Grover Cleveland, the 22nd (1885-1889) and 24th (1893-1897) president of the United States, was the only president ever to serve two non-consecutive terms. He was also the first Democratic president since the Civil War. A man committed to honesty, fairness, and non-partisanship, Cleveland was a popular president but often offended members of his own party. The public eagerly followed reports of his wedding to his 21 year-old ward in 1886 and the birth of their daughter Esther, both of which took place in the White House. He won the popular vote in 1888, but lost in the Electoral College. Reelected in 1892, Cleveland struggled in his second term with a long, deep economic depression, second in its severity only to the Great Depression of the 1930s. After leaving the White House for a second time, Cleveland retired to this home in Princeton, New Jersey in 1897. The elegant stone antebellum mansion was perfect for the active role the Clevelands played in Princeton society. Although Cleveland never attended college himself, Princeton students frequently marched to the house to serenade him on his birthdays or to celebrate victorious football games.
Cleveland and his wife decided to move to Princeton even before the end of his second term. Mrs. Cleveland chose the house, and Cleveland named it “Westland” in honor of his close friend Andrew West, a professor at Princeton University. Originally built in 1854 by a member of the prominent Stockton family, Westland resembles Morven, another Stockton house in Princeton. Richard Stockton, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, built Morven in the mid-18th century. Westland, a two and one-half-story, stone building covered with stucco, had twin parlors on the first floor, spacious rooms, high ceilings, and handsome marble mantelpieces when the Clevelands bought it. Cleveland soon added a two-story, flat-roofed wing containing a room for billiards (his favorite hobby) on the first floor and bedrooms on the second.
President Cleveland was uncompromising in his refusal to give special privileges to anybody. Elected mayor of Buffalo in 1881, he worked to prevent unscrupulous city contracts. His reputation for honesty carried him rapidly from governor of New York (1883) to president (1885). His election as president required support from his own Democratic party and the reform wing of the Republicans. In office, he vetoed a proposal to give pensions to veterans for disabilities not caused by military service, a proposal backed by the Grand Army of the Republic, an influential veterans group. He offended the powerful railroads by his support for the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887, the government’s first attempt at railroad regulation. He also made the railroad return millions of acres of western land that he then opened to homesteaders. He strongly supported the Civil Service Commission against the claims of Democratic office seekers. When told that his opposition to a high protective tariff might make it harder for him to be reelected, he characteristically said, “What’s the use of being elected or reelected unless you stand for something?” Business opposition to his tariff policies played a role in his loss to Republican Benjamin Harrison in 1888.
Cleveland went back to his law practice in 1889 and for the most part, he refrained from active participation in politics. With the approach of the 1892 election, he began to speak out against President Harrison’s passage of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act, which he saw as irresponsibly inflationary. Easily reelected in 1892, he soon had to deal with the Panic of 1893, the nation’s worst and longest depression to date, with many bankruptcies, bank failures, foreclosures, and unprecedented unemployment. Cleveland was firmly committed to basing the value of paper money in the United States on gold, which he saw as the only responsible measure to restore business confidence.
Cleveland also had to deal with serious conflicts between labor and industry, triggered by growing unemployment, falling wages, and long working hours. When violence erupted in a strike led by Eugene V. Debs against Chicago’s Pullman Palace Car Company, Cleveland generated bitter controversy by sending Federal troops to restore order. Eventually the government used claims of interference with interstate commerce and with delivery of the mail to end the strike and imprison Debs. Cleveland's actions were popular with many people but turned many Democrats against him.
Because he was unable to end it, President Cleveland became the scapegoat for the prolonged depression. William Jennings Bryan, a charismatic supporter of abandoning the gold standard, the “cross of gold” that he blamed for most of the nation’s problems, defeated Cleveland for the Democratic nomination in 1896, but lost to Republican William McKinley in the general election.
Cleveland was a bachelor when he first became president. In 1886 at the age of 49, he married Frances Folsom in the White House. The newspapers avidly followed every detail of the wedding, as they did the birth of “Baby Ruth” in 1891 and Esther, born at the White House in 1893. Frances Cleveland was one of the most popular first ladies since Dolley Madison. The Clevelands retired to an active life with their five young children in Princeton at the end of his second term. He died there in 1908.
Cleveland’s house in Princeton remains a private residence. Subsequent owners have made a number of changes to both the interior and exterior, but the front elevation is relatively intact. The two-story façade is five bays wide, with five windows on the second floor and two windows on either side of a central doorway on the first. A flat-roofed one-story portico covers the three central bays. High-ceilings and spacious rooms characterize the interior. The first floor of the addition no longer serves as a billiard room. Cleveland built a long rear service wing on the back of the house. The wing, no longer connected to the house, now functions as a separate dwelling.
The home was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on October 15, 1966. It was designated a National Historic Landmark on June 23, 1965.
Princeton, New Jersey
Home of former President, Grover Cleveland and his family
National Register of Historic Places; National Historic Landmark
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