Quote of the Day: A Man of the Highest Character

 

“He was a great president, not because he was a great lawyer, not because he was a brilliant orator, not because he was a statesman of profound learning, but because he was a patriot with the highest sense of public duty; because he was a statesman of clear perceptions, of the utmost courage of his convictions, and of great plainness of speech; because he was a man of the highest character, a father and husband of the best type, and because throughout his political life he showed those rugged virtues of the public servant and citizen.” — William Howard Taft, about Grover Cleveland, in Troy Senik’s new book, A Man of Iron

From the beginning of Troy Senik’s book, I was enthralled with the story of Grover Cleveland. As a man and as President, Cleveland had his struggles, enemies, and critics, but what I most admired about him was his commitment to virtue. As Troy said—

But the defining features of Cleveland’s greatness—a virulent opposition to corruption in all its forms; the willingness to follow principle regardless of the political consequences; the conviction, as he famously put it, that ‘a public office is a public trust’—have nothing sectarian about them. One does not have to share his politics to admire his character.

Over the years, it’s become more and more difficult to find men or women in the public sphere who will do the right thing despite the condemnations of others; people who are prepared to take on adversaries because integrity and hard work are of primary importance; people who repeatedly take unpopular stands because it is the virtuous thing to do.

I hope that Troy’s book brings more attention to the service of Grover Cleveland. It seems nearly impossible to find people we can admire and revere, beyond George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

May Grover Cleveland play a more illustrious role among the Presidents who set examples of indomitability, honor and courage.

Is there a person, in U.S. history or in your own life, who demonstrates virtue and whom you admire?

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  1. MWD B612 "Dawg" Member
    MWD B612 "Dawg"
    @danok1

    From U.S. history, there’s George Washington, of course. His resignation as commander-in-chief at the end of the Revolution made him “the greatest character of the age”, as George III said.

    It’s almost a cliché to say this on Ricochet, but Calvin Coolidge stands out.

    In my own life, I have to say my brother-in-law. He’s a Baptist minister who has lived a quiet, modest life while building churches in Massachusetts and California, directing the Redwood Empire Conference, loving my sister, and rearing two wonderful daughters.

    • #1
  2. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    MWD B612 "Dawg" (View Comment):
    In my own life, I have to say my brother-in-law. He’s a Baptist minister who has lived a quiet, modest life while building churches in Massachusetts and California, directing the Redwood Empire Conference, loving my sister, and rearing two wonderful daughters.

    He sounds like a terrific man, MWD. You must be so grateful to have him in your life. God bless.

    • #2
  3. MWD B612 "Dawg" Member
    MWD B612 "Dawg"
    @danok1

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    MWD B612 "Dawg" (View Comment):
    In my own life, I have to say my brother-in-law. He’s a Baptist minister who has lived a quiet, modest life while building churches in Massachusetts and California, directing the Redwood Empire Conference, loving my sister, and rearing two wonderful daughters.

    He sounds like a terrific man, MWD. You must be so grateful to have him in your life. God bless.

    I am, Susan! Even though I’ve joined the Orthodox Church, I still read his sermons, etc.

    • #3
  4. Douglas Pratt Coolidge
    Douglas Pratt
    @DouglasPratt

    Taft himself is an exemplary politician. He and TR were dear friends and ultimately reconciled after the election of Wilson. Taft is widely perceived to be a crummy president, but that’s largely because he wasn’t TR, who was the classic hard act to follow. He and his wife, who were lifelong partners in all aspects of his work, are still revered in the Philippines. Another reason why his presidency was problematic was that Fanny Taft had a stroke, and he spent most of his time and energy caring for her. It took years, but she recovered.

    Two of my favorite Taft quotes:

    “No tendency is quite so strong in human nature as the desire to lay down rules of conduct for other people.”

    “Some are graduated from college summa cum laude, and some are graduated miriable dictu.”

    Big Bill Taft and Ben Franklin are great examples of my favorite aphorism: never underestimate an old fat guy.

