Jersey’s Own Grover Cleveland
In honor of Presidents Day, NJKS remembers the only president who can call New Jersey his home– Grover Cleveland. Woodrow Wilson might be the president most associated with New Jersey, however, he is 1 of 8 presidents to come from the Commonwealth of Virginia. His governorship deserves an article of its own someday. Not surprisingly, Cleveland, the 22nd AND 24th President of the United States, is also one of the most unique. New Jersey just doesn’t breed boring people…mostly.
Anyway, here are some facts that are interesting to know about Caldwell, New Jersey native Grover Cleveland:
- He was actually born Stephen Grover Cleveland on March 18, 1837. Cleveland’s father, Rev. Richard Cleveland, was a Presbyterian minister for the local Caldwell church and Cleveland was born in the detached house on the church’s ground where the pastor and his family lived, otherwise known as the Caldwell Presbyterian Church Manse. Today, it is more commonly known as the Grover Cleveland Birthplace and it is the only house museum solely dedicated to the president. It is on both the New Jersey and National Register of Historic Places.
- Grover Cleveland only spent the first four years of his life in New Jersey before his father moved the family to New York. The Clevelands moved frequently throughout Grover’s childhood as his dad was relocated to different churches. Upon his father’s death in 1853, Grover took up residence in Buffalo, New York and became a lawyer, eventually starting up his own practice.
- The Civil War broke out in 1861 and every president from Andrew Johnson to William McKinley served in the Civil War except for Grover Cleveland. According to the Conscription Act of 1863, every able-bodied man had to sign up and serve during the Civil War OR hire a replacement. Cleveland decided to hire and pay a Polish immigrant named George Benninsky (or Brinske) $150 to serve in his place. Benninsky injured himself early in the war, never saw any actual combat, and survived the war.
- Cleveland aligned himself with the Democratic party and his political career started with a loss. The first race he entered was for Buffalo District Attorney and he was beaten by a Republican. He then ran for Sheriff of Eerie County and won. His tenure was solid but unremarkable and it took a collection of intensely corrupt Republican candidates for him to be chosen for and eventually elected to the Mayorship of Buffalo.
- He served for less than a year as Mayor, but distinguished himself enough that the Democrats, split between two candidates, compromised to nominate him for the Governor of New York. Cleveland only served at that post for two years before winning the Democratic nomination for the presidential election in 1884. Cleveland’s unblemished background and straight-shooting nature earned him respect across the board. Cleveland continued his win streak by sweeping the 1884 election by winning the popular vote, electoral vote, and carrying more states than Republican contender James G. Blaine.
- With the win, Grover Cleveland became the first Democratic president to be sworn in since Andrew Johnson took the oath in 1865.
- Grover Cleveland entered the White House as a bachelor at age 48. In 1886, he married Frances Folsom who was 28 years his junior at 21 years old. He became the only president to ever be married in the actual White House and one of two to be married while serving as president. Frances Folsom became the youngest First Lady ever. Sidebar: It is hard to believe today that a person would be elected president without a partner to the chagrin of the media who would have a field-day with the “Nation’s Most Eligible Bachelor” search and developments.
- Cleveland was easily nominated by the Democratic Party to run in the election of 1888. He lost to Republican challenger Benjamin Harrison despite winning the popular vote. Harrison carried more states and won the electoral vote.
- Cleveland returned to private life for four years until the Democratic Party came a knockin’ again and he ran against Republican Benjamin Harrison and Populist James B. Weaver in the election of 1892. He swept the election again winning the most popular votes, electoral votes, and carrying the most states. He is the only president to ever be elected to two nonconsecutive terms and he won the popular vote for three elections in a row.
- After serving his second term, he did not run again for president and instead retired to Westland Mansion in Princeton, New Jersey. He served as a trustee at Princeton University for a time where in, ironically enough, he worked with then university president Woodrow Wilson.
- In 1908, Grover Cleveland died of a heart attack after a long battle with illness. He is buried in Princeton Cemetery.
- His face is on the $1,000 bill.
- He had a sweet ‘stache.
Happy Presidents Day everyone!!!