Stephen Grover Cleveland actually ran for president three times—in 1884, 1888, and 1892—and he won the popular vote every time even though Benjamin Harrison and the Republicans captured more of the electoral vote in 1888. Cleveland was also the only Democrat elected to the presidency in the era of Republican political domination that lasted from 1861 to 1913 (between James Buchanan and Woodrow Wilson.) The labels "Democrat" and "Republican" were different in those days. Cleveland was considered to be a fiscal conservative. He is also renowned for his honesty as he fought political corruption, patronage, and the power of the political bosses. There was a reform wing of the Republican Party, called "Mugwumps"that supported Cleveland in 1884 (they were the Reagan Democrats of their day.)
Disaster hit the nation in Cleveland's second term began when the Panic of 1893 produced a severe national depression that Cleveland was unable to reverse. It ruined his Democratic party, opening the way for a Republican landslide in 1894.Cleveland took strong positions and was heavily criticized. His intervention in the Pullman Strike of 1894 to keep the railroads moving angered labor unions. His support of the gold standard alienated many of his fellow Democrats.
One other thing that Cleveland is remembered for is allegations that he fathered a child out of wedlock. Cleveland was accused of being the father of an illegitimate child while he was a lawyer in Buffalo. Cleveland never admitted doing the deed, but he supported the child financially. Some believe he did so to protect the reputation of the real baby daddy, his law partner and best friend Oscar Folsom. During the election of 1884, his Republican opponents chanted "Ma, Ma, where's my Pa?" (After Cleveland won the election, there was a second line to this rhyme which went "gone to the White House, ha ha ha!") When confronted with the scandal, Cleveland's instructions to his campaign staff were: "Tell the truth."Cleveland admitted to paying child support in 1874 to Maria Crofts Halpin, the woman who claimed he fathered her child, which coincidentally she had named Oscar Folsom Cleveland.
People also questioned his choice of bride. Cleveland entered the White House as a bachelor. His friend Oscar Folsom had a young daughter named Frances, and when Oscar Folsom died, Cleveland was the executor of Oscar Folsom's estate. He was responsible for supervising Frances' upbringing. Frances was only 11 when her father died. She later became a student at Wells College and when she returned to school, Cleveland received her mother's permission to correspond with her. They were soon engaged to be married and on June 2, 1886, Cleveland married Frances Folsom in the Blue Room at the White House. At 21 years of age, Frances Folsom Cleveland remains the youngest First Lady. Her groom was 49.
During the 1892 election campaign, Caroline Harrison, the wife of Cleveland's opponent Benjamin Harrison, died after a lengthy illness. Her grief-stricken husband ceased campaigning. Out of respect, and in a very classy move, Cleveland did likewise.
In 1893, Cleveland sought medical advice about soreness on the roof of his mouth. A growth was discovered and Cleveland decided to have surgery secretly, to avoid further panic that might worsen the financial depression. The surgery occurred on the yacht Oneida as it sailed off Long Island. The surgeons successfully removed parts of his upper left jaw and palate. The operation left Cleveland's mouth disfigured. Cleveland was fitted with a hard rubber dental prosthesis that corrected his speech and restored his appearance. A press release about the removal of two bad teeth kept the press placated. Even when a newspaper story appeared giving details of the actual operation, the participating surgeons discounted the severity of what transpired during Cleveland's vacation.
After leaving the White House on March 4, 1897, Cleveland lived in retirement at his estate, Westland Mansion, in Princeton, New Jersey. He still ventured opinions on issues of the day, such as when, in a 1905 article in The Ladies Home Journal, Cleveland wrote 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 fall of 1907 he fell seriously ill. In 1908, he suffered a heart attack and died on June 24, 1908 at the age of 71. His last words were said to be "I have tried so hard to do right."
The high-rollers who read this will recognize Cleveland from one other place. His mug is on the $1000 bill.