    • #4
  5. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Douglas Pratt (View Comment):

    Taft himself is an exemplary politician. He and TR were dear friends and ultimately reconciled after the election of Wilson. Taft is widely perceived to be a crummy president, but that’s largely because he wasn’t TR, who was the classic hard act to follow. He and his wife, who were lifelong partners in all aspects of his work, are still revered in the Philippines. Another reason why his presidency was problematic was that Fanny Taft had a stroke, and he spent most of his time and energy caring for her. It took years, but she recovered.

    Two of my favorite Taft quotes:

    “No tendency is quite so strong in human nature as the desire to lay down rules of conduct for other people.”

    “Some are graduated from college summa cum laude, and some are graduated miriable dictu.”

    Big Bill Taft and Ben Franklin are great examples of my favorite aphorism: never underestimate an old fat guy.

    Thanks so much for filling us in on Taft! Those are great quotes, too! And of course, the old fat guy could be Cleveland, too!

    • #5
  6. Concretevol Thatcher
    Concretevol
    @Concretevol

    Thanks for posting this!  I heard Troy interviewed about the book then forgot to order it so I appreciate the reminder :)

    • #6
  7. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Concretevol (View Comment):

    Thanks for posting this! I heard Troy interviewed about the book then forgot to order it so I appreciate the reminder :)

    It’s fascinating to read the changes that Cleveland went through professionally, politically and even personally. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

    • #7
  8. James Salerno Coolidge
    James Salerno
    @JamesSalerno

    I will order this. Always been a fan of Cleveland, and he actually has some roots where I live.

    As far as presidents whose character I admire, John Tyler, Franklin Pierce and of course Thomas Jefferson would make that list.

    • #8
  9. Kipputt Member
    Kipputt
    @Kipputt

    I would put Calvin Coolidge into the group honest and servant of the public!

    • #9
  10. Troy Senik Contributor
    Troy Senik
    @TroySenik

    Ah, thank you for this @susanquinn.

    Cleveland was a complicated man, but a fundamentally admirable one. An unusual president even in his own day and the kind of figure you’d be hard-pressed to find in American politics today. 

    Glad you enjoyed the book and hope others will as well.

    • #10
  11. Manny Coolidge
    Manny
    @Manny

    Weren’t Cleveland and Taft respectfully a Democrat and a Republican?  I’m surprised one of one party praised one of the other party. I don’t know much about Cleveland but this gave me some insight. 

    • #11
  12. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Kipputt (View Comment):

    I would put Calvin Coolidge into the group honest and servant of the public!

    Excellent choice! He’s right up there with the best of them!

    • #12
  13. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    James Salerno (View Comment):

    I will order this. Always been a fan of Cleveland, and he actually has some roots where I live.

    As far as presidents whose character I admire, John Tyler, Franklin Pierce and of course Thomas Jefferson would make that list.

    James, I don’t know much about Tyler or Pierce. Could you very briefly explain your thoughts about them?

    • #13
  14. Troy Senik Contributor
    Troy Senik
    @TroySenik

    Manny (View Comment):

    Weren’t Cleveland and Taft respectfully a Democrat and a Republican? I’m surprised one of one party praised one of the other party. I don’t know much about Cleveland but this gave me some insight.

    Yes. As populists (and later progressives) took over the Democratic Party in the early 20th century, Cleveland fell out of favor with many Democrats and came to be more warmly regarded by Republicans.

    That’s part of the explanation. Another part is that Taft was just a deeply decent man.

    • #14
  15. Manny Coolidge
    Manny
    @Manny

    Troy Senik (View Comment):

    Manny (View Comment):

    Weren’t Cleveland and Taft respectfully a Democrat and a Republican? I’m surprised one of one party praised one of the other party. I don’t know much about Cleveland but this gave me some insight.

    Yes. As populists (and later progressives) took over the Democratic Party in the early 20th century, Cleveland fell out of favor with many Democrats and came to be more warmly regarded by Republicans.

    That’s part of the explanation. Another part is that Taft was just a deeply decent man.

    Thank you. 

    • #15
  16. James Salerno Coolidge
    James Salerno
    @JamesSalerno

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    James Salerno (View Comment):

    I will order this. Always been a fan of Cleveland, and he actually has some roots where I live.

