‘I Have Tried So Hard to Do Right’

Stand for Israel  |  November 4, 2019

President Grover Cleveland first inauguration, 1885
President Grover Cleveland first inauguration, 1885

One hundred thirty-five years ago today, Grover Cleveland was elected to his first term as President of the United States (his inauguration can be seen in the photo above). But Cleveland’s election to the presidency this time was not what made him notable. No, it was his reelection in 1892 for which he is remembered in the history books. You see, Grover Cleveland would go on to lose the 1888 election, and then be reelected four years later, joking that he had come back to win the office again on his “third try.”

But for Stand for Israel’s purposes, it was Grover Cleveland’s friendship to the Jewish people that is especially noteworthy.

During his first term, Cleveland named Oscar Solomon Straus as the United States’ envoy and minister to the Ottoman Empire. Straus was perhaps the leading Jewish-American of the time. His brother Isadore founded Macy’s and would die aboard the Titanic, but Oscar devoted his life to civil service. President Cleveland appointed Straus as a rebuke to the Ottomans, whose anti-Semitism had earlier led to their refusal of an American minister whose wife was Jewish.

Cleveland would again stand up for the Jewish people during his second term. Around the turn of the century, many of the European immigrants coming to America were Jewish. President Cleveland, in his speech inaugurating the Statue of Liberty, had promised immigrants — regardless of their faith — “we will not forget that Liberty has here made her home; nor shall her chosen altar be neglected.” The President backed his actions up with his words, vetoing a bill that would restrict such immigrants. In his veto, Cleveland argued such a bill would be “unnecessarily harsh and oppressive, and that its defects in construction would cause vexation and its operation would result in harm to our citizens.”

But even after leaving office, Cleveland would continue standing for the Jewish people. In Russia, pogroms were targeting Jews, causing many Jewish families to flee the violence and head to America. Cleveland attended rallies against Russian anti-Semitism, decrying what he called “wholesale murder” by “a professedly civilized government.” These righteous actions should have been assurances to this good leader whose last words as he lay dying were: “I have tried so hard to do right.”