Sunday, July 21, 2013

Presidential Character: Week Twenty-Four, And We're Back

It's Grover Cleveland 2: THE QUICKENING!

...what, were you expecting "Electric Boogaloo"?

As mentioned the first time around, Cleveland is the rare President who had two separate terms.  Technically it's the same guy, but historians have it that he's 22nd AND 24th, so the two terms have to be viewed separate as well.

There's not much to say about a President I've already labeled as an Active-Negative.  The thing about A-N types is that they tend to be stubborn, Uncompromising, respectably consistent.  Cleveland the Second Term would be expected to act pretty much the same way that the First Term did.  The problem for Cleveland was that while A-Ns do not change, the moods and trends of their times do.  And a lot was different four years after Cleveland had left the White House.

The administration stuck between Clevelands - Harrison's - was a period of economic mismanagement.  The GOP-led government had pursued a high-tariff, high-spending budget plan with little awareness of how the private sector would be altered.  The high tariffs encouraged businesses to raise prices, which hurt a lot of the poor and especially a lot of farmers in the South and West.  The Republicans tried a bi-metal money policy (Silver-to-Gold) that hurt the nation's gold reserves (this was one of the reasons why getting away from the Gold Standard was a key milestone of 20th century economics).

The reaction from the farmers and low-income Americans was to form one of the more successful third-party groups in the nation's history - The People's Party AKA the Populists - which divided the Republicans during the 1892 election well enough for Cleveland to win a clear electoral victory.  However, that victory turned rotten when the Panic of 1893 rolled around, caused by over-speculation in the railroad industry and by a run on banks tied into the Silver-to-Gold (16 to 1 rate, which cheapened the value of gold and made it too easy to cash in) policy of the day.  Despite Cleveland's efforts, the nation slid into a prolonged economic depression that lasted about 4-5 years.

Cleveland also had to cope with labor unrest, the most organized the nation had yet seen.  Worker unions had spread as the nation's industry had boomed, and the economic malaise hit a lot of workers hard, leading to strikes and the occasional riot.  When the Pullman Strike happened, it severely crimped our nation's railroads to where even the government was affected, which drove Cleveland to calling out the troops to suppress the strike.

The Panic dominated his entire tenure, and as an A-N President most of his options were limited to "stay calm" and "stick to the gold standard," which in the long-term are practical stances but in the short-term were very painful.  Coping with a party that didn't like him much, Cleveland could only stand by and watch his silverite opponents take control of the Democratic Party, merge it with the Populists, and fail in the 1896 elections.

In terms of legacy, Cleveland's first term was of more importance and effectiveness than his second.  While his administrations are not remembered fondly, his personal tenure - viewing Public Office as a Public Trust - remains a better monument.  If only he had been a more Active-Positive, he could have found solutions to the economic woes that ended his second term.

Next Week: Into the 20th Century With Our Greatest President E... Wait, He's Only Vice-President For This Entry...  Patience, My Progressive Allies, Patience...

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