    As far as presidents whose character I admire, John Tyler, Franklin Pierce and of course Thomas Jefferson would make that list.

    James, I don’t know much about Tyler or Pierce. Could you very briefly explain your thoughts about them?

    Tyler and Pierce are both despised by Uni-party historians, so that almost guarantees they were great presidents. The only measure to judge a president is – did they uphold their oath to defend the constitution? Tyler, Pierce and also Cleveland did. That makes them heroic and of noble character. They were not monarchs. They were not chasing fame and legacy via warmongering or giving bread and circuses by decree.

    Tyler is the greatest American president when you view things through an originalist lens. He had an originalist view of the constitution and did not try to stretch words and meanings to get what he wanted. This was a trait that he inherited from his father, who was a member of the Virginia House of Delegates. You have to really dig to find examples of things President Tyler did unconstitutionally.

    Fellow Whig Henry Clay wanted a national bank, and President Tyler refused, as the Federal Government does not have the power to incorporate. This is a heroic stance and it got President Tyler booted out of the Whig party. Tyler put principles over party, which is even more impressive considering Tyler had supported national banking in the past. A president of weaker character would have just signed the bank into law regardless.

    Tyler also refused to intervene in the Dorr Rebellion of Rhode Island despite immense pressure to do so. The president cannot send in forces to quell a rebellion unless the state governor makes a request. There were protests in Rhode Island to overturn the voting restrictions of the colonial charter – protests, not rebellions. Tyler gave his blessing to those that wanted more democratic representation but did not interfere. A monarch or a 20th century president would have just sent in troops.

    Pierce was a true Unionist. In that he wanted a voluntary union between the states, not forced union like what came a decade later. Pierce was one of the early “omnibus” candidates – a man that could be president to all and listen to various regional interests. He did this in the Jeffersonian sense, not the Nationalist sense. He wanted to represent both Northern and Southern interests.

    (continued)

    • #16
  17. James Salerno Coolidge
    James Salerno
    @JamesSalerno

    Pierce vetoed six internal improvements bills, along the lines of Henry Clay’s “American System.” The federal government has no power to incorporate mental institutions or railroads. This is just completely absent from political discourse today. Can the federal government provide hospitals? No. Response? – “That means you don’t care about sick people!” That’s the level of our debate today. Pierce didn’t bother with nonsense like that.

    Bloody Kansas is always blamed on Pierce, but why? Pierce signed the Kansas-Nebraska act into law in 1854. Pierce did this in interest of the Union as a whole. Did violence happen as a result? Yes, John Brown’s raid was violent, but this preserved the voluntary union. Pierce critics can’t provide alternative constitutional options for what he should have done. He was elected as one of the most popular presidents in history and wasn’t even considered for reelection. Principles over party.

    Through modernity’s lens we also tend to view presidents through speeches they give that don’t mean much. We’re addicted to empty rhetoric. But both Tyler and Pierce gave great messages through their vetoes. Read some veto messages from either one regarding federally funded internal improvements and you’ll see what I’m talking about. They were rock-solid constitutionalists.

    I respect both men (plus Cleveland) for their ability to exercise restraint as an executive. They didn’t care about being enshrined as some great Ceasar like so many other presidents did.

     

    • #17
  18. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    James Salerno (View Comment):

    Pierce vetoed six internal improvements bills, along the lines of Henry Clay’s “American System.” The federal government has no power to incorporate mental institutions or railroads. This is just completely absent from political discourse today. Can the federal government provide hospitals? No. Response? – “That means you don’t care about sick people!” That’s the level of our debate today. Pierce didn’t bother with nonsense like that.

    Bloody Kansas is always blamed on Pierce, but why? Pierce signed the Kansas-Nebraska act into law in 1854. Pierce did this in interest of the Union as a whole. Did violence happen as a result? Yes, John Brown’s raid was violent, but this preserved the voluntary union. Pierce critics can’t provide alternative constitutional options for what he should have done. He was elected as one of the most popular presidents in history and wasn’t even considered for reelection. Principles over party.

