The New International Encyclopædia/Blaine, James Gillespie

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The New International Encyclopædia
Blaine, James Gillespie
Edition of 1905. Written by Dr. H. A. Cushing. See also James G. Blaine on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

BLAINE, James Gillespie (1830-93). An eminent American statesman and political leader. His great-grandfather was Ephraim Blaine (1741-1804), an officer on the Patriot side in the American Revolution, who served from 1778 to 1782 as Commissary-General of the Northern Department. James was born, of Scotch-Irish parentage, at Brownsville, Pa., on January 31, 1830, and was educated in the common schools and at Washington College, Pa., where he graduated in 1847. After spending several years as a teacher, first in the Western Military Institute, at Blue Lick Springs, Ky., and subsequently in the Pennsylvania Institution for the Blind in Philadelphia, he became in 1854 one of the editors of the Kennebec (Maine) Journal; and three years later, although retaining his home at Augusta, undertook the editorship of the Portland Advertiser, an influential daily. In 1858 he was elected to the Legislature by the Republicans, and remained in that body four years, during two of which he served as Speaker. In 1859 he became Chairman of the Republican State Committee — a position of leadership in local politics which he retained until 1881. His rapid rise to influence and prominence in the State made natural his election, in 1862, to Congress, where he served for seven successive terms, during three of which he was Speaker of the House of Representatives. He was a pronounced Republican and a vigorous supporter of the Administration during the war. He nevertheless opposed the issue of greenbacks, and successfully urged an important modification to the Stevens plan of reconstruction. (See Reconstruction.) As Speaker he attained unusual success, and his conduct was uniformly marked by great readiness and ability. His course in this position, however, provoked acute controversies, the effect of which was seen when the Democrats secured control of the House in 1875, and when Blaine's impassioned opposition to the inclusion of Jefferson Davis (q.v.) in a general amnesty, on the ground of the latter's alleged complicity in the “gigantic murders and crimes of Andersonville,” was followed by a vigorous effort of the Democrats to connect him with the Pacific Railroad frauds. This culminated in the highly dramatic incident of June 5, 1876, when the accused produced in the House of Representatives the ‘Mulligan Letters’ (q.v.), and offered what was considered an ample vindication of his course. The incident continued for a decade to be a cause of disturbance within the Republican Party, but its immediate effect was the enhancement of Blaine's prestige, and his strong and almost successful candidacy for the Presidential nomination. Upon the seventh ballot he received 351 votes, when a combination of all his opponents upon Hayes effected his defeat. The Electoral Commission (q.v.), which was created by the two Houses to decide the contested election, was vigorously opposed by Blaine on the ground that the powers conferred upon it exceeded those of Congress itself. Having been elected to the Senate in 1876, he worked against the Bland Silver Bill, opposed the unrestricted immigration of the Chinese, and favored strongly the policy of subsidizing various industries. He continued to occupy such a position of leadership that in 1880 he was again a candidate for the Republican nomination, and became in the convention the most formidable opponent of Grant, who had already served two terms as President. The defeat of the third-term candidate appearing to a majority of the delegates to be the most important matter, and the nomination of Blaine seeming impossible without causing serious discord, the adherents of Blaine and John Sherman united on the thirty-sixth ballot in throwing the nomination to Garfield, who defeated General Hancock in the ensuing election. Upon Garfield's inauguration, Blaine became Secretary of State; but the death of the President being followed by a reorganization of the Cabinet, he resigned the position in December of the same year. After his sudden retirement from the public service he devoted his time largely to the preparation of his Twenty Years of Congress, the first volume of which appeared in 1884, attracted widespread attention, and for the most part met with a favorable reception.

Again, in 1884, he was a candidate for the Presidential nomination, and this time was successful, although the bitterness of opposition within the party was such that in some States, notably in New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts, large numbers of independent Republicans voted in the ensuing election for the Democratic nominee, Grover Cleveland, whose record as Governor of New York made it possible for him, by a small plurality, to carry that pivotal State and so secure the election, after a campaign remarkable for personal abuse and bitterness. It has been claimed that the State of New York, and consequently the national election, was lost to Blaine chiefly as the result of a persistent misrepresentation of his attitude toward Roman Catholics, consequent upon an unfortunate phrase, ‘Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion,’ used by a Republican clergyman, the Rev. Samuel D. Burchard (q.v.), in speaking of the Democratic Party; but the effect of the phrase has doubtless been considerably exaggerated. The leisure enforced upon Blaine by his defeat made possible the preparation of the second volume of his Twenty Years of Congress (1886), and of a volume of Political Discussions (1887).

His name was again before the Republican convention of 1888, but was early withdrawn, and upon Harrison's accession to the Presidency, Blaine was again placed in charge of the State Department and was enabled to develop a line of policy proposed in 1881, but at that time reversed by his successor. Not only did he adopt a vigorous course with reference to the seal-fisheries, but his especial energy was devoted to plans for establishing close commercial relations with the South American States and for securing arrangements of reciprocity in trade with other foreign nations. He resigned in June, 1892, on the approach of the nominating convention, before which it was expected that both Blaine and Harrison might be candidates. Blaine's name was presented, but with no success. After a protracted illness, he died, January 27, 1893. Consult Gail Hamilton, Biography of James G. Blaine (Norwich, 1895).