President's Day -- Grover Cleveland (BUMPED)

(Ed. — originally posted in February on President’s Day, 2009)

Next up, Grover Cleveland. Get a load of this letter he wrote to a young man seeking a government job. And this guy was a Democrat.


MY DEAR YOUNG FRIEND I cannot attempt to answer all the letters addressed to me by those both old and young who ask for places But if you are the boy I think you are your letter is based upon a claim to help your mother and others who are partly dependent upon your exertions I judge from what you write that you now have a situation in a reputable business house I cannot urge you too strongly to give up all idea of employment in a public office and to determine to win advancement and promotion where you are There are no persons so forlorn and so much to be pitied as those who have learned in early life to look to public positions for a livelihood It unfits a man or boy for any other business and is apt to make a kind of respectable vagrant of him If you do well in other occupations and thus become valuable to the people they will find you out when they want a good man for public service You may be sure that I am as you say the friend of every boy willing to help himself but my experience teaches me that I cannot do you a better service than to advise you not to join the great army of office seekers I never sought an office of any kind in my life and if you live and follow my advice I am certain that you will thank me for it some day

Yours truly,


And in 1887 when drought and famine struck Texas, the Congress sought to send public funds to tide them over. President Cleveland vetoed the bill replying:

To THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES I return without my approval House bill number ten thousand two hundred and three entitled An Act to enable the Commissioner of Agriculture to make a special distribution of seeds in drought stricken counties of Texas and making an appropriation therefor. It is represented that a long continued and extensive drought has existed in certain portions of the State of Texas resulting in a failure of crops and consequent distress and destitution Though there has been some difference in statements concerning the extent of the people’s needs in the localities thus affected there seems to be no doubt that there has existed a condition calling for relief and I am willing to believe that notwithstanding the aid already furnished a donation of seed grain to the farmers located in this region to enable them to put in new crops would serve to avert a continuance or return of an unfortunate blight And yet I feel obliged to withhold my approval of the plan as proposed by this bill to indulge a benevolent and charitable sentiment through the appropriation of public funds for that purpose.

I can find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution and I do not believe that the power and duty of the general government ought to be extended to the relief of individual suffering which is in no manner properly related to the public service or benefit. A prevalent tendency to disregard the limited mission of this power and duty should I think be steadfastly resisted to the end that the lesson should be constantly enforced that though the people support the government the government should not support the people.

The friendliness and charity of our countrymen can always be relied upon to relieve their fellow citizens in misfortune This has been repeatedly and quite lately demonstrated Federal aid in such cases encourages the expectation of paternal care on the part of the government and weakens the sturdiness of our national character while it prevents the indulgence among our people of that kindly sentiment and conduct which strengthen the bonds of brotherhood conduct which strengthen the bonds of a common brotherhood.

It is within my personal knowledge that individual aid has to some extent already been extended to the sufferers mentioned in this bill….”

Grover Cleveland, Democrat — New York Democrat — has your bailout right here.

50 comments to Wednesday Open Thread (BUMPED)

  • Scott M.

    Mentioned him earlier,Floyd…as you note,he was the last Democratic President who actually read the Constitution…he was a Gold Democrat who believed in hard money,but in 1896 his party nominated a buffoon named William Jennings Bryan,who believed that wild spending was the way to go

  • Stephanie

    Awesome. Awesome. Awesome.

  • Tx.mom2many

    I wonder what Texas’ response to that was (I’ll look it up but if someone wants to give me a history lesson, I’m willing. I flirted through high school). We obviously did just fine without a bailout.

  • Floyd

    If I remember correctly — the private donations to Texas farmers by farmers in other states, churches, et al. far outstripped the appropriation amount in any case.

  • Charlie

    Good Stuff!

    Keep ’em flying,

  • Richard

    Wow! Never knew much about President Cleveland, but now he’s my favorite president! He acknowledged that there is a Constitution and it presents limited on government power. Our current presidents don’t seem to have a clue a Constitution exists.

