Grover Cleveland

Letter to Members of the Notification Committee of the Democratic National Convention Accepting the Presidential Nomination

September 26, 1892

To Hon. William L. Wilson L. and others, Committee, etc.:

Gentlemen—In responding to your formal notification of my nomination to the Presidency by the National Democracy, I hope I may be permitted to say at the outset that continued reflection and observation have confirmed me in my adherence to the opinions, which I have heretofore plainly and publicly declared, touching the questions involved in the canvass.

This is a time, above all others, when these questions should be considered in the light afforded by a sober apprehension of the principles upon which our government is based, and a clear understanding of the relation it bears to the people for whose benefit it was created. We shall thus be supplied with a test by which the value of any proposition relating to the maintenance and administration of our government can be ascertained, and by which the justice and honesty of every political question can be judged. If doctrines or theories are presented which do not satisfy this test, loyal Americanism must pronounce them false and mischievous.

The protection of the people in the exclusive use and enjoyment of their property and earnings, concededly constitutes the especial purpose and mission of our free government. This design is so interwoven with the structure of our plan of rule that failure to protect the citizen in such use and enjoyment, or their unjustifiable diminution by the government itself, is a betrayal of the people's trust.

We have, however, undertaken to build a great nation upon a plan especially our own. To maintain it and to furnish through its agency the means for the accomplishment of national objects, the American people are willing through federal taxation to surrender a part of their earnings and income.

Tariff legislation presents a familiar form of federal taxation. Such legislation results as surely in a tax upon the daily life of our people as the tribute paid directly into the hand of the tax-gatherer. We feel the burden of these tariff taxes too palpably to be persuaded by any sophistry that they do not exist, or are paid for by foreigners.

Such taxes, representing a diminution of the property rights of the people, are only justifiable when laid and collected for the purpose of maintaining our government, and furnishing the means for the accomplishment of its legitimate purposes and functions. This is taxation under the operation of a tariff for revenue. It accords with the professions of American free institutions, and its justice and honesty answer the test supplied by a correct appreciation of the principles upon which these institutions rest.

This theory of tariff legislation manifestly enjoins strict economy in public expenditures and their limitation to legitimate public uses, inasmuch as it exhibits as absolute extortion any exaction, by way of taxation, from the substance of the people, beyond the necessities of a careful and proper administration of government.

Opposed to this theory the dogma is now boldly presented, that tariff taxation is justifiable for the express purpose and intent of thereby promoting especial interests and enterprises. Such a proposition is so clearly contrary to the spirit of our constitution and so directly encourages the disturbance by selfishness and greed of patriotic sentiment, that its statement would rudely shock our people, if they had not already been insidiously allured from the safe landmarks of principle. Never have honest desire for national growth, patriotic devotion to country, and sincere regard for those who toil, been so betrayed to the support of a pernicious doctrine. In its behalf, the plea that our infant industries should be fostered, did service until discredited by our stalwart growth; then followed the exigencies of a terrible war which made our people heedless of the opportunities for ulterior schemes afforded by their willing and patriotic payment of unprecedented tribute; and now, after a long period of peace, when our overburdened countrymen ask for relief and a restoration to a fuller enjoyment of their incomes and earnings, they are met by the claim that tariff taxation for the sake of protection is an American system, the continuance of which is necessary in order that high wages may be paid to our workingmen and a home market be provided for our farm products.

These pretenses should no longer deceive. The truth is that such a system is directly antagonized by every sentiment of justice and fairness of which Americans are pre-eminently proud. It is also true that while our workingmen and farmers can, the least of all our people, defend themselves against the harder home life which such tariff taxation decrees, the workingman suffering from the importation and employment of pauper labor instigated by his pro-fessed friends, and seeking security for his interests in organized co-operation, still waits for a division of the advantages secured to his employer under cover of a generous solicitude for his wages, while the farmer is learning that the prices of his products are fixed in foreign markets, where he suffers from a competition invited and built up by the system he is asked to support.

The struggle for unearned advantage at the doors of the government tramples on the rights of those who patiently rely upon assurances of American equality. Every governmental concession to clamorous favorites invites corruption in political affairs by encouraging the expenditure of money to debauch suffrage in support of a policy directly favorable to private and selfish gain. This in the end must strangle patriotism and weaken popular confidence in the rectitude of republican institutions.

Though the subject of tariff legislation involves a question of markets, it also involves a question of morals. We cannot with impunity permit injustice to taint the spirit of right and equity which is the life of our republic; and we shall fail to reach our national destiny if greed and selfishness lead the way.

Recognizing these truths, the National Democracy will seek by the application of just and sound principles to equalize to our people the blessings due them from the government they support, to promote among our countrymen a closer community of interests cemented by patriotism and national pride, and to point out a fair field, where prosperous and diversified American enterprise may grow and thrive in the wholesome atmosphere of American industry, ingenuity and intelligence.

Tariff reform is still our purpose. Though we oppose the theory that tariff laws may be passed having for their object the granting of discriminating and unfair governmental aid to private ventures, we wage no exterminating war against any American interests. We believe a readjustment can be accomplished in accordance with the principles we profess without disaster or demolition. We believe that the advantages of freer raw materials should be accorded to our manufacturers, and we contemplate a fair and careful distribution of necessary tariff burdens, rather than the precipitation of free trade.