    Through modernity’s lens we also tend to view presidents through speeches they give that don’t mean much. We’re addicted to empty rhetoric. But both Tyler and Pierce gave great messages through their vetoes. Read some veto messages from either one regarding federally funded internal improvements and you’ll see what I’m talking about. They were rock-solid constitutionalists.

    I respect both men (plus Cleveland) for their ability to exercise restraint as an executive. They didn’t care about being enshrined as some great Ceasar like so many other presidents did.

    Thanks so much, James! I love reading biographies to learn about history, so I have a number under my belt. BTW, Cleveland had more vetoes than all the presidents before him combined! Hundreds! Anyway, do you have favorite biographies of Tyler and Pierce? Thanks for your help.

    Edit: if either wrote an autobiography, that would also be great.

    • #18
  19. James Salerno Coolidge
    James Salerno
    @JamesSalerno

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    James Salerno (View Comment):

    Pierce vetoed six internal improvements bills, along the lines of Henry Clay’s “American System.” The federal government has no power to incorporate mental institutions or railroads. This is just completely absent from political discourse today. Can the federal government provide hospitals? No. Response? – “That means you don’t care about sick people!” That’s the level of our debate today. Pierce didn’t bother with nonsense like that.

    Bloody Kansas is always blamed on Pierce, but why? Pierce signed the Kansas-Nebraska act into law in 1854. Pierce did this in interest of the Union as a whole. Did violence happen as a result? Yes, John Brown’s raid was violent, but this preserved the voluntary union. Pierce critics can’t provide alternative constitutional options for what he should have done. He was elected as one of the most popular presidents in history and wasn’t even considered for reelection. Principles over party.

    Through modernity’s lens we also tend to view presidents through speeches they give that don’t mean much. We’re addicted to empty rhetoric. But both Tyler and Pierce gave great messages through their vetoes. Read some veto messages from either one regarding federally funded internal improvements and you’ll see what I’m talking about. They were rock-solid constitutionalists.

    I respect both men (plus Cleveland) for their ability to exercise restraint as an executive. They didn’t care about being enshrined as some great Ceasar like so many other presidents did.

    Thanks so much, James! I love reading biographies to learn about history, so I have a number under my belt. BTW, Cleveland had more vetoes than all the presidents before him combined! Hundreds! Anyway, do you have favorite biographies of Tyler and Pierce? Thanks for your help.

    Edit: if either wrote an autobiography, that would also be great.

    Today’s your lucky day, Susan!

    Tyler is woefully underrepresented as far as biographies go, but the most recent one, President without a Party is excellent. The author does not aim to rehab Tyler, but he’s fair, and that’s all you can ask for. In giving a neutral view of Tyler, he in some ways makes an even better case for Tyler than I could.

    With Pierce, you’re going to have more trouble. Not much there. I highly suggest reading his own vetoes which you can probably find online for free. You can also read his inaugural address, which is incredible because he read all 3,000+ words from memory.

    But if you want an in-depth bio, read Peter Wallner’s 2-volume series. It’s OOP and very expensive on Amazon, but a bookseller in Pierce’s home state has Vol. 2. That’s how I got mine.

    • #19
  20. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    James Salerno (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    James Salerno (View Comment):

    Pierce vetoed six internal improvements bills, along the lines of Henry Clay’s “American System.” The federal government has no power to incorporate mental institutions or railroads. This is just completely absent from political discourse today. Can the federal government provide hospitals? No. Response? – “That means you don’t care about sick people!” That’s the level of our debate today. Pierce didn’t bother with nonsense like that.

    Bloody Kansas is always blamed on Pierce, but why? Pierce signed the Kansas-Nebraska act into law in 1854. Pierce did this in interest of the Union as a whole. Did violence happen as a result? Yes, John Brown’s raid was violent, but this preserved the voluntary union. Pierce critics can’t provide alternative constitutional options for what he should have done. He was elected as one of the most popular presidents in history and wasn’t even considered for reelection. Principles over party.