  • Trouble is, in this case he was acknowledging a constitutional limitation that doesn’t exist. The power to tax and spend for the general welfare is about as broad as it gets.

    • Jake Was Here

      So a typical Democrat, then: even when they get it right, they get it wrong.

    • Floyd

      @Xrlq… welcome to Threedonia! The limitation is that if the power is not enumerated in the Const. then the Gov’t can not do it. The Constitution protects individuals, limits gov’t and gives it limited and delineated areas of action. After the 16th Amendment there is the power to tax income, etc.

      In my earlier comment you’ll notice that private individuals — farmers from Kansas, Nebraska, and others from around the country sent food and money greatly over the amount that would have been “appropriated” by the Congress. As usual — private charity out gave government largesse — that is the American way.

  • It all depends on how you define “general welfare.” Early Americans recognized what the founders intended–that “general welfare” meant “things that actually benefit ALL Americans, not specific individuals or groups.” That’s the principle the great Cleveland was appealing to here, and he was correct. He handled his power with a becoming modesty. Both parties could learn from him today.

  • Important to remember that back in the 19th century, the Demmycrats were the conservative party (Pro-slavery, pro-seccession, anti-immigration, pro-racism, anti-technology) and that *we* were seen as the liberals (Anti-slavery, pro-immigration, pro-tech, pro-incorporating minorities in the government, though by the mid-1880s, we’d mostly lost interest in that last bit.) His letters just reflect the realpolitik of the times.

  • LesLein

    Woodrow Wilson read the constitution, he just didn’t care to follow it.

  • Floyd

    Also big ups to Grover Cleveland for signing Labor Day into law as a federal holiday a few days after sending in troops to break the Pullamn Strike. Imagine a Democrat breaking up a strike. Who was this man?!?

  • […] Grover Cleveland, via Insty: I can find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution and I do not believe that the power and duty of the general government ought to be extended to the relief of individual suffering which is in no manner properly related to the public service or benefit. A prevalent tendency to disregard the limited mission of this power and duty should I think be steadfastly resisted to the end that the lesson should be constantly enforced that though the people support the government the government should not support the people. […]

  • Philip

    Sorry, Floyd, but you’re out of date. The Supreme Court, in it’s Social Security decisions, changed the law. In U.S v. Butler, Justice Roberts wrote for the court that “the power of Congress to authorize expenditure of public moneys for public purposes is not limited by the direct grants of legislative power found in the Constitution.” He immediately qualified his opinion, “But the adoption of the broader construction leaves the power to spend subject to limitations.” In 1937, in Carmichael v. Southern Coal & Coke and Gulf States Paper, Justice Stone explained the practical scope of those limitations when he wrote, “[I]t would require a plain case of departure from every public purpose which could reasonably be conceived to justify the intervention of a court.” (You can read the opinions at the SSA website.)

    It’s past time to drop the “good old days” schtick and come up with practical approaches, i.e., politically viable approaches, to the actual situation.

    • Floyd

      Thanks for the comment Philip and welcome to Threedonia. SCOTUS did “change the law” — another post entirely on that one.

      I understand all that Philip… I’m sure I’m not the first to point out that just because SCOTUS says something doesn’t make it right — it only makes it legal. President Cleveland was correct on the principle and the law at the time. Since when does going back to something that was right have to be “impractical”? “We know it’s not right nor workable, but what the hell” isn’t very practical. The idea of taking other people’s money to help someone else is against our Founding principles. So the law is on the side of the enforced government welfare state, but principle is on the side of those who would favor private individual charity — and principle will always win out in the end.

      That’s why the culture battle is so important. It would change the politics if people took more responsibility for their welfare, health care, self-defense, etc. and would return us to real prosperity as opposed to debt-fueled faux prosperity. Obviously, since you look back to SCOTUS precedent so you see some usefulness of the past as it informs the present. My precedents go further back than the New Deal.

  • Woodrow Wilson was a kid from Virginia who was nine when the Civil War ended. That’ll mess you up a bit, I’d imagine. And of course he was a Demmycrat, and a member of the KKK, and openly racist. And oddly anti-national and internationalist. Weird guy.

