Leadership Lessons From The White House

Leadership LessonsLeadership Lessons from the top.

President Grover Cleveland Was David Who Slew Goliath Of Corruption

SCOTT S. SMITH For Investor’s Business Daily

Grover Cleveland won the popular vote for U.S. president three times and is the only one to have served two nonconsecutive terms. 
 As America’s leader from 1885 to 1889 and again from 1893 to 1897, he gives us plenty of Leadership Lessons.

Grover Cleveland Gave Us Plenty of Leadership Lessons:

Stood tall against all special interests. A Democrat, he refused the tradition of firing competent members of the other party in the civil service and made appointments on merit.

Canceled naval construction contracts that would have resulted in inferior ships.
 He took back 81 million acres of land awarded to railroads when they failed to extend their lines where they had agreed to.
 Set a record in vetoes to restrain spending…..he was just starting to create Leadership Lessons.

“Grover Cleveland was a morally courageous straight shooter,” David Crockett, a professor at Trinity University in San Antonio and author of “The Opposition Presidency,” told Investors Business Daily. “He issued 414 vetoes in his first term and 170 in his second, giving him an average of 73 per year, the highest of any president.” Those are Leadership Lessons for all of us.

New Jersey Rise:

Stephen Grover Cleveland (1837-1908) was born in Caldwell, N.J. His father was a Presbyterian minister who moved the family several times to new pastorates in New York.

But his income wasn’t enough. Grover had to leave school at 15 to help pay the bills as an apprentice at a store.

His father died in 1853, and two years later the young man moved to Buffalo, N.Y., to serve as a clerk at a law firm.

Admitted to the bar in 1859, Grover set up a practice three years later, earning a reputation for winning unpopular cases. He was elected sheriff in 1870 at age 33. After returning to his law practice, he was elected mayor in 1881 and crusaded against corruption in awarding city contracts.

Impressed, the Democratic Party nominated him for governor of New York in 1883, and he won in a landslide. He defied the bosses of both parties by issuing vetoes, earning the support of another budding crusader, Assemblyman Theodore Roosevelt. They joined forces to reform the civil service and reduce patronage.

In The Presidential Arena; AKA Leadership Lessons From the Whitehouse:

In 1884, the Democrats nominated Cleveland for president, and the hard-fought campaign was close.

“If Cleveland managed to parlay his sterling reputation into a victory … he would be the first Democrat elected since before the Civil War,” wrote Glenn Beck in “Dreamers and Deceivers.” But 10 days after he received the nomination, the Buffalo Telegraph ran a front-page article about Maria Halpin, a widow, who had a child named Oscar Folsom Cleveland. “Cleveland, a bachelor, had never acknowledged that his former lover’s child was his,” Beck wrote. “After all, several of his drinking buddies had also shared Maria’s bed — could he really be sure of his paternity? But those friends were all married, so he agreed to give the child his last name and financial support.” More (personal) Leadership Lessons.

What about his run for president? “The governor began to formulate a strategy. The American people, he reasoned, would forgive a sexual indiscretion. In fact, if he was completely honest about something so embarrassing — something so many men lied about almost out of habit — voters might actually reward him.”

Cleveland won the popular vote by quarter of a percent over Republican James Blaine.

First Term:

Cleveland built on his reputation as someone willing to resist budget-busting special interests as he read bills closely. On one day, 240 landed on his desk, 198 granting individual military veterans raises in their pensions.

“Union Army veterans were the first big lobby and made thousands of fraudulent disability claims that were pillaging the Treasury,” said Crockett. “Members of Congress would submit bills for individual constituents to override the rulings of the Pensions Bureau. Cleveland’s predecessors routinely signed them.”

Of the 198, the bureau had rejected 81 as fraudulent, 26 were for disabilities that existed before the Civil War, 21 were for injuries unrelated to military service, and most of the others were baseless as well. Cleveland approved the few that seemed legitimate and spiked other spending bills that he felt couldn’t be justified.

“What kind of president would veto the provision of free seed from the federal government for drought-ravaged farmers?” wrote John Pafford in “The Forgotten Conservative.” “Cleveland was no mean-spirited skinflint. He simply knew what a minority in Congress today understands: the decisive difference between a government and everything else. When he swore to uphold the Constitution, he really meant it because he had read it and believed in it. He didn’t stretch or bludgeon our founding document until it confessed to powers never envisioned for the federal government. … He worked to limit government and protect individual liberty.” Pafford places Cleveland in the near-great category among presidents.

