A number of issues led to political conflict in the time period specified which is often known as the "Gilded Age of American Politics:"
- The McKinley Tariff, passed when Benjamin Harrison was elected President (between Cleveland's two terms) raised the rates on tariffs as much as fifty per cent. Farmers were devastated by the tariff as they were forced to buy domestically produced farm supplies at higher rates and also faced reduced sales abroad as foreign borrowers had fewer dollars with which to purchase U.S. Farm Produce.
- The economy faced deflation because U.S. currency was based on the gold standard which limited growth of the money supply; plus there was a surplus in the treasury which further reduced the amount of money in circulation. In an attempt to solve the problem, Congress passed the Sherman Silver Purchase Act which alienated people on both sides of the issue. Some said it was too little too late; others said it would reduce the gold reserve.
- Increased farm production brought on by new farm machinery resulted in lower prices of commodities. Farmers did not understand the economies of scale and blamed the railroads for all their problems.
Cleveland, as several presidents before and after him, was unable to deal effectively with the issues because he had to deal with a closely divided Congress and his own status as a minority president. (He did not receive a majority of the popular vote in either of his elections.) Also, he considered himself more of an administrator than a leader, and allowed Congress to control the reins of government, even though Congress was hopelessly divided.