The next conservative I will feature is Grover Cleveland, the 22nd and 24th presidents of the US. He holds the distinction of being the only president to have served two non-consecutive terms. He also was the only Democrat elected between 1860 and 1912. During his term he was confronted by several crises and how he dealt with them gives us a real insight into his concept of government. Read the various essays on this site by clicking the links in the upper right hand corner.
Cleveland, exerting his non-imperialist, hard money policies, and disdain for government interference in most domestic problems would probably place him in the camps of those souls who are caught between constitutional conservatives and libertarians. That's an interesting place to be nowadays and one that is interesting to me. He is often described as a classical liberal (political science term). I find myself in that realm on many political issues today.
Cleveland brandished the veto more often than any president up to his time, a total of 584 times, mostly to veto congressional spending bills. He issued more vetoes than FDR did in 12 years. Cleveland took the position that any spending not enumerated in the constitution was improper for government to undertake. Many of his vetoes involved Civil War pensions for veterans, many of them for injuries not suffered in the war. Pandering anyone? Probably his most famous veto was of the Texas Seed Bill in 1887. The following quote is a manifesto of limited government:
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. 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 strengthens the bonds of a common brotherhood.
Cleveland's Veto of the Texas Seed Bill February 16, 1887
The Seed Bill had authorized funds for farmers in Texas affected by a drought. Cleveland as stated above, did not believe that the constitution authorized public funds to be spent on private matters. Before you condemn Cleveland, the public put forth over $10,000 in private donations to assist the farmers. Cleveland surely approved of that. Today federal funds are routinely appropriated for all forms of disasters. I am ambivalent about this practice. How many times should private homes be rebuilt after they are built on mountainsides prone to mudslides, or in forests prone to wildfires, or on beaches in the path of hurricanes? Should we really pay our money for situations that should be paid for by the occupants and their insurance company? How does government decide who is worthy and who is not?
In foreign affairs, Cleveland held fast to Washington's admonition in his Farewell Address to steer clear of entangling alliances. He stood behind the Monroe Doctrine in the Venezuelan Crisis with Great Britain in 1895. The Venezuelans requested that the US arbitrate in the dispute. Britain wasn't thrilled with any intervention by the US in the matter. Cleveland engaged in some saber rattling and the matter was eventually settled without war.
He refused to annex Hawaii after some Americans fomented a revolution against the queen. Does the name Dole sound familiar in the fruit industry? They were up to their neck in the revolution as their business interest in the islands was worth millions. Congress threatened to vote for annexation in spite of his opposition. Cleveland made it clear that he viewed that as an unconstitutional usurpation of his presidential power. The issue was quickly put on hold for the next administration of McKinley, who approved the annexation Hawaii in 1898.
Cleveland was against the spoils system and insisted on appointing people to government jobs based not on political connections, but on, are you ready for this? Qualifications and fitness for office. He also fought against the political bosses while governor of New Jersey.
I could go on and on about Cleveland. He wasn't the most gifted orator, or thinker of big ideas. In fact, in today's political climate he would derided as a not very bright, thoughtless hater, who hid behind the constitution because he wasn't bright enough to think of it as a "living document."
In short, my kind of guy.