    Oh, yeah, and “I was spanked by Grover Cleveland on two non-consecutive occasions.”

  • epobirs

    Bad laws have been repealed and bad court precedents overturned. There is no reason it cannot happen again if the example of reality causes the thinking behind the previous decisions to be reconsidered. It took a bit over a decade for the Volstead Act to be regarded as the disaster it was. That was a fairly unsubtle bit of law compared to philosophical disagreements on the Constitution, so it isn’t surprising this battle is taking far longer and may go on forever as a symptom of human nature. That doesn’t mean the fight should be given up.

  • Floyd

    Amen epobirs… and welcome to Threedonia!

  • @Xrlq… welcome to Threedonia! The limitation is that if the power is not enumerated in the Const. then the Gov’t can not do it.

    I know. The problem is that the plenary power to tax and spend “for the general welfare” is enumerated in the Constitution, along side the commerce clause, the war power and everything else. Therefore, unless a federal expenditure violates a specific prohibition of the Constitution, the government can do it because the tax and spend clause says it can. Jake’s response said it all: even when the Democrats get it right, they still get it wrong. One exception to that rule: the fact that the tax and spend power was written so broadly in the first place is largely the fault of the Federalist Party, not the Democrats who rightly opposed it. That may be the exception that proves the rule, though, as the official name of the Democratic Party back then was “Democratic-Republicans,” and they were known informally as Republicans, not as “Democrats.” It kinda fits that the last time the Democrats were truly on the right side of the federalism issue was when they were called Republicans!

  • […] 22nd and 24th Presidents agree that federal expenditures to benefit particular individuals in need are unconstitutional. Both […]

  • […] than big government and universal socialism. In fact, old Grover vetoed a bailout bill because he believed it to be unconstitutional. (h/t […]

  • Marty

    Similarly—Jefferson agonized over whether the Constitution gave the government the power to make the Louisiana Purchase.

    Back when politicians cared about the Constitution…

  • […] a book on Grover Cleveland last night at Barnes and Noble. I’ve sung his praises before here at Threedonia as representing true modern conservatism in many ways — despite the fact that he was a […]

  • Still good after 6 years, vintage 3D! It’s not the tax and spend that’s so bad anymore, it’s the tax and spend,spend,spend & spend, that’s killing us. But one could argue these days it’s the tax, spend, and vacation that’s getting a little long in the tooth.

    • -fritz-

      Half the country’s financial woes would come to a screeching halt if they’d take Air Force 1 away from the POTUS! He’s travelling us into financial ruin!

    • JimmyC

      You said it, LGH: taxes are merely a symptom, spending is the disease. Get the spending back to within reasonable limits, and the taxes take care of themselves.

      • Rufus

        I respectfully disagree, JimmyC. Government overreach is the disease and taxation is the symptom that allows the disease to rage out of control. Politicians will always be tempted to grant monetary favors to causes that enrich them, enrich their donors or with attempts to buy their way into heaven with other folks’ dough.

        Political philosophy matters. Are we a country of free individuals who wholly own the fruits of our labor?
        Are we a country of subjects governed by leaders who determine the optimal flows and distribution of the nation’s wealth?

        The XVIth Amendment changed our relationship with the Congress from the former to the latter and Congress has continued to expand their reach into our pockets ever since.

        • I dislike your metaphor, Ru, government over reach sounds like they are standing on the highest step of a step ladder. When one does that, according to the government sanctioned warning labels, one could lose one’s balance and fall, resulting in death or serious injury. Yet, this federal behemoth never does fall. It’s a poor analogy. Now a drunk driver, still drinking, weaving down all six lanes of the highway creating an unsafe condition for all the other travelers is a much better analogy. We expect our government to drive sober in their legally proscribed lane, leaving free men and women all other lanes of travel to arrive unimpeded at the destination of their choosing.
          Taxes can be good and necessary or odious and oppressive, every tax should sunset and have to be re authorized from time to time, so arguments can be given and debated as to their use or abuse. Such as system was envisioned, but we have lost our way. I blame the sound bite media. The tax is another of too many or for the children. An informed general public cannot exist.

