Knowing the Presidents: Grover Cleveland

Grover Cleveland

Twenty-Fourth President, 1893-1897


Grover Cleveland’s victory brought back a defeated president to the White House for a second term, an historic first that remains unique.

In this second election on the Democratic ticket, Cleveland won because voters could not stand the Republican platform of prohibition nor the economic depression caused in part by the high rates of the McKinley Tariff of 1890.


The Panic of 1893 was the worst economic depression of the century. Against inflation, Grover Cleveland would not allow the government to intervene and defended the gold standard as the basis for the national currency.

Cleveland faced revolt in his party when he “colluded” with financial tycoons like J. P. Morgan on bond sales to float the government’s Treasury, which had dwindled.

The Pullman Strike earned Cleveland a reputation as a union buster.

Cleveland accomplished tariff reform, repealing the Sherman Silver Purchase Act of 1890 (which placed silver as the backing of currency) and advocated for free trade.

Congress prevented Cleveland from supporting revolutionaries in Cuba, and the conflict continued, negatively affecting American economic interests and business relations.

Major Acts:

Grover Cleveland repealed the Silver Purchase Act, which obligated the government to purchase a fixed amount of silver each month and diminished the Treasury’s supply of gold.

Cleveland signed the disastrous Dawes Act of 1887, which empowered the president to allot land within the reservations to individual Native Americans, with all surplus land reverting to the public domain. The policy essentially legalized the stealing of land from Native Americans.


During the administrations of Grover Cleveland, the municipal, state, and federal governments adopted numerous new laws, anticipating the reforms of the Progressive Era.

Cleveland asserted his independence from Congress with an unprecedented number of vetoes and forceful use of presidential authority in his second term. These actions prepared the way for the rise of autonomous presidential leadership, laying the foundation for the modern presidency fully realized by Theodore Roosevelt.

Cleveland’s failure to deal with the economic depression during his second term instigated the greatest realignment of voters since the Civil War, in which Democrats lost support everywhere but in the Deep South.