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Written in defeat of his top domesctic priority
Cleveland, Grover

ALS, Executive Mansion stationery, 16mo, 3 pages, 8/13/94 to Congressman William Wilson.

On the day Congress essentially killed Cleveland’s hope for any meaningful tariff reform the President writes a personal note of thanks and sorrow to his chief Congressional leader for reform. In part: “ I suppose a man very much depressed and disappointed, may write a word of sympathy to another in like situation…. Now that we know our fate I shall not let a moment pass before I acknowledge the great and unselfish work you have done in our attempts to bring about an honest and useful result…. I have found myself questioning whether or not our party is a tariff reform party.”

Cleveland felt the government was on a dangerous economic path building huge national surpluses through exorbitant protectionist tariffs which sapped consumers of money and hindered national economic productivity. His top economic and political priority was tariff reform. In 1890 William McKinley, as Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee pushed through a high tariff bill. The inflationary effect and unpopularity cost McKinley his Congressional seat and the Republican lost their control of the House in 1890. President Harrison would then go on to lose his re-election to Grover Cleveland who returned for his second term on a platform of sound economy and tariff reform.

Cleveland fought for a reduction in tariffs. His chief ally was West Virginia Congressman William Wilson, McKinley’s successor as Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. The Wilson bill reduced tariffs and then compensated for lost revenue with a 20% income tax. By the time the bill went through the Senate and then the conference committee hundreds of special interest amendments were added that gutted the initial reforms.

The vote accepting the conference report, thus killing any real reform, was cast on August 13, 1894. Cleveland obviously sat down to thank and console his Congressional partner in the fight as soon as he received word that reform was dead. The final bill, known as the Wilson-Gorman Tariff Act, became law without Cleveland’s signature. [#2005]