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President’s Day — Grover Cleveland (BUMPED)

grover-cleveland
(Ed. — originally posted in February on President’s Day)

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.

EXECUTIVE MANSION ALBANY February 4, 1885

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,

GROVER CLEVELAND

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.

***UPDATE*** Welcome Instapundit readers and thank you Instapundit for the link-love. Please take a look around and thank you for popping in.

27 comments to President’s Day — Grover Cleveland (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,
    Charlie

  • 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 [...]

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