Grover Cleveland, The Last Libertarian President

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Niccolo and Donkey
Grover Cleveland, The Last Libertarian President

Paul Whitfield

August 31, 2011


If free-market advocates could resurrect a U.S. president to deal with today's problems, many would choose Grover Cleveland.

He understood economics — a rare commodity among presidents.

Even so-called conservatives who talk free market often deliver the opposite. Richard Nixon gave the nation wage and price controls. George W. Bush expanded the central planning of Medicare to include prescription drugs.

Contrast that with Cleveland. He vetoed hundreds of spending bills, refusing to succumb to political temptation whether it was wrapped in patriotism or sob stories.

After the Civil War, raids on the U.S. Treasury disguised as patriotism were routinely approved. For example, Union military veterans had become a powerful special interest group. Expenditures on their pensions increased about 500% over 20 years, Alyn Brodsky wrote in "Grover Cleveland: A Study in Character."

Who could say no to a patriotic veteran seeking a little additional compensation?

Cleveland could.

When Congress passed a bill granting pensions to veterans for injuries not caused by military service, he vetoed it.

Another time, a drought ruined crops in Texas. So Congress passed legislation in 1887 to appropriate $10,000 — worth $237,000 today — to buy seed grain for farmers.

Who could say no to a hard-working American farmer seeking a smidgen of government help?
Cleveland could.

In his veto message, he wrote: "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."

He added, "The friendliness and charity of our countrymen can always be relied upon to relieve their fellow citizens in misfortune."

Man Of The People
Cleveland had an advantage that other presidents since have lacked — namely an electorate that had a better grip on Thomas Jefferson's concept of limited government.

"The Jeffersonian viewpoint was very prevalent in Cleveland's time, and it would not have been hard for him to educate himself in it," Thomas DiLorenzo, an economics professor at Loyola University Maryland, told IBD in an email.

Cleveland had another edge that many modern politicians lack: courage. He vetoed 414 bills during his eight years — 1885-89 and 1893-97 — in the White House, forcing Congress to curb its appetite for spending.

Cleveland, a Democrat, also rejected the Republicans' stance on foreign policy.

According to Brodsky, the GOP said "it was the nation's inherent right to colonize the continent westward and southward to its geographical limits, and then push ever westward across the waters."
Niccolo and Donkey
Team Zissou

What a horrible, heartless man. We should all be glad he's dead.


For libertarian cred I'd say top honors goes to Calvin Coolidge. Cleveland deserves honorable mention.

A more interesting and misunderstood executive is Jackson - and White people should consider him more in historical terms. He had something to do with the processes described by Carlyle and precious little to do with ''tea parties'' or poking fun at celebrities or whatever the little boys and girls of American culture management currently portray as White populism.

I'd put Warren Harding in there was well.
Bob Dylan Roof
Yes. Harding's presidency also reinforces the fact that a Ron Paul presidency is desirable only because things have degenerated to such an extent. Harding espoused the legal nihilism of the libertarians and wanted to extend equal protection and suffrage to anything with a pulse, ostensibly to expand his electorate. This translated in practice to the 19th Amendment and all of its attendant disastrous consequences .