We anticipate with calmness the misrepresentation of our motives and purposes, instigated by a selfishness which seeks to hold in unrelenting grasp its unfair advantage under present tariff laws. We will rely upon the intelligence of our fellow countrymen to reject the charge that a party comprising a majority of our people is planning the destruction or injury of American interests; and we know they cannot be frightened by the spectre of impossible free trade.

The administration and management of our government depend upon popular will. Federal power is the instrument of that will— not its master. Therefore the attempt of the opponents of Democracy to interfere with and control the suffrage of the States through federal agencies, develops a design, which no explanation can mitigate, to reverse the fundamental and safe relations between the people and their government. Such an attempt cannot fail to be regarded by thoughtful men as proof of a bold determination to secure the ascendancy of a discredited party in reckless disregard of a free expression of the popular will. To resist such a scheme is an impulse of Democracy. At all times and in all places we trust the people. As against a disposition to force the way to federal power, we present to them as our claim to their confidence and support, a steady championship of their rights.

The people are entitled to sound and honest money, abundantly sufficient in volume to supply their business needs. But whatever may be the form of the people's currency, national or State—whether gold, silver or paper—it should be so regulated and guarded by governmental action, or by wise and careful laws, that no one can be deluded as to the certainty and stability of its value. Every dollar put into the hands of the people should be of the same intrinsic value or purchasing power. With this condition absolutely guaranteed, both gold and silver can be safely utilized, upon equal terms, in the adjustment of our currency.

In dealing with this subject no selfish scheme should be allowed to intervene and no doubtful experiment should be attempted. The wants of our people, arising from the deficiency or imperfect distribution of money circulation, ought to be fully and honestly recognized and efficiently remedied. It should, however, be constantly remembered that the inconvenience or loss that might arise from such a situation, can be much easier borne than the universal distress which must follow a discredited currency.

Public officials are the agents of the people. It is, therefore, their duty to secure for those whom they represent the best and most efficient performance of public work. This plainly can be best accomplished by regarding ascertained fitness in the selection of government employes. These considerations alone are sufficient justification for an honest adherence to the letter and spirit of Civil Service Reform. There are, however, other features of this plan which abundantly commend it. Through its operation worthy merit in every station and condition of American life is recognized in the distributiou of public employment, while its application tends to raise the standard of political activity from spoils hunting and unthinking party affiliation to the advocacy of party principles by reason and argument.

The American people are generous and grateful; and they have impressed these characteristics upon their government. Therefore, all patriotic and just citizens must commend liberal consideration for our worthy veteran soldiers and for the families of those who have died. No complaint should be made of the amount of public money paid to those actually disabled or made dependent by reason of army service. But our pension roll should be a roll of honor, uncontaminated by ill desert and unvitiated by demagogic use. This is due to those whose worthy names adorn the roll, and to all our people who delight to honor the brave and the true. It is also due to those who in years to come should be allowed to hear, reverently and lovingly, the story of American patriotism and fortitude, illustrated by our pension roll. The preferences accorded to veteran soldiers in public employment should be secured to them honestly and without evasion, and when capable and worthy, their claim to the helpful regard and gratitude of their countrymen should be ungrudgingly acknowledged.

The assurance to the people of the utmost individual liberty consistent with peace and good order is a cardinal principle of our government. This gives no sanction to vexatious sumptuary laws which unnecessarily interfere with such habits and customs of our people as are not offensive to a just moral sense and are not inconsistent with good citizenship and the public welfare. The same principle requires that the line between the subjects which are properly within governmental control and those which are more fittingly left to parental regulation should be carefully kept in view. An enforced education, wisely deemed a proper preparation for citizenship, should not involve the impairment of wholesome parental authority nor do violence to the household conscience. Paternalism in government finds no approval in the creed of De-mocracy. It is a symptom of misrule, whether it is manifested in unauthorized gifts or by an unwarranted control of personal and family affairs.

Our people, still cherishing the feeling of human fellowship which belonged to our beginning as a nation, require their government to express for them their sympathy with all those who are oppressed under any rule less free than ours.

A generous hospitality, which is one of the most prominent of our national characteristics, prompts us to welcome the worthy and industrious of all lands to homes and citizenship among us. This hospitable sentiment is not violated, however, by careful and reasonable regulations for the protection of the public health, nor does it justify the reception of immigrants who have no appreciation of our institutions and whose presence among us is a menace to peace and good order.

The importance of the construction of the Nicaragua Ship Canal as a means of promoting commerce between our States and with foreign countries, and also as a contribution by Americans to the enterprises which advance the interests of the world of civilization, should commend the project to governmental approval and indorsement.

Our countrymen not only expect from those who represent them in public places a sedulous care for the things which are directly and palpably related to their material interests, but they also fully appreciate the value of cultivating our national pride and maintaining our national honor. Both their material interests and their national pride and honor are involved in the success of the Columbian Exposition; and they will not be inclined to condone any neglect of effort on the part of their government to insure in the grandeur of this event a fitting exhibit of American growth and greatness, and a splendid demonstration of American patriotism.

Grover Cleveland, Letter to Members of the Notification Committee of the Democratic National Convention Accepting the Presidential Nomination Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project