Matthew Algeo: Grover Cleveland’s Hurricane

Roundup: Historians' Take

Matthew Algeo is the author of “The President Is a Sick Man: Wherein the Supposedly Virtuous Grover Cleveland Survives a Secret Surgery at Sea and Vilifies the Courageous Newspaperman Who Dared Expose the Truth.”

A DEVASTATING storm slams into New York City; within days, another hits the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina. The president refuses to allow the federal government to coordinate relief efforts. No, it’s not a glimpse into a future without the Federal Emergency Management Agency under a Romney administration. It’s what happened in August 1893, and the consequences of the government’s inaction offer valuable lessons today....

In the wake of these twin tragedies ... President Grover Cleveland did nothing.

Cleveland, a Democrat and former governor of New York, opposed government intervention in natural disasters. In his first term he had vetoed a bill that would have given drought-stricken Texas farmers $10,000 for seeds. “Federal aid in such cases encourages the expectation of paternal care on the part of the government and weakens the sturdiness of our national character,” Cleveland wrote in his veto message....

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