Blaine, James Gillespie

Blaine, James Gillespie,

1830–93, American politician, b. West Brownsville, Pa.

Early Career

Blaine taught school and studied law before moving (1854) to Maine, where he became an influential newspaper editor. A leader in the formation of the Republican party in Maine, he was state chairman (1859–81) and was elected to three terms in the legislature. In 1863 he entered Congress, serving in the House of Representatives until 1876 and holding the speakership from 1869 to 1875. His friendship with James A. GarfieldGarfield, James Abram,
1831–81, 20th President of the United States (Mar.–Sept., 1881). Born on a frontier farm in Cuyahoga co., Ohio, he spent his early years in poverty. As a youth he worked as farmer, carpenter, and canal boatman.
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 of Ohio and William B. Allison of Iowa brought him support in the West, but a slighting personal remark he made in 1866 about Roscoe ConklingConkling, Roscoe,
1829–88, American politician, b. Albany, N.Y. On his admission to the bar in 1850, he was immediately appointed district attorney of Albany. The son of Alfred Conkling, Congressman and federal judge, he became a U.S.
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 won him the lifelong enmity of that leader of the "Stalwart" Republicans.

Attempts at the Presidency

Blaine, leader of the "Half-Breed" Republicans, who were against corrupt patronage practices, was widely considered the logical Republican choice for President in 1876. Shortly before the party convention, however, a Democratic House investigating committee charged him with using his influence as speaker to secure a land grant for a railroad in Arkansas and with selling the railroad's bonds at a liberal commission. Blaine privately secured possession of the famous "Mulligan letters," which had been named as proof, before they could be placed on record, and he never surrendered them. He read portions of them, out of chronological order, before the House in an attempt to defend himself, but the episode was an important factor in his defeat for the presidential nomination at the 1876 Republican convention. Blaine, as U.S. Senator (1876–81), loyally supported President Rutherford B. Hayes.

In 1880, Blaine was again a candidate for the presidential nomination, but the Conkling faction successfully prevented his nomination. The deadlock was broken by the choice of Blaine's friend, Garfield, with Chester A. Arthur, a Conkling man, nominated for Vice President. Blaine became Garfield's Secretary of State, but upon the President's assassination resigned. Retiring to private life, he wrote Twenty Years of Congress (2 vol., 1884–86).

He was finally nominated for President in 1884 and ran against the Democratic candidate Grover ClevelandCleveland, Grover
(Stephen Grover Cleveland), 1837–1908, 22d (1885–89) and 24th (1893–97) President of the United States, b. Caldwell, N.J.; son of a Presbyterian clergyman.
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. Allusions to the "Mulligan letters" and to Cleveland's admitted paternity of an illegitimate child enlivened the bitter campaign. However, reform Republicans (mugwumpsmugwumps
, slang term in U.S. political history for the Republicans who in 1884 deserted their party nominee, James G. Blaine, to vote for the Democratic nominee, Grover Cleveland. Bibliography

See L. W. Peterson, The Day of the Mugwump (1961).
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) such as Carl SchurzSchurz, Carl
, 1829–1906, American political leader, b. Germany. He studied at the Univ. of Bonn and participated in the revolutionary uprisings of 1848–49 in Germany.
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 preferred Cleveland's untainted public record to Blaine's private virtue. Their defection was made the more important when a tactless New York Presbyterian clergyman, the Rev. Samuel D. Buchard, spoke, in Blaine's presence, of the Democrats as "the party whose antecedents are rum, Romanism, and rebellion." Blaine's failure to disavow the remark offended the large Irish Catholic vote in New York; he lost that state by a scant thousand votes and thereby lost the election.

In 1888, Blaine unexpectedly declined to run for President, supporting Benjamin Harrison, who, upon becoming President, made him Secretary of State again. Three days before the Republican convention of 1892, Blaine resigned to seek the nomination for President, but Harrison was renominated. Thereafter Blaine's health failed rapidly, and he died the next year.

Secretary of State

As Secretary of State, Blaine was particularly energetic in fostering closer relations with the Latin American nations. During his second term in office he was able to bring about and preside over the first Pan-American Congress (see Pan-AmericanismPan-Americanism,
movement toward commercial, social, economic, military, and political cooperation among the nations of North, Central, and South America. In the Nineteenth Century
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), thus laying the foundation for subsequent meetings, and the Pan-American Union was established. Blaine hoped to increase commercial relations among American nations by reciprocal tariff treaties, and although the McKinley Tariff Act prevented this, his idea of tariff "reciprocity" gained some credence. He also concluded a treaty with Great Britain to submit the fur-seal controversy to arbitration (see under Bering SeaBering Sea,
c.878,000 sq mi (2,274,020 sq km), northward extension of the Pacific Ocean between Siberia and Alaska. It is screened from the Pacific proper by the Aleutian Islands. The Bering Strait connects it with the Arctic Ocean.
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See biographies by E. Stanwood (1908) and D. S. Muzzey (1934, repr. 1963); A. F. Tyler, The Foreign Policy of James G. Blaine (1927, repr. 1965).

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Blaine, James Gillespie

(1830–93) U.S. representative/senator, secretary of state; born in West Brownsville, Pa. The son of a Scotch-Irish businessman, he taught at the Pennsylvania Institute for the Blind (1852–54), earning his law degree at night. Moving to Maine, where his wife was from, he became an editor of the Kennebec Journal and then the Portland Advertiser. He championed the new Republican Party in 1854 and became one of its founding members. He served in the state legislature (1858–62), and went to the U.S. House of Representatives (1863–76); he supported black suffrage but opposed the Radical Republicans' harsh reconstruction measures. As Speaker of the House (1869–75) he allied with Western "Half-Breed" Republicans like James Garfield, alienating the powerful New Yorker Roscoe Conkling. Dubbed "The Plumed Knight" because of his image as a crusading liberal, in 1876 he was the leading candidate for the Republican nomination, but he lost out when the Democrats charged him with railroad grafting and Conkling supported Rutherford Hayes. Moving up to the U.S. Senate (1876–81), he lost the 1880 presidential nomination to Garfield, whom he served as secretary of state in 1881. Blaine stayed in Washington to write Twenty Years of Congress. The Republican presidential candidate in 1884, he lost to Grover Cleveland. Choosing not to run in 1888, he became President Benjamin Harrison's secretary of state (1889–92) championing Pan Americanism and the annexation of Hawaii.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.