US history. Grover and Francis had five children: Ruth (1891–1904), Esther (1893–1980), Marion (1895–1977), Richard F. Folsom (1897–1974) and Francis Grover (1903–1995).
#9 Cleveland had a secret surgery to remove a tumor in his mouth
In June 1893, when the nation was hit by a serious economic depression, an ulcer on the roof of President Cleveland’s mouth was diagnosed as cancer by doctors. Worried that the news might worsen the crisis, Cleveland decided to have the tumor secretly removed. It was announced that the President was going on a four-day fishing trip on the yacht named Oneida, which belonged to his close friend, the prominent banker Elias Cornelius Benedict. The surgery occurred aboard the Oneida on July 1. A team of six surgeons successfully removed the tumor along with about five teeth and a large part of the president’s upper left jawbone. The press, which became suspicious as it was unusual for the President to disappear for four days, was placated with a cover story about the removal of two bad teeth. In 1917, 24 years later, Dr. William W. Keen, one of the six surgeons, published an article to explain what transpired on the Oneida during those four days.
#10 He established the influential Interstate Commerce Commission
As President, among other things, Cleveland vetoed more congressional bills than any president except Franklin D. Roosevelt; established the influential Interstate Commerce Commission; strengthened the US defenses; and modernized the Navy. After leaving the White House on March 4, 1897, he lived in retirement at his estate, Westland Mansion, in Princeton, New Jersey. He remained politically active and consulted occasionally with Theodore Roosevelt, who became President in 1901. He was an opponent of the women’s suffrage movement and wrote that “sensible and responsible women do not want to vote”. He fell seriously ill in the autumn of 1907. Grover Cleveland died on June 24, 1908 at his home in Princeton due to a heart attack. He was 71 years old. He has since been honored numerous times. The first postage stamp to honor Cleveland appeared in 1923. His portrait was on the US $1000 bills of 1928 and 1934.