Wednesday, May 6, 2015
Grover Cleveland could have done what FDR did..
The unemployment rate was over 2 million, and there was a lot of pressure on Cleveland to take governmental action to turn the economy around and to help all those who were suffering as a result of the depression.
Yet Cleveland believed it was not the role of government to help the unemployed, that this was the job of businessmen. In other words, while he could have signed laws that violated the constitution yet would have benefited his political career, he chose to veto bills based on principle and principle alone.
In this way, Grover Cleveland was the last classical liberal president; he was the last president who did not use executive powers for political gains. Ninety years later, also facing a depression that lingered through his term, Franklin Deleno Roosevelt did the opposite, signing bills that created programs and that also benefited his political career.
And trust me, many of the same programs that FDR signed into law (or tried to sign into law) were thought of during Cleveland's depression. In 1894, Jacob Coxey, a businessman who had been forced to lay off his workers, proposed many programs that would have benefited the underemployed, even going as far to propose a program for creating government jobs for the unemployed.
President Cleveland would have nothing to do with these programs, claiming they were unconstitutional, and they probably were. It would be another 90 years before a president (his name was Franklin Deleno Roosevelt) would have the nerve to step over constitutional bounds to sign programs, many similar to what coxey proposed, into law.
There was a lot of pressure on Cleveland to create programs to help the unemployed, and signing such bills might even have improved Clevelands popularity, and probably would have made him the democratic nominee in 1896 instead of William Jennings Bryan. Chances are he would have gone on to win re-election as FDR did 90 years later.
The truth was that the nation would have benefited from some regulation and monitoring of the economy, and such programs would also have benefited Herbert Hoover as he faced yet another economic down turn three decades later. Such programs might even have prolonged the Roaring 20s, thus preventing an aggressive progressive such as FDR from ever being elected.
But Cleveland was not interested in what might transpire in the future. He was not interested in furthering his political career if it meant violating the Constitution that he respected. He therefore would have no part in any law that violated it, and so he continued making use of his veto pen to veto bill after bill.
Almost every other president after Cleveland, including Bill Clinton, Calvin Coolidge, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush signed laws that might infringe on the Constitution simply for the purpose of political gain. Grover Cleveland was the last classical liberal, and the last president to vetoe bills based on principle as opposed to signing them based on emotion.
Because of the ongoing depression, Grover Cleveland is often cited as an insignificant president. Yet because of his outright respect for the Constitution even though doing the opposite might have benefited his legacy, he ought to be regarded as one of the great presidents.