    Through modernity’s lens we also tend to view presidents through speeches they give that don’t mean much. We’re addicted to empty rhetoric. But both Tyler and Pierce gave great messages through their vetoes. Read some veto messages from either one regarding federally funded internal improvements and you’ll see what I’m talking about. They were rock-solid constitutionalists.

    I respect both men (plus Cleveland) for their ability to exercise restraint as an executive. They didn’t care about being enshrined as some great Ceasar like so many other presidents did.

    Thanks so much, James! I love reading biographies to learn about history, so I have a number under my belt. BTW, Cleveland had more vetoes than all the presidents before him combined! Hundreds! Anyway, do you have favorite biographies of Tyler and Pierce? Thanks for your help.

    Edit: if either wrote an autobiography, that would also be great.

    Today’s your lucky day, Susan!

    Tyler is woefully underrepresented as far as biographies go, but the most recent one, President without a Party is excellent. The author does not aim to rehab Tyler, but he’s fair, and that’s all you can ask for. In giving a neutral view of Tyler, he in some ways makes an even better case for Tyler than I could.

    With Pierce, you’re going to have more trouble. Not much there. I highly suggest reading his own vetoes which you can probably find online for free. You can also read his inaugural address, which is incredible because he read all 3,000+ words from memory.

    But if you want an in-depth bio, read Peter Wallner’s 2-volume series. It’s OOP and very expensive on Amazon, but a bookseller in Pierce’s home state has Vol. 2. That’s how I got mine.

    Thanks so much! I’m on it!

    • #20
  21. Suspira Member
    Suspira
    @Suspira

    Manny (View Comment):
    Another part is that Taft was just a deeply decent man.

    So, TWO decent public men in the same time period. Looking about the political landscape, I’d be elated to find one.

    • #21
  22. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Suspira (View Comment):

    Manny (View Comment):
    Another part is that Taft was just a deeply decent man.

    So, TWO decent public men in the same time period. Looking about the political landscape, I’d be elated to find one.

    That’s why I’m becoming more and more enamored with those men who fought for virtue. They may have had other limitations, but I admire their courage to stand for what was right.

    • #22
  23. Troy Senik Contributor
    Troy Senik
    @TroySenik

    Suspira (View Comment):

    Manny (View Comment):
    Another part is that Taft was just a deeply decent man.

    So, TWO decent public men in the same time period. Looking about the political landscape, I’d be elated to find one.

    Perhaps related to this: neither Cleveland nor Taft were born executives. As I suggest in my book, Cleveland had more of a judicial temperament, and his political aspirations (to the extent he had them — for a president he was remarkably short on ambition), were probably for a judgeship.

    Taft famously wanted a seat on the Supreme Court much more than he wanted the presidency (and ended up getting the former when Harding made him Chief Justice in his post-presidency). Mrs. Taft wanted the White House for him much more than he wanted it for himself.

    • #23
  24. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Troy Senik (View Comment):

    Suspira (View Comment):

    Manny (View Comment):
    Another part is that Taft was just a deeply decent man.

    So, TWO decent public men in the same time period. Looking about the political landscape, I’d be elated to find one.

    Perhaps related to this: neither Cleveland nor Taft were born executives. As I suggest in my book, Cleveland had more of a judicial temperament, and his political aspirations (to the extent he had them — for a president he was remarkably short on ambition), were probably for a judgeship.

    Taft famously wanted a seat on the Supreme Court much more than he wanted the presidency (and ended up getting the former when Harding made him Chief Justice in his post-presidency). Mrs. Taft wanted the White House for him much more than he wanted it for himself.

    Troy, thanks so much for staying engaged with us. I really appreciate your input!

    • #24
  25. Manny Coolidge
    Manny
    @Manny

    Suspira (View Comment):

    Manny (View Comment):
    Another part is that Taft was just a deeply decent man.

    So, TWO decent public men in the same time period. Looking about the political landscape, I’d be elated to find one.

    Suspira, though I completely agree that Taft was a “deeply decent man,” I wasn’t the person who first said it here. Somehow the quoting got tangled. It happens to me frequently too. I think it was Troy who should get credit for saying it. 

    • #25
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