Grover Cleveland
22nd and 24th president of the United States
Born: March 18, 1837, in Caldwell, New Jersey
Died: June 24, 1908, in Princeton, New Jersey
New Jersey Hall of Fame, Class of 2013: Historical

The only U.S. president born—and buried—in New Jersey, Grover Cleveland is often remembered as the only chief executive to serve split terms. But his achievements were far greater than that.

Born Stephen Grover Cleveland, the future president was the son of a Presbyterian minister. He was just four when his father moved the family to upstate New York to take over another congregation. At 16, after the death of his father, Cleveland quit school and went to work to help support his mother and his younger siblings. Two years later, in 1855, he moved west to Buffalo, New York, to live with an uncle, who used his influence to set up Cleveland as a law clerk. Cleveland began to study law and by 1859 was admitted to the New York bar.

Cleveland’s political rise is rightly described as meteoric. He earned a reputation as a hard-working and successful attorney and in 1871 was elected sheriff of Erie County. In 1881, running as a Democrat, he was elected mayor of Buffalo. He quickly built a reputation as a corruption fighter. Before the first year of his term as mayor was complete, he was elected New York’s governor.

As governor, Cleveland crusaded against needless spending, vetoing eight bills in his first two months in office. This helped earn Cleveland won national recognition as a reformer who bravely defied machine politics. In 1884, less than two years into his governorship, he won the Democratic nomination for president. He went on to defeat the Republican nominee, James G. Blaine.

Cleveland was 47 and a bachelor when he entered the White House in 1885. He did not remain a bachelor for long. In June 1886, he married Frances Folsom, 28 years his junior and the daughter of his former law partner. To this day, Grover and Frances are the only presidential couple to be married in the White House. Frances, who was 21 at the time of the wedding, remains America’s youngest first lady.

In his first term as president, Cleveland cut the size of government; vetoed bills for what he considered unnecessary spending; signed an act creating the Interstate Commerce Commission, which regulated interstate railroad rates; pushed for the gold standard, which he saw as anti-inflationary; and fought against the Civil War-era tariff, which he viewed as a burden on the citizenry.

Defeated for a second term by Republican opponent Benjamin Harrison, Cleveland returned to civilian life in 1889. He joined a New York law firm and fathered the first of his five children with Frances. But Cleveland remained a popular figure and was pressed to run again for the presidency in 1892, this time defeating Harrison.

The nation was in a severe economic depression when Cleveland returned to the White House in 1893. This allowed Cleveland to achieve some degree of tariff reform and reverse Harrison’s support of the silver standard for U.S. currency—moves that helped stabilize the economy. Over his two terms, Cleveland was admired as a vigilant watchdog of Congress, exercising his veto power 584 times.

Declining his party’s nomination for a third term, Cleveland left the presidency in 1897 and moved his growing family to Princeton, where for a time he served as a trustee of Princeton University. By 1903, the Cleveland brood had grown to five children. Sadly, in 1904, Frances and Grover suffered the loss of their first child, Ruth, who died of diphtheria at the age of 12. Although history is unclear on this, Ruth is considered in some accounts to be the namesake of the Baby Ruth candy bar.

Cleveland, who was significantly overweight for most of his adult life, suffered from multiple health issues in his later years. In 1893, at the start of his second presidential term, he underwent a secret surgery aboard a yacht to remove a cancerous tumor from the roof of his mouth. In June 1908, the 71-year-old Cleveland suffered a heart attack and died in his Princeton home.

Cleveland’s birthplace in Caldwell is a national historic site with artifacts from throughout his life. His final resting place (flanked by the graves of wife Frances and daughter Ruth) is one of the many prominent gravesites of famed in New Jerseyans in the Princeton Cemetery at Nassau Presbyterian Church.

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