James G. Blaine

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James G. Blaine
James G. Blaine

James Gillespie Blaine (January 31, 1830January 27, 1893) was a U.S. Representative, U.S. Senator from Maine and a two-time United States Secretary of State. He also ran for President of the United States, obtaining the 1884 Republican nomination, but never won the Presidency.



He was born in West Brownsville, Pennsylvania, of Scots-Irish family on his father's side. He was the great-grandson of Colonel Ephraim Blaine (1741-1804), who during the American War of Independence served in the American army, from 1778 to 1782 as commissary-general of the Northern Department. With many early evidences of literary capacity and political aptitude, J. G. Blaine graduated at Washington College in Washington, Pennsylvania, in 1847, and subsequently taught successively in the Western Military Institute, Blue Lick Springs, Kentucky and from 1852-1854, he taught at the Pennsylvania Institution for the Blind in Philadelphia. During this period, also, he studied law.

Settling in Augusta, Maine, in 1854, he became editor of the Kennebec Journal, and subsequently on the Portland Advertiser. Editorial work was soon abandoned for a more active public career. He served as a member in Maine House of Representatives from 1859 to 1862, serving the last two years as Speaker of the House. He also became chairman of the Republican state committee in 1859, and for more than twenty years personally directed every campaign of his party. Among his adoring admirers, he was known as the "Plumed Knight."

Congressional career

Blaine was elected as a Republican to the Thirty-eighth Congress and to the six succeeding U.S. Congress and served from March 4, 1863, to July 10, 1876, when he resigned. He was Speaker of the United States House of Representatives for three terms—during the 41st through 43rd Congresses. He served as chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Rules during the 43rd through 45th Congresses, followed by over four years in the Senate.

The House was the fit arena for his political and parliamentary ability. He was a ready and powerful debater, full of resource, and dexterous in controversy. The tempestuous politics of the Civil War and Reconstruction period suited his aggressive nature and constructive talent. The measures for the rehabilitation of the states that had seceded from the Union occupied the chief attention of Congress for several years, and Blaine bore a leading part in framing and discussing them. The primary question related to the basis of representation upon which they should be restored to their full rank in the political system. A powerful section contended that the basis should be the body of legal voters, on the ground that the South could and should not then secure an increment of political power on account of the emancipated blacks unless these blacks were admitted to political rights. Blaine, on the other hand, contended that representation should be based on population instead of voters, as being fairer to the North, where the ratio of voters varied widely, and he insisted that it should be safeguarded by security for impartial suffrage. This view prevailed, and the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was substantially Blaine's proposition.

In the same spirit he opposed a scheme of military governments for the southern states, unless associated with a plan by which, upon the acceptance of prescribed conditions, they could release themselves from military rule and resume civil government. He was the first in Congress to oppose the claim, which gained momentary and widespread favour in 1867, that the public debt, pledged in coin, should be paid in greenbacks. The protection of naturalized citizens who, on return to their native land, were subject to prosecution on charges of disloyalty, enlisted his active interest and support, and the agitation, in which he was conspicuous, led to the treaty of 1870 between the United States and Britain, which placed adopted and native citizens on the same footing.

In 1875, to promote the separation of church and state, Blaine proposed a constitutional amendment that would prohibit the use of public funds for any religious purpose. The amendment did not pass at the federal level, falling only four votes of the required two-thirds majority in the Senate, but a majority of states subsequently adopted similar laws, which are commonly known as Blaine Amendments.

Blaine was an unsuccessful candidate for nomination for President on the Republican ticket in 1876 and 1880. (See U.S. presidential election, 1876, U.S. presidential election, 1880.) His chance for securing the 1876 nomination, however, was damaged by persistent charges, brought against him by the Democrats, that as a member of Congress he had been guilty of corruption in his relations with the Little Rock & Fort Smith Railway and the Northern Pacific Railway. By the majority of Republicans, he was considered to have cleared himself completely, and at the Republican National Convention he missed the nomination for President by only 28 votes, being finally beaten by a combination of supporters of all the other candidates going to Rutherford B. Hayes.

Blaine was appointed and subsequently elected as a Republican to the United States Senate to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of Lot M. Morrill. He served for four years, and his political activity was unabated—currency laws were especially prominent in his legislative portfolio. Blaine, who had previously opposed greenback inflation, now resisted depreciated silver coinage. He championed the advancement of American shipping, and advocated liberal subsidies, insisting that the policy of protection should be applied on sea as well as on land.