  • Rufus

    I’ve probably written something similar here a hundred times, but this is a fitting example of the reason I find it difficult to understand why any Christian, knowledgable of the Gospels and wanting to be faithful to them, would be in favor of taxation to solve social woes. Yet the concept of “Social Justice” is expanding in our country and I fear Christian groups are some of its greatest proponents.

    As I recently said to a young Seminarian:
    “If I vote to have the government take more money from Mitt Romney to give to someone who has less, has Mitt Romney done anything Christian? Have I?”

    Cleveland’s right regarding the Constitution, but for those who take their instructions from an even older document, I have yet to find the parable in the Gospels where Jesus instructs his followers to abrogate their social duties to the Roman tax collectors and the spear wielding Centurions who accompnay them.

    • Rufus

      And I hesitate to be judgemental but I think there are more than a few Christians who feel a bit smug and self-righteous when they vote to empower their politicians, the IRS (and their Centurions, local police and the FBI) to forcibly take the wealth of others.

      Wouldn’t a true Christian want the rich man to save himself by seeing the importance of personally helping the poor, meek, those thirsting for justice, etc.? And wouldn’t a true Christian conern him or herself with improving their own ability to do those things, rather than obsessing about the level their neighbor is, or isn’t doing those things?

      • The social gospel is means of passing the buck, of making oneself feel good about one’s charity at minimal cost.

        • Rufus

          That probably explains a lot of its attraction, but I know a lot of sincere Christians who believe it is the only valid path for a Christian. However, it seems easily refutable by referencing the scriptures, and it is demonstrably harmful when one examines its impact on humanity everywhere it has been tried.

        • Magnus Caseus Formatis

          Indeed it is. “Social Gospel,” like “Social Justice,” are means to the end of socialism. God looks at the condition of our hearts, and wants us to give out of love for others in need. Socialists and Marxists look at our wallets, and want the credit for “robbing the rich and giving to the poor,” especially when they can keep the poor as a dependent voting class. Coerced charity is just that: coerced. When the taxman is involved, “charity” is coerced by enforcement, sometimes at the end of a gun. There is no love in coerced charity. None.

          Oh, Lars! A new T-shirt for you:

          It’s a cool shirt. I’d get one; but, I have no Viking blood in me. If they’d make a sausage shirt, I’d be in.

          • Thanks, but it’s not really my kinda thing, though I can see the appeal. For one thing, there’s those inauthentic horns. The other thing is that “prayer.” What it actually is, is some lines from “The 13th Warrior.” The movie (and maybe the book, “Eaters of the Dead,” I’ve forgotten) has a slave reciting it before being sacrificed, and then has the warriors reciting it before battle. In actual fact, it’s a loose rendering of something a slave says before being sacrificed in the ancient account by Ibn Fadlan of Russian Norsemen. Has nothing to do with warriors at all.

      • JimmyC

        What’s funny is, these same liberal Christians will then lecture you about the separation of church and state. What liberals really mean when they say that is separation of church and conservative politics.

  • JimmyC

    Have fun paying your taxes, suckers!

    We tried to warn Obamacare supporters about this, but they demonized us for it, so I say let ’em soak in it.

    • Magnus Caseus Formatis

      “I’m in shock…but I have no choice. Do I want to argue with the IRS or the Obama administration?” Precisely. So much for all of the money you saved. Suggest you see Nancy Pelosi for help.

  • Rufus

    I was recently listening to a “Race Wars” podcast where this topic came up:

    The black comedians were all very familiar with it, a few claimed to be active members. I seem to remember reading something about this in conjunction with Shawn Corey Carter a few years ago, but it doesn’t seem to be a big deal in the media.

    Is this a big deal?

    • JimmyC

      Nailed it!

      I dug Stewart back when he started on TDS. For years he made that show all about making fun of the media, and he was very good at it. But after the Iraq war started, he shifted the focus until it was all liberal talking points, all the time. Satire and propaganda don’t make good bedfellows.

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