Cleveland made enemies by reducing political influence in appointments to the federal bureaucracy and by creating the Interstate Commerce Commission to control railroad shipping rates.

“He deserves to be remembered as someone of sterling integrity who worked hard to achieve civil service reform, who attempted to move his party and the country beyond the lingering hatreds of the Civil War, and his willingness to work across party lines to elevate the tone of national governance,” said Brooks Simpson, a history professor at Arizona State University. “Those are qualities that leaders today in our highly partisan political environment would do well to emulate.”

Marriage And Election Loss:

In 1886, at 49, Cleveland finally found a wife: Frances Folsom, the daughter of his friend Oscar and at 21 the youngest first lady in history. They had five children.

For the election of 1888, the Republicans nominated Benjamin Harrison, who appealed to those who wanted tariffs on imports to protect U.S. producers and an increase in the money supply by backing currency with silver.

Despite Cleveland’s victory by 90,000 in the popular vote, Harrison bested him in the Electoral College.

Return To The White House:

After his loss to Harrison, Cleveland moved to New York City to practice law.

But he was hardly done. In 1892 he aimed to reclaim his old job and was re-elected in a three-way race, with 46% of the popular vote to Harrison’s 43% and the Populist James Weaver’s 8.5%.

Right away his second term was gloomy. According to the National Bureau of Economics Research, the Panic of 1893 started in January, two months before Cleveland took office. By June, unemployment had hit 16%. Part of the reason for the downturn was due to the failure of railroads, which had been recipients of huge government subsidies that encouraged them to extend into areas that didn’t make financial sense.

An even bigger cause was the Sherman Silver Purchase Act of 1890, which required the Treasury to buy 4.5 million ounces of silver every month, the entire output of U.S. mines. The U.S. official exchange rate for gold, set in 1834, was 16 ounces of silver, but a global oversupply caused devaluation, so the Treasury was effectively handing out gold at half price. The run on gold was depleting the supply, and Cleveland’s top priority was to repeal Sherman.

Sherman was repealed, J.P. Morgan put together bond sales to restore the federal gold stores, some tariffs were lowered to reduce consumer costs, and Cleveland broke a railroad strike that had paralyzed the nation. The recession ended in June 1894, though the economy continued to struggle. Cleveland actively modeled Leadership Lessons.

Cleveland’s last four years in office were also notable for his refusal to make the U.S. an imperial power, withdrawing a treaty to annex Hawaii. At the same time, he asserted the Monroe Doctrine to keep European countries from interference in the Americas by arbitrating a boundary dispute between Venezuela and British Guiana.

Flexing Presidential Muscle While Creating Leadership Lessons:

“Cleveland almost single-handedly strengthened the power and autonomy of the office of the president, after decades of (its) being weakened by Congress,” said Brian Braudis, president of Braudis Group Consultants and author of High Impact Leadership. “He decisively asserted his executive privilege by refusing to hand over documents when challenged over presidential appointments. When Congress attempted to limit his power to remove Republican-appointed executive branch officials because, they argued, the Tenure of Office Act of 1867 required congressional consent, his forceful rejection of their interpretation forced them to back down. He also set a record for vetoes, only five of which were overridden. Cleveland’s lasting legacy is that he set the stage for the arrival of the modern era of the presidency, beginning with Theodore Roosevelt.”

Cleveland turned down pleas to run in 1896 against William McKinley and retired to Princeton, N.J.

After McKinley was assassinated in 1901 and Roosevelt succeeded him, Cleveland refused to run against him in 1904.

Cleveland died four years later at age 71. His final words were “I have tried so hard to do right.”

Cleveland’s Keys, The 22nd and 24th U.S. president:

Overcame rampant corruption at every level of government.

Lesson: Always follow your conscience. “It is better to be defeated standing for a high principle than to run by committing subterfuge.”

Leaders Take Heed:

Cleveland’s legacy has copious Leadership Lessons. People will forgive indiscretion but there is no hope for a liar, trickster or one who spins the story into “their version.”


To create your own Leadership Lessons, call Brian for a free no obligation conversation or sign up for a Coaching Program. 

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