Cleveland was born on March 18, 1837, in Caldwell, New Jersey to Richard Falley Cleveland and Ann Neal Cleveland. His father was a Presbyterian minister, originally from Connecticut and his mother was from Baltimore. Grover Cleveland, the fifth of nine children. He was admitted to the New York state bar in 1859. When the Civil War broke out he hired a substitute to serve in his place, as was permissible at the time. He served as Sheriff of Erie County, Mayor of Buffalo and Governor of New York before winning his party's nomination for president.
Cleveland was the leader of the pro-business Bourbon Democrats who opposed high tariffs, Free Silver, and subsidies to business, farmers, or veterans. His fiscal conservatism made him popular with other conservatives of the time. He won election in 1884 in spite of a scandal that alleged that he had fathered a child out of wedlock, something he never admitted to, even though he paid the child's mother to support the child. (He claimed he did this to protect his good friend Oscar Folsom, who may have been the child's father.) In spite of this, he attracted support that crossed party lines because his opponent James G. Blaine was the subject of suspected financial scandals.
During his first term in office, Cleveland married Francis Folsom, the daughter of his friend Oscar Folsom and a woman 28 years younger than him. He lost his bid for re-election in 1888 in a very close election with Benjamin Harrison, in which he won the popular vote, but lost the electoral vote. When the Clevelands were leaving the White House, his wife promised the staff there that they would be back. That is in fact what happened, as Cleveland won the rematch with Harrison, getting elected President in the 1892 election.
In the summer of 1893, Cleveland had surgery aboard the yacht Oneida to remove a cancerous tumor inside of his mouth. The surgery was successful but was kept from the public until after his death.
Cleveland intervened in the Pullman Strike of 1894 to keep the railroads moving. This angered labor unions. His support of the gold standard and opposition to Free Silver also alienated the agrarian wing of the Democratic Party. When his second term began, the Panic of 1893 produced a severe national depression, which Cleveland was unable to reverse. The crisis divided the Democratic Party between gold and silver supporters, and the Republicans captured the White House.
Cleveland attended the inauguration of his successor, William McKinley on March 4, 1897. Ever the gentleman, he even held McKinley's hat while the new president delivered his inaugural address. After leaving the White House, Cleveland retired to his estate, Westland Mansion, in Princeton, New Jersey. For a time he was a trustee of Princeton University, and was one of the majority of trustees who preferred Dean West's plans for the Graduate School over those of Woodrow Wilson, then president of the university. Cleveland consulted occasionally with President Theodore Roosevelt but turned down an offer to chair the commission handling the Coal Strike of 1902. Cleveland remained vocal on some political issues. In a 1905 article in The Ladies Home Journal, Cleveland criticized the women's suffrage movement, writing that "sensible and responsible women do not want to vote. The relative positions to be assumed by men and women in the working out of our civilization were assigned long ago by a higher intelligence."
Cleveland's health had been declining for several years, and in the autumn of 1907 he became seriously ill. On June 24, 1908, he suffered a heart attack and died. His last words were "I have tried so hard to do right." He is buried in the Princeton Cemetery of the Nassau Presbyterian Church.