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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Cleveland Passed the Test of Character and Statesmanship

Walter Williams talked about this article when he filled in for Rush Limbaugh last week. Honestly, I have never researched or studied Grover Cleveland so this is all new information for me. Where are these statesmen today? All we have are liars, cheats and tyrants! - Reggie

As usual, this year’s presidential campaign will test the popularity of two men. It will also tell us a lot about each man’s character, even if we think we already know all there is to know about them both. At this writing, some pundits are predicting a photo finish, maybe even a repeat of the 2000 Bush-Gore cliffhanger. Whatever the next few months produce, every presidential contest gets me pining for my personal favorite of the 44 men who have held the office—Grover Cleveland, America’s 22nd and 24th president.

Until 2000, the last time a close election produced a split decision in the popular vote and the Electoral College was 1888. Cleveland, the incumbent Democratic president, had been through a close one once before. In 1884 he won New York by just 1,200 votes—and with it, the presidency—but a switch of 601 votes in that one state alone would have swung the election to Republican James G. Blaine. Four years later Cleveland bested Benjamin Harrison by about 100,000 votes out of 11 million cast nationwide but he lost in the Electoral College 233–168. Because the contest was tight in a number of states, a slight shift in the popular vote plurality would have easily won it all for Cleveland.

Alyn Brodsky, in a biography entitled Grover Cleveland: A Study in Character, records that when reporters asked to what he ascribed his defeat, Cleveland smiled and said, “It was mainly because the other party had the most votes.” He did not equivocate. He did not whine and fret that he won more popular votes than Harrison. The “votes” to which he referred were the ones that really matter under the rules of the Constitution—Electoral College votes.

Cleveland handled his defeat with dignity. No recounts, no lawsuits, no spin, no acrimony. His grace in defeat was all the more remarkable considering that the loss meant he had to relinquish power he already possessed, not merely accept failure to attain it. He would not tolerate his political allies making an issue of the discrepancy between the popular and Electoral tallies. There was nary a hint of a “constitutional crisis” because the Constitution was Cleveland’s “controlling legal authority.” Cleveland retired to private life until he ran again in 1892, when he beat Harrison decisively, becoming the only American president to serve two nonconsecutive terms.

One reason the American people accepted the 1888 outcome in stride was that the federal government of that era just didn’t matter like the one of today does. Cleveland famously vetoed a bill to send federal money to drought-stricken farmers in Texas with the admonition, “Though the people support the government, it is not the duty of the government to support the people.” (emphasis mine)

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