Grover Cleveland and the Same-sex Marriage Debate: State vs. Federal Power

As a historian of American politics, I am most often asked how this or that historical figure would think about modern political issues.  Many times the answer is an easy one, but others not so much.  The issue of gay marriage would certainly fall into the latter category.

So, you might ask, how would Grover Cleveland, as President of the United States, have dealt with the issue in the late 19th century?

The subject of same-sex marriage was certainly not on anyone’s lips in his day, nor can it be found in any letters or papers to my knowledge.  But we can ascertain Cleveland’s probable thoughts on the matter by understanding his political thought.  He was a steadfast Jeffersonian President who believed in the cardinal principles of that philosophy, two of which were the absolute will of the people and respect for the individual states.

As Thomas Jefferson had vowed in his first inaugural address in 1801, his administration would support “the State governments in all their rights, as the most competent administrations for our domestic concerns and the surest bulwarks against anti-republican tendencies.” President Cleveland also swore, on numerous occasions, to maintain respect for the states in their independent and sovereign character.

The state governments control the process of marriage by issuing licenses and sanctioning the procedure.  Nowhere in the US Constitution is marriage mentioned, thereby making it off limits to meddling by Washington politicians.  So for Cleveland, the question should be left up to the people of the states to decide, expressing their will at the local ballot box.

And as of this writing, the people in 32 states have voted down same-sex marriage, many of them overwhelmingly so, representing every region in the country.  Where it has been put to popular vote, not one single state has accepted it.

Mississippi had the highest vote totals against the practice, with 86 percent.  Tennessee and Alabama also had vote totals over 80 percent.  That was to be expected in the Bible Belt South.  But other reliable Republican states have also voted, unsurprisingly, to forbid it, many with totals in the 60s and 70s.

Yet what has been surprising to many is the fact that the mostly Democratic states of Colorado (56 percent), Nevada (69 percent), Wisconsin (59 percent), Michigan (59 percent), and Hawaii (69 percent), overwhelmingly rejected it.  Even California, where one would think it had a fighting chance of passage, voted it down with 52 percent of the vote.

The people of the states have spoken on this issue, and the results of their suffrage should put an end to the debate.  Grover Cleveland would have wholeheartedly agreed.


Paternalism’s Foe: Grover Cleveland

Politicians, pundits, and scholars have wrestled over a central question throughout American political and constitutional history:  What role should the government have in the lives of ordinary citizens?

For Jeffersonian Conservatives, such as Grover Cleveland, the government has no business involving itself in areas outside its limited, constitutional role, and should never take a position as a “custodian;” the people should be free to pursue their own dreams without government interference, to rise as high and as far as their God-given talent, abilities, and determination will carry them.  Success or failure depends on the individual.

washigton dc capitol building

Some liberals on the other side of the political spectrum believe the government should play a vital role in the lives of the people, from cradle to grave. They believe the lowly masses cannot take care of themselves.  For Democrats, government must step in and take up the role of caretaker.  As Nancy Pelosi said in 2011:  “I view my work in politics as an extension of my role as a mom.”[i]  This progressive viewpoint is known as government paternalism, and has been defined as “a policy or practice of treating or governing people in a fatherly manner, especially by providing for their needs without giving them rights or responsibilities.”[ii] Continue reading

Grover Cleveland: the Bedrock of Conservatism

Whenever friends and family find out the subject of my new book, one of the first questions I am usually asked is: “Why Grover Cleveland?” My answer: “Why not?” For Grover Cleveland, who served as both the 22nd and 24th President of the United States, was one of the greatest conservative statesmen in American history, a steadfast advocate of Jeffersonian political principles, the bedrock of conservatism. The Last Jeffersonian: Grover Cleveland and the Path to Restoring the Republic is an examination of the true nature of conservative thought, exemplified by the public life of Cleveland, and a pathway to a restoration of the republic crafted by our Founding Fathers.

During my first semester of graduate school, at the University of Southern Mississippi, I became seriously interested in Grover Cleveland and his political life after reading a less than stellar biography. As I delved deeper into his policies, I soon realized that the career of this forgotten statesman offers answers to modern America’s most pressing political issues, such as the public character and behavior of our politicians, direct governmental assistance to the people, actions during an economic depression, foreign intervention, and upholding political principles. It is only with the study of history, and the solutions Cleveland provided for us, that we can solve our problems and restore the constitutional republic. Continue reading

A Strong, Conservative Leader to Restore the Republic

America is at a crossroads.  The 2012 election, as well as those in the very near future, could very well determine what kind of nation we will leave for posterity.  Yet, while on our current political trajectory, America is in danger of losing the constitutional republic created by the Founding Fathers, and once lost, it might be gone forever.

My new book, The Last Jeffersonian: Grover Cleveland and the Path to Restoring the Republic, examines the true nature of conservative thought, the present direction of the nation, and the changes we must make in order to preserve our great political heritage.  Exhibit A in achieving these three goals is a study of the public career of Grover Cleveland, who served as the 22nd and 24th President of the United States, from 1885-1889 and from 1893-1897.

As a great public servant – mayor, governor, and president – Cleveland confronted many of the same troubles we face in our time – the public character and behavior of our candidates, the role of government in the everyday lives of the people, the burden of taxation, the distribution of wealth, government involvement in an economic depression, spending, constitutional interpretation, and complex foreign affairs. Continue reading