A Man of Principle
"[t]he Constitution is so simple and so strong that all a man has to do is to obey it and do his best, and he gets along." -- President Grover Cleveland
Many politicians swore to defend the U.S. Constitution when they took office. Yet, voters often couldn’t help but wonder whether these politicians meant it when their policies contradicted our Constitution. Therefore, it’s refreshing to read a book about a politician (and a Democrat!) who took a tremendous political risk to uphold the principles of the Constitution while in office. The book is Troy Senik’s “A Man of Iron: The Turbulent Life and Improbable Presidency of Grover Cleveland.”
Most Americans today, including myself, do not know much about Grover Cleveland. The fact that he was the only American who served the U.S. presidency in two discontinuous terms (1885–89 and 1893–97) is only interesting to those who play trivia games. In this new biography of Cleveland, author Troy Senik argued that Grover Cleveland was one of the greatest presidents Americans should remember and appreciate.
Cleveland's life was a typical self-made American success story. He was born in a modest family in New Jersey and was the fifth of nine children. His father was a small-town minister and died of illness when Grover Cleveland was only 16 years old. After his father's death and his older brothers joined the U.S. military, Grover Cleveland became the sole breadwinner for his large family. He forged college and took on a series of work instead. Cleveland could have easily lived a troubled life as a poor and uneducated young. Fortunately, with the help of one of his wealthy acquaintances, Cleveland became a law clerk at a prominent law firm in one of the most prosperous cities in the U.S., Buffalo, NY.
As Cleveland worked his way up in the law firm, he began to show interest in politics by joining the Democratic Party. His reputation of "indomitable industry, unpretentious courage, and unswerving honesty" quickly caught party elders' attention. Cleveland was not a natural politician. He was not a great orator, didn't like to speak in public, and hated to spend time campaigning. Yet, he seemed to possess incredible political luck -- moving from the mayor of Buffalo to the Governor of New York and the President of the United States within three years. Author Troy Senik attributed Cleveland's elevation "from the obscurity of a Buffalo law office to the presidency of the United States on the basis of one principle: integrity" at the time when the public was sick of the corruption of both political parties.
Cleveland was a firm believer in a limited government and the U.S. Constitution and saw himself as a fiduciary. His entire political career was guided by one principle: "government exists to protect the welfare of the people as a whole. And any preference government sows to one individual over another is to be regarded as per se suspicious."