In 1885, Grover Cleveland became the twenty–second President of the United States. He was the first Democratic President seen in the White House for twenty–four years. Even some Republicans voted for him in preference to Blaine, their own candidate, because they knew he would uphold the civil–service reform.
Cleveland, the son of a minister, was left alone at sixteen, without any money at all. But he was strong and very ambitious, and studied so hard in his leisure moments that he became a successful lawyer.
He practiced in Buffalo, took an interest in politics, and after being governor of New York, became President of the United States. Shortly after his inauguration, people were greatly interested to hear that he was engaged to a young lady noted for her charming manners and kind heart. Their marriage took place in the Blue Room, in the White House, and although there had been eight weddings there before, this one was considered the grandest of all, because the President himself was the bridegroom. When he and Mrs. Cleveland came home from their wedding trip, the bride was “the first lady of the land,” and soon won the hearts of all who saw her.
The year after Cleveland’s inauguration is known as “Strike Year,” because many laboring men, who had joined a union called the “Knights of Labor,” refused to work unless they received more pay and had shorter hours. Although the strike began in New York, it soon spread all over the country, north and south.
In some places, the men grew so excited that there were riots, and the troops had to be called out to suppress them. The worst disturbance of all, however, was at Chicago, where some anarchists—men who wanted to overthrow all the laws—not only excited the people, but threw a dynamite bomb when the police came to scatter them.
Several men were killed and wounded, and as pistol shots were heard in the mob, the police had to resort to force. Many of the strikers were killed, and others were seized, tried, and punished. But when the Chicago workmen found out later that their ringleaders were foreigners who wanted to upset all laws, they ceased to listen to them.
The strikes were hardly ended when a terrible earthquake occurred, which extended from Florida to Cape Cod (1886). At Charleston the earth heaved so violently that tall buildings were shaken down like toy houses. Many people were crushed in the ruins, while the rest fled for their lives to the open fields and squares, where they knelt in prayer while the earth shook beneath them.
There were several distinct shocks, and when all was over, many of the buildings in the city lay in ruins. All hearts were touched by the news of this calamity, and as soon as telegraph wires were up again, and trains could run into the city, help was sent from all parts of the country. While Cleveland was President, our nation received, as a present from France, Bartholdi’s statue of “Liberty Enlightening the World.” It is one of the largest statues ever made, and represents a woman holding aloft a lighted torch. The torch is more than three hundred feet above the water. It is reached by a staircase built inside of the statue.
Sent over from France in sections, this statue was set up on Bedloes Island, in New York Bay, where a pedestal was prepared for it. Many people now go out to see this wonderful statue, and, after climbing up the stairs, stand near the windows set all around the statue’s crown, and watch the ships pass to and fro in the harbor.
Among the laws passed during Cleveland’s rule is one forbidding the Chinese emigrants to come into our country. Laws had already been made to stop their coming over in large numbers, but they were not well kept. The Americans did not want any Chinamen in the country, because those who came over here merely wanted to earn as much money as they could to carry back to China. They did not try to learn English, would not wear ordinary clothes, and had no wish ever to become American citizens. Besides, they worked for such small wages that they took work away from Americans. Most of them knew nothing of American laws or Christian religion, so they were greatly disliked, and one California politician hated them so that he began and ended every one of his speeches with the words: “The Chinese must go.”
It was while Cleveland was President that Congress began to carry out the plan made by Secretary Whitney of the navy. He said that our ships had long been out of date, and that we ought to have a better navy. Since then many fine war ships have been built, and we now have a fleet of some of the strongest war vessels in the world.
Another important engineering event took place while Cleveland was President. This was the blasting of a great rock which had caused many a shipwreck in the part of the East River, in New York city, called Hell Gate. Engineer Newton tunneled this rock, and arranged dynamite and electric wires in such a clever way that when his baby daughter touched an electric button, the whole rock was blown to pieces. This made the passage safe for ships of all kinds, and put an end to sad accidents on that spot.