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The history of our country discovers so many instances of men who have risen from humble beginnings to posts of honor and influence by their own energy, industry, and steadiness of purpose, that a fresh illustration, while always sure of sympathy, no longer causes surprise. But one element of interest always remains: the variety of character which makes each new arrival at the goal an illustration of human capacity different from all that have preceded it. As no two men are alike, and as the conditions of life are infinitely various, the outcome of character and disposition, as affected by circumstances, will also be infinitely varied; and the discovery that every human experience puts the possibilities of life in a new light, makes, perhaps, the greatest charm of biography.
The ceremony at Grover Cleveland's marriage.
The President's grandfather, William Cleveland, was a watchmaker doing business at Westfield, Mass., but on his marriage with Margaret Falley, of Norwich, Conn., he went there to live, and it was there that his son, Richard Falley Cleveland, was born. According to the old system, it was decided by his family to make a clergyman of Richard Cleveland, and accordingly after making his terms at Yale College, and studying divinity at Princeton, he entered the ministry; and having made some preliminary trials, was finally settled in charge of the Presbyterian Church in the village of Caldwell, Essex County, N. J., and in this place his son, Stephen Grover Cleveland, was born, March 18, 1837. The name of Stephen Grover was given out of respect to the memory of a clergyman, Stephen Grover, who preceded his father in the charge of his new parish. When the boy was only four years of age, Richard Cleveland accepted a call to what was then almost the frontier-settlement of Fayetteville, Onondaga County, N. Y. Here the Cleveland family remained for eleven years making the most of life, and winning from the meagre salary of $600 earned by the father, a harvest of cheerful content, of homely comfort, and of unselfish mutual affection that might well be envied by many whose means are far greater. The children were blessed in their parents, and the parents were rewarded by the love and devotion of their children. Later in life, on the day of his election to the governorship of New York, in a letter to his elder brother, the Rev. William N. Cleveland, Grover Cleveland showed where his heart was, for his first words express a quiet regret that his mother's recent death had made it impossible to make her the recipient of his deepest feelings, of his hopes and fears on this important event in his life; and at the close of the letter he again recurs to the theme as if the memory of his mother were a part and parcel of his life.
In 1851, Richard Cleveland, with his wife and nine children, left Fayetteville, for Clinton, Oneida County, N. Y., where he was to act as the agent for the American Home Missionary Society, with a salary of $1,000 a year. But of more importance than this modest increase of pay, was the opportunity the new place offered for giving his children a better education than they had been able to get at Fayetteville. Grover did not leave Fayetteville with the rest of the family, because he had engaged himself for a year with the keeper of a grocery store in the village, where he was to receive the sum of $50 for the first year and $100 for the second. At the end of the first year, however, his father, ambitious for his boy's education, sent for him and placed him at the Academy in Clinton, where he was to be fitted to enter Hamilton College in due time. But this larger opportunity he was not to enjoy. His father received a call to take charge of a church at Holland Patent, a village near Utica, N. Y., and the whole family left their home in Clinton for this place; but only three weeks after their arrival the father died, October 1, 1853, and the wife, with so many of the children as still remained at home, were left to support life as their scanty means enabled them. The mother, evidently a woman of much force of character, remained on the rock where the waves of changing fortune last flung her, and by her own efforts and the willing hands of her children, kept the family together until, her loving duty done by all that remained to her, she died in 1882, living happily long enough to see the beginning of her high hope for her son Grover, fulfilled in his honorable career as Mayor of Buffalo.
Grover Cleveland was now to exchange for a short time the quiet life of a country village for the more stirring experience of life in a great city. His brother William, after leaving Hamilton College, had obtained employment as an instructor in the Institution for the Blind in New York City, where he was the principal of the male teachers. After the death of his father, he secured for his brother Grover the place of book-keeper and assistant to the superintendent of the asylum. The boy came to his new place, not only with the good character given him by his brother, then as now a man much respected by his associates, but with the good word of all with whom he had been connected, whether as school-boy or as work-boy.
Grover Cleveland left New York in the autumn of 1854, at the end of his year's engagement at the Institution for the Blind. He returned to his mother's home for a brief visit, and then, with the hope of making a beginning in the profession of the law, which he for some time intended to take up, he visited some of the towns where his family was known, Syracuse and Utica, in the hope of finding employment; but as no opening presented itself, he determined to visit Cleveland, a town named for one of his family. He stopped on his way at Buffalo, to visit an uncle, Lewis F. Allen, a well-known farmer, who published each year a compilation made by himself: "The American Short-Horn Herd-Book." Pleased with his young relative, Mr. Allen persuaded him to remain in Buffalo and assist him in his work; and thus it happened that Grover Cleveland found himself planted in a city with which in time his fortunes and his fame were to become closely associated; while, on the other hand, the results of that connection to the city itself were to be far-reaching and of great importance.
By the recommendation of his uncle he obtained a place as office-boy in the office of Bowen and Rogers, one of the principal firms of lawyers in Western New York. It was thus that he began his legal studies, reading hard in all his odd moments; and in his spare time after office-hours assisting his uncle, with whom at first he lived, in the compilation of the "Herd-Book." Mr. Parker tells us that the first appearance in print of Grover Cleveland's name is in the "Herd-Book" for 1861, in which Mr. Allen expresses his acknowledgment of "the kindness, industry, and ability of his young friend and kinsman, in correcting and arranging the pedigrees for publication." Prompt to seize every opportunity for increasing his knowledge of the world about him, and feeling, perhaps, that his uncle's farm in the outskirts of Buffalo was too much like the village he had left, he took rooms with an old schoolmate from Fayetteville in the old Southern Hotel in Buffalo, at that time a resort for drovers and farmers, where his knowledge of their business, obtained in his uncle's employ, brought him into closer acquaintance with at least one division of the "plain people" than could have been gained without that experience.
