James G. Blaine : biography
James Gillespie Blaine (January 31, 1830January 27, 1893) was an American Republican politician who served as United States Representative, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, U.S. Senator from Maine, and twice as Secretary of State. He was nominated for President in 1884, but was narrowly defeated by Democrat Grover Cleveland. Blaine was one of the late 19th century’s leading Republicans and champion of the moderate reformist faction of the party known as the "Half-Breeds".
Blaine was born in the western Pennsylvania town of West Brownsville and after college moved to Maine where he became a newspaper editor. Nicknamed "the Magnetic Man," he was a charismatic speaker in an era that prized oratory. He began his political career as an early supporter of Abraham Lincoln and the Union war effort in the American Civil War. In Reconstruction, Blaine was a supporter of black suffrage, but opposed some of the more coercive measures of the Radical Republicans. Initially a protectionist, he later worked for a reduction in the tariff and an expansion of American trade with foreign countries. Railroad promotion and construction were important issues in his time, and as a result of his interest and support Blaine was widely suspected of corruption in the awarding of railroad charters; these allegations plagued his 1884 presidential candidacy.
As Secretary of State, Blaine was a transitional figure, marking the end of an isolationist era in foreign policy and foreshadowing the rise of the American Century that would begin with the Spanish-American War. His efforts at expanding the United States’ trade and influence began the shift to a more active American foreign policy. Blaine was a pioneer of tariff reciprocity and urged greater involvement in Latin American affairs. An expansionist, Blaine’s policies would lead in less than a decade to the establishment of the United States’ acquisition of Pacific colonies and dominance of the Caribbean.
United States Senate, 1876–1881
Blaine was appointed to the Senate on July 10, 1876, but did not begin his duties there until the Senate convened in December of that year. While in the Senate, he served on the Appropriations Committee and held the chairmanship of the Committee on Civil Service and Retrenchment, but he never achieved the role of leadership that he had held as a member of the House. The Senate in the 45th Congress was controlled by a narrow Republican majority, but it was a majority often divided against itself and against the Hayes administration. Blaine did not number himself among the administration’s defenders, but neither could he join the Republicans led by Conkling—later known as the Stalwarts—who opposed Hayes, because of the deep personal enmity between Blaine and Conkling. He opposed Hayes’s withdrawal of federal troops from Southern capitals, which effectively ended the Reconstruction of the South, but to no avail. Blaine continued to antagonize Southern Democrats, voting against bills passed in the Democrat-controlled House that would reduce the Army’s appropriation and repeal the post-war Force Acts he had helped pass. By 1879, there were only 1155 soldiers stationed in the former Confederacy, and Blaine believed that this small force could never guarantee the civil and political rights of black Southerners—which would mean an end to the Republican party in the South. Such bills passed Congress several times and Hayes vetoed them several times; ultimately, the Force Acts remained in place, but the funds to enforce them dwindled.
On monetary issues, Blaine continued the advocacy for a strong dollar that he had begun as a Representative. The issue had shifted from debate over greenbacks to debate over which metal should back the dollar: gold and silver, or gold alone. In 1873, the Coinage Act of 1873 stopped the coinage of silver for all coins worth a dollar or more, effectively tying the dollar to the value of gold. As a result, the money supply contracted and the effects of the Panic of 1873 grew worse, making it more expensive for debtors to pay debts they had contracted when currency was less valuable. Farmers and laborers, especially, clamored for the return of coinage in both metals, believing the increased money supply would restore wages and property values. Democratic Representative Richard P. Bland of Missouri proposed a bill, which passed the House, that would require the United States to coin as much silver as miners could sell the government, thus increasing the money supply and aiding debtors. In the Senate, William B. Allison, a Republican from Iowa offered an amendment to limit the silver coinage to two to four million dollars per month. This was still too much for Blaine, and he denounced the bill, but the amended Bland–Allison Act passed the Senate by a 48 to 21 vote. Hayes vetoed the bill, but Congress mustered the two-thirds vote to pass it over his veto. Even after the Bland–Allison Act’s passage, Blaine continued his opposition, making a series of speeches against it during the 1878 congressional campaign season.