Cleveland was the leader of the pro-business Bourbon Democrats who opposed high tariffs, Free Silver, inflation, imperialism, and subsidies to business, farmers, or veterans on libertarian philosophical grounds. His crusade for political reform and fiscal conservatism made him an icon for American conservatives of the era. Cleveland won praise for his honesty, self-reliance, integrity, and commitment to the principles of classical liberalism. He fought political corruption, patronage, and bossism. As a reformer Cleveland had such prestige that the like-minded wing of the Republican Party, called "Mugwumps", largely bolted the GOP presidential ticket and swung to his support in the 1884 election.
As his second administration began, disaster hit the nation when the Panic of 1893 produced a severe national depression, which Cleveland was unable to reverse. It ruined his Democratic Party, opening the way for a Republican landslide in 1894 and for the agrarian and silverite seizure of the Democratic Party in 1896. The result was a political realignment that ended the Third Party System and launched the Fourth Party System and the Progressive Era.
Cleveland was a formidable policymaker, and he also drew corresponding criticism. His intervention in the Pullman Strike of 1894 to keep the railroads moving angered labor unions nationwide in addition to the party in Illinois; his support of the gold standard and opposition to Free Silver alienated the agrarian wing of the Democratic Party. Critics complained that Cleveland had little imagination and seemed overwhelmed by the nation's economic disasters—depressions and strikes—in his second term. Even so, his reputation for probity and good character survived the troubles of his second term. Biographer Allan Nevins wrote, "n Grover Cleveland, the greatness lies in typical rather than unusual qualities. He had no endowments that thousands of men do not have. He possessed honesty, courage, firmness, independence, and common sense. But he possessed them to a degree other men do not." By the end of his second term, public perception showed him to be one of the most unpopular U.S. presidents, and was by then rejected even by most Democrats. Today, Cleveland is considered by most historians to have been a successful leader, generally ranked among the upper-mid tier of American presidents.
Stephen Grover Cleveland was born on March 18, 1837, in Caldwell, New Jersey, to Ann (née Neal) and Richard Falley Cleveland. Cleveland's father was a Congregational and Presbyterian minister who was originally from Connecticut. His mother was from Baltimore and was the daughter of a bookseller. On his father's side, Cleveland was descended from English ancestors, the first of the family having emigrated to Massachusetts from Cleveland, England in 1635. His father's maternal grandfather, Richard Falley Jr., fought at the Battle of Bunker Hill, and was the son of an immigrant from Guernsey. On his mother's side, Cleveland was descended from Anglo-Irish Protestants and German Quakers from Philadelphia. Cleveland was distantly related to General Moses Cleaveland, after whom the city of Cleveland, Ohio, was named.
Cleveland, the fifth of nine children, was named Stephen Grover in honor of the first pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Caldwell, where his father was pastor at the time. He became known as Grover in his adult life. In 1841, the Cleveland family moved to Fayetteville, New York, where Grover spent much of his childhood. Neighbors later described him as "full of fun and inclined to play pranks," and fond of outdoor sports.