Grover Cleveland was admitted to the bar in 1859. He did not at first begin the practice of the law on his own account, but remained for four years longer with his teachers, until he had gained the position of chief clerk. In 1858, on coming of age, he cast his first vote, giving it to the Democratic party; but not content with the mere performance of this part of the citizen's duty, "he took his place at the polls and throughout the day distributed ballots by the side of the veterans of his party." "This habit," says Mr. Parker, "he kept up until his election as governor. He was never a partisan, but he believed in working for his party, and he not only worked for it at the polls, but he always marched in the procession whenever a great Democratic demonstration was made."
On January 1, 1863, Mr. Cleveland began his first independent work as a lawyer, and on leaving the office of the firm that had been his teachers and associates, he accepted the office of assistant district attorney of Erie County, to which he had been appointed. For this he give up a salary of $1,000, and took one of $600, but he did this because he saw that the training and experience of such an office would be worth more to him than money. It was while he held this office that he was drafted into the army, and being convinced that he was more useful in his office than he could be as a soldier, he sent a substitute, borrowing the money for the bounty from his superior, the district attorney. This money, says Mr. Parker, he was not able to pay back until the close of his term as assistant district attorney, and until the war itself was over. Two of his brothers entered the army in 1861, and served through the war.
From this time Mr. Cleveland's rise was rapid, and made by great strides, each new position the result of the satisfactory way in which he had filled the one previously held. He was indeed defeated in his first contest, that for district attorney of Erie County. In 1870 he accepted the nomination of his party for the office of sheriff of Erie County. It was not usual for lawyers to accept this office, and Mr. Cleveland did not take it until after much deliberation and consultation with his party friends. He was finally moved to accept the nomination for the practical reasons that the place would give him leisure for much-needed study in his profession, and that it would also enable him to lay up a little money. He held the office for the full term, and returned to the practice of the law in 1874, becoming a member of the firm of Bass, Cleveland, and Bissell. Mr. Bass was the opponent who had defeated him in the contest for district attorney, and Mr. Bissell is now the Postmaster-General in the cabinet of his former law-partner.
In 1881, Mr. Cleveland was nominated for the office of Mayor of Buffalo, and was elected by a majority of thirty-five hundred, the largest which had ever been given in Buffalo for that office. It was a time of great excitement, for the government of the city had fallen into very bad hands, and in the election of Mr. Cleveland party lines were disregarded to an unusual degree. His fearless and energetic administration of this office; his resolute refusal to give any support to those fictions of politicians and office-holders by which the citizens in all our great municipalities are robbed of their rights and their money; his obstinate vetoing of one proposed law after another by which these people hoped to gain their ends--vetoes for which he always gave his reasons in the plainest words, meant to be understood by the plainest people--his determination, in short, to be true to his principle declared on taking office, that the affairs of government were to be managed as a man would manage his private business--all this fixed the eyes of the people upon him as a man to be intrusted with still graver responsibilities.
In 1882, Mr. Cleveland was nominated for the high position of Governor of New York, in opposition to Charles J. Folger, a man of high character, formerly chief justice of the Court of Appeals, and at the time of the contest, secretary of the treasury under President Arthur. For reasons into which we cannot enter here, but which, though purely political, gave good cause for public discontent, Mr. Folger's nomination roused the determined opposition of many of his own party, and this defection, added to the united enthusiasm of the Democracy, insured Mr. Cleveland's election by one hundred and ninety-two thousand eight hundred and fifty-four votes more than were cast for Mr. Folger.
Mr. Cleveland administered the office of governor in such a way as greatly to strengthen the admiration of his party, especially of the better portion of it, in spite of the fact that partisan advantages were often lost by Mr. Cleveland's independent and patriotic action. Nor can it be doubted that his election to the presidency, which followed, was the fruit of the experience the people had had of his character while in the governor's chair. That campaign was one of the most interesting, and we may say, one of the most valuable morally, that has been waged in our day in this country. So far as mere votes were concerned, it was not such a victory as that for the governorship, but in its political meaning, and its influence on the course of our history, it was of the first importance.
At the close of his first term of office as president, Mr. Cleveland was again nominated, but was defeated by his opponent, Mr. Harrison; yet when the time for choosing a successor to Mr. Harrison came round, Mr. Cleveland was again nominated, and was elected, defeating Mr. Harrison in his turn. The vote on this last occasion was so overwhelmingly in favor of the Democratic party as to have amounted virtually to a political revolution; but the limitation and character of this sketch do not permit us to go into a discussion of it. Our purpose has been to show the elements of character that have gone to make the truly extraordinary success that has marked Mr. Cleveland's political life. That success has not been due to genius, nor to social or personal advantages. It has been due to nobler causes; it is the result of sterling and well-tried honesty, of hard and unremitting labor applied to the understanding of every question coming before him for decision, and of a resolute independence; his fixed belief that
"Because right is right to follow right
Were wisdom in the scorn of consequence."
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