Grover Cleveland

28th Governor, 1883 - January 6, 1885
Grover Cleveland

Stephen Grover Cleveland (1837–1908) began his illustrious political career as sheriff and then mayor of Buffalo, where his leadership helped to propel him to the governorship. In Albany, he championed the public interest and favored a strong civil service law over patronage. A rising national figure, Cleveland resigned as governor after winning the presidential election of 1884. He was the first Democrat to be elected president after the Civil War and the only president to return to the White House for a non-consecutive second term.
Grover Cleveland
About the Artist


Eastman Johnson (1824–1906), a co-founder of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, was one of America’s foremost painters. He is best known for his paintings of everyday life, as well as portraits of prominent Americans such as Nathaniel Hawthorne and Ralph Waldo Emerson.


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Historical Documents


Letter from Governor-Elect Grover Cleveland to J.E. Farnsworth December 17, 1882
Letter from Governor-elect Grover Cleveland to J.E. Farnsworth December 17, 1882

On letterhead of his Buffalo law firm – Cleveland, Bissell & Sicard, Weed Block, cor. Main & Swan Sts. – Grover Cleveland, a bachelor, outlined what he believed he needed to set up housekeeping in Albany.

The Letter says:

My dear Sir,

Your letter of the 15th came duly to hand.

What I want in the man servant is somebody that will be willing to do anything and who is intelligent enough to do the marketing etc. I don’t want him to be much of a butler or steward, and above all things he must be devoted to me. On the whole I have concluded to bring the man I want for that purpose with me, or will send him down in advance. I am very glad to hear that you have so soon found a good housekeeper.

It seems to me that a housekeeper, a cook, a man and one girl of all work besides the gardener will be enough to start the establishment. I have forgotten whether we laid it out with one or two upstairs girls. I don’t want a lot of servants about, with nothing to do. We can add to their number as necessity requires.

Has Mrs. Farnsworth searched the house to see if there is plenty of bed linen, table ware etc. etc.?

In relation to stores I will write you in a few days. I shall perhaps want you to start me off in this direction, though I have quite a notion in my head that I shall get a good many things in New York.

I shall bother you and your good wife a good deal in these matters but I don’t know how I can help it.

If you agree with me that one girl besides the cook and housekeeper will be enough to start with please “finish your tickets” as you have commenced with the exception of the man servant. If you do not agree with me give me your ideas.

I am very glad that the staff promises so well. I do very much hope that you will see it best to retain the present ap’t adjutant general.

I understood Mr. Lamont to say that you intended to see me before you organized your office. Let me know how you get on with the housekeeping arrangements.

Yours truly
Grover Cleveland

New York State Library Collection


Puck Magazine Cover, December 27, 1882
Puck Magazine Cover, December 27, 1882

The cover of Puck for December 27, 1882, featured Governor-elect Grover Cleveland hosting a party where ward heelers and wealthy supporters, led by Hubert O. Thompson, were to receive their office appointments and other patronage perks in return for their help in getting him elected.

Puck was a humor magazine, published between 1871 and 1918, that featured cartoons, caricatures and political satire. This cartoon is the work of Frederick Burr Opper, who worked for Puck from ca. 1880 to 1898.

New York State Library Collection


New York State's Civil Service Law, 1883
New York’s Civil Service Law, 1883

The law was the first state statute of its kind in the country. Theodore Roosevelt headed the assembly committee that introduced the bill, and Governor Grover Cleveland signed it. Cleveland and Roosevelt built their reputations as public reformers by creating and implementing civil service legislation on both the state and federal levels, reducing the power of the ‘spoils system’.

New York State Archives Collection


Grover Cleveland Resignation Letter, January 6, 1885
Grover Cleveland’s Resignation Notice January 6, 1885

On letterhead of the Executive Chamber, Grover Cleveland tendered his resignation as Governor of New York State as he prepared to assume the duties of President of the United States.

New York State Library Collection

From the Encyclopedia of New York State

Cleveland, (Stephen) Grover (b Caldwell, NJ, 18 Mar 1837; d Princeton, NJ, 24 June 1908). Governor and US president.

Son of a Presbyterian clergyman, Cleveland grew up in Fayetteville (Onondaga Co) and Clinton (Oneida Co) before moving to Buffalo in 1855. He was admitted to the bar in 1859 and appointed assistant district attorney for Erie Co in 1863. When drafted that year, he avoided service by hiring a substitute, an action that, while legal, dogged him throughout his career. In 1870 he was elected sheriff of Erie Co, where, among his other duties, he twice served as hangman. After one term he returned to his more lucrative legal practice, where he remained until elected, with a large plurality, mayor of Buffalo in 1881. Acquiring a reputation as the “veto mayor,” one who put civic advancement over partisan politics and expunged the city administration of corruption, he attracted the attention of reform-minded Democrats and was nominated and elected governor of New York State in 1882.

As governor Cleveland battled machine politics by breaking with Tammany Hall leader John Kelly and supporting civil service bills. His tenure was marked by legislation creating a bureau of labor statistics, abolishing the hiring-out of state prisoners, and reorganizing the militia.

He continued his active and well-placed use of the veto. By 1884 he was a national figure and was nominated as the reform candidate for president to oppose the scandal-tainted James G. Blaine. The campaign was notoriously bitter, marked by Cleveland’s admission that he accepted responsibility for an out-of-wedlock child in 1874 (though he always denied paternity).

Blaine’s inability to disavow a clergyman’s remark that the Democrats were the party of “Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion” offended Catholics and helped Cleveland squeak through with a 2,000-vote victory in New York State, thereby ensuring him of his election. With the help of breakaway reform Republicans known as Mugwumps, Cleveland became the first Democratic president elected since 1856.

In his first term, he helped rebuild the navy, elevated the Department of Agriculture to cabinet status, and approved the Interstate Commerce Commission (1887). As a Democrat, he fought continually with the Republican-controlled Congress; his 414 vetoes during his first administration set a record. In 1886 he married Frances Folsom, his former ward and the daughter of his former Buffalo law partner. In 1887 he singled out a lower tariff as his main issue, but the position hurt him in the 1888 election, when he lost both New York State and the general election to Benjamin Harrison. Cleveland retired to New York City as a lawyer, but opposition to the McKinley Tariff of 1890 brought him a new political following. In 1892 he defeated Harrison, becoming the only US president to serve nonconsecutive terms. Cleveland’s second term was not a success and earned him the title the Great Obstructionist because of his failure to act to relieve the nation’s distress after the panic of 1893.

More radical Democrats saw salvation in free coinage of silver, but Cleveland sided with conservative Republicans by supporting the gold standard and seeking to repeal the Sherman Silver Purchase Act. Despite his belief in limited government, Cleveland and his attorney general broke the Pullman strike through federal injunctions, the arrest of strike leader Eugene V. Debs, and the deployment of federal troops. In 1896 the populist wing of the Democratic Party took control and repudiated him by nominating William Jennings Bryan. After his second term, he moved with his wife and young family to Princeton, NJ. Throughout his career, Cleveland’s independence and conscientiousness marked him as a man of courage and personal integrity.


Brodsky, Alyn. Grover Cleveland: A Study in Character (New York: St.Martin’s Press, 2000)

Jeffers, Harry. An Honest President: The Life and Presidencies of Grover Cleveland (New York:William Morrow, 2000)

Welch, Richard. The Presidencies of Grover Cleveland (Lawrence: Univ Press of Kansas, 1988)

Jon Sterngass


Peter Eisenstadt, ed., The Encyclopedia of New York State
(Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2005), [p. 344-45].
© Syracuse University Press. Reproduced with permission from the publisher.