He was re-elected and served from July 10, 1876, to March 5, 1881, when he resigned to become Secretary of State. While in the Senate, he served as chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Civil Service and Retrenchment (45th Congress) and U.S. Senate Committee on Rules (also 45th Congress). During this period he tried again for a Presidential nomination: The Republican national convention of 1880, divided between the two nearly equal forces of Blaine and former President Ulysses GrantJohn Sherman of Ohio also having a considerable following—struggled through 36 ballots, when the friends of Blaine, combining with those of Sherman, succeeded in nominating James Garfield.

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James G. Blaine

Service as Secretary of State and run for President

Blaine was Secretary of State in the Cabinets of Presidents James Garfield and Chester Arthur from March 5 to December 12, 1881. Owing to the assassination of President Garfield and the reorganization of the cabinet by President Chester Arthur, he held the office only until December 1881.

He was the unsuccessful Republican nominee for President in 1884, the only nonincumbent Republican nominee to lose the race between 1856 and 1912 (incumbent President Benjamin Harrison lost in 1892). (See U.S. presidential election, 1884.) After heated canvassing, during which he made a series of brilliant speeches, he was beaten by a narrow margin in New York. Many, including Blaine himself, attributed his defeat to the effect of a phrase, "Rum, Romanism and Rebellion," used by a Protestant clergyman, Rev. Samuel D. Burchard (18121891), on October 29, 1884, in Blaine's presence, to characterize what, in his opinion, the, Democrats stood for. The phrase was not Blaine's, but his opponents made use of it to misrepresent his attitude toward the Roman Catholics, large numbers of whom are supposed, in consequence, to have withdrawn their support (ironically, Blaine's mother was Roman Catholic). Refusing to be a presidential candidate again in 1888, he became Secretary of State in the Cabinet of President Benjamin Harrison from 1889-1892, when he resigned.

His service at State was distinguished by several notable steps. In order to promote the friendly understanding and co-operation of the nations on the American continents he projected a Pan-American Congress, which, after being arranged for and led by Blaine as its first president, was frustrated by his retirement. (Its most important conclusions were the need for reciprocity in trade, a continental railway and compulsory arbitration in international complications.) Shaping the tariff legislation for this policy, Blaine negotiated a large number of reciprocity treaties which augmented the commerce of his country. He upheld American rights in Samoa, pursued a vigorous diplomacy with Italy over the lynching of 11 Italians, all except three of them American naturalized citizens, in New Orleans on May 14 1891, held a firm attitude during the strained relations between the United States and Chile (growing largely out of the killing and wounding of American sailors of the USS Baltimore by Chileans in Valparaiso on October 16, 1891), and carried on with Britain a resolute controversy over the seal fisheries of Bering Sea—a difference afterwards settled by arbitration. He resigned on June 4, 1892, on the eve of the meeting of the Republican National Convention, wherein his name was used ineffectually.

He also sought to secure a modification of the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty, and in an extended correspondence with the British government strongly asserted the policy of an exclusive American control of any isthmian canal which might be built to connect the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.


Blaine County, Idaho is named in his honor.

Later life and death

During the leisure of his later years he wrote Twenty Years of Congress (1884-1886), a brilliant historical work in two volumes.

Blaine died in Washington, D.C. and was interred in Oak Hill Cemetery. Reinterment took place at the request of the State of Maine in the Blaine Memorial Park, Augusta, Maine, in June 1920.

Further reading

  • Dodge, Mary Abigail, Biography of James G. Blaine, Norwich, Connecticut, 1895
  • Stanwood, C.E., James G. Blaine, Boston, 1905


Preceded by:
Theodore M. Pomeroy
Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives
March 4, 1869March 3, 1873;
December 1, 1873March 3, 1875
Succeeded by:
Michael C. Kerr
Preceded by:
Lot Myrick Morrill
U.S. Senator from Maine
Succeeded by:
William P. Frye
Preceded by:
William M. Evarts
United States Secretary of State
Succeeded by:
Frederick T. Frelinghuysen
Preceded by:
James A. Garfield
Republican Party Presidential candidate
1884 (lost)
Succeeded by:
Benjamin Harrison
Preceded by:
Thomas F. Bayard
United States Secretary of State
Succeeded by:
John W. Foster

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