Two United States presidents have ties to the Garden State. Grover Cleveland is the only New Jersey native to become president. Before becoming president, Woodrow Wilson served as governor of New Jersey and president of Princeton University.
Grover Cleveland is most famous for being the only president to serve two non-consecutive terms. Cleveland is both our 22nd and 24th president.
Born on March 18, 1837, in Caldwell, Cleveland spent his first five years in New Jersey before moving to upstate New York. His birthplace is now a national park and museum located at 207 Bloomfield Avenue in Caldwell. (Call 973-226-0001 for tours and additional information.)
With eight brothers and sisters, Cleveland went to work at a young age to help support his family. After working odd jobs for many years, he began working for a law firm in Buffalo, New York, and became a lawyer soon afterwards.
While working as a lawyer, Cleveland developed an interest in politics and joined the Democratic Party. He was elected mayor of Buffalo in 1881. A few years later, he became governor of New York.
Cleveland quickly developed a reputation for being an honest politician, working hard to stop corruption in government. He earned the Democratic nomination for president in 1884 and became the first Democrat elected president in more than 25 years.
In 1886 Cleveland married Frances Folsom, becoming the first president to get married in the White House.
During his first term Cleveland vetoed efforts to give government money to special interests. Nicknamed "the veto president," he vetoed more than 300 congressional bills. Cleveland also worked to regulate the railroads and reduce high tariffs (taxes on foreign goods).
In the 1888 election, Benjamin Harrison defeated Cleveland because he earned more electoral votes. Cleveland actually got more individual votes overall. The result was similar to the 2000 election where Al Gore got more votes overall, but George W. Bush won more electoral votes and therefore became president.
In his time out of office, Cleveland returned to work as a lawyer, and his wife gave birth to a baby girl they named Ruth. The Baby Ruth candy bar is named after Cleveland's daughter.
Losing in 1888 did not put an end to Cleveland's political career, however. He won the presidency again in 1892.
Returning to office, Cleveland faced an economic depression preceded by the Panic of 1893. He worked hard to deal with a crisis in the Treasury and maintained the U.S. gold reserve. Forced to deal with these difficult times, Cleveland became unpopular. William Jennings Bryan received the Democratic nomination in 1896.
At the conclusion of his term, Cleveland finally came home to retire in New Jersey. He lived in Princeton until his death in 1908.
Woodrow Wilson's presidency was marked by his leadership in international affairs as well as some major domestic initiatives. In foreign policy, Wilson used American forces to put an end to World War I and developed the idea for a League of Nations. At home, he passed legislation to create the Federal Reserve banks and the Federal Trade Commission and to promote workers' rights.
Wilson was born in Virginia in 1856. He moved north to New Jersey to attend Princeton University, which was then known as the College of New Jersey. There he earned his undergraduate degree. He went on to earn a law degree from the University of Virginia and a doctorate from Johns Hopkins University. Wilson is the only president with a Ph.D.
After finishing his schooling, Wilson became a professor of political science. While working as a professor, he married Ellen Louise Axson in 1885. Wilson taught at many schools and eventually returned to Princeton. His work was highly respected, and he was named president of the university in 1902.
In 1910, Wilson was elected governor of New Jersey. Wilson, a Democrat, followed a progressive platform as governor and earned the presidential nomination in 1912.
Wilson focused his campaign for president on a platform he called New Freedom. New Freedom promoted states' rights and individualism. During his first term, Wilson signed three major pieces of legislation:
During his first term, Wilson also made major strides in labor laws. He signed laws prohibiting child labor and limiting railroad workers to an eight-hour workday.
Tragedy struck the Wilson family in 1914 when Wilson's wife passed away. He remarried the next year to Edith Bolling Galt.
At the same time, World War I was dragging on across Europe. Wilson kept the United States out of the war and won re-election in 1916.
After the election, however, Germany began interfering with and attacking neutral U.S. sea vessels. Congress, at Wilson's request, declared war on Germany in 1917.
With the help of American forces, the Allies were able to defeat Germany. Wilson set about creating what he hoped would be a lasting peace. In 1918, he delivered his Fourteen Points speech, calling for a League of Nations. The League of Nations would protect and recognize the independence of all nations, large and small.
Wilson traveled to Paris with representatives from the other warring nations to develop the Versailles Treaty. Wilson returned to the U.S. to get congressional approval of the treaty, but it did not pass in the Senate. Ultimately, a separate peace was negotiated between the United States and Germany.
Still, Wilson believed in the treaty very strongly and toured the nation to promote it. For his efforts, Wilson was awarded the 1919 Nobel Peace Prize. He was known in Europe as a savior of peace. However, during the tour, Wilson had a stroke and nearly died. He never fully recovered and was unable to campaign again. He retired in Washington, D.C., and died in 1924.