James G. Blaine


James G. Blaine : biography

31 January 1830 – 27 January 1893

William H. West of Ohio nominated Blaine with an enthusiastic speech and after the first ballot, Blaine led the count with 334½ votes. While short of the necessary 417 for nomination, Blaine had far more than any other candidate with Arthur in second place at 278 votes. Blaine was unacceptable to the Arthur delegates just as Blaine’s own delegates would never vote for the President, so the contest was between the two for the delegates of the remaining candidates. Blaine’s total steadily increased as Logan and Sherman withdrew in his favor and some of the Edmunds delegates defected to him. Unlike in previous conventions, the momentum for Blaine in 1884 would not be halted. On the fourth ballot, Blaine received 541 votes and was, at last, nominated. Logan was named vice presidential nominee on the first ballot, and the Republicans had their ticket.

Campaign against Cleveland

The Democrats held their convention in Chicago the following month and nominated Governor Grover Cleveland of New York. Cleveland’s time on the national scene was brief, but Democrats hoped that his reputation as a reformer and an opponent of corruption would attract Republicans dissatisfied with Blaine and his reputation for scandal. They were correct, as reform-minded Republicans (called "Mugwumps") denounced Blaine as corrupt and flocked to Cleveland. The Mugwumps, including such men as Carl Schurz and Henry Ward Beecher, were more concerned with morality than with party, and felt Cleveland was a kindred soul who would promote civil service reform and fight for efficiency in government. However, even as the Democrats gained support from the Mugwumps, they lost some blue-collar workers to the Greenback-Labor party, led by Benjamin F. Butler, Blaine’s antagonist from their early days in the House.

The campaign focused on the candidates’ personalities, as each candidate’s supporters cast aspersions on their opponents. Cleveland’s supporters rehashed the old allegations from the Mulligan letters that Blaine had corruptly influenced legislation in favor of railroads, later profiting on the sale of bonds he owned in both companies. Although the stories of Blaine’s favors to the railroads had made the rounds eight years earlier, this time more of his correspondence was discovered, making his earlier denials less plausible. Blaine acknowledged that the letters were genuine, but denied that anything in them impugned his integrity or contradicted his earlier explanations. Nevertheless, what Blaine described as "stale slander" served to focus the public’s attention negatively on his character. On some of the most damaging correspondence, Blaine had written "Burn this letter," giving Democrats the last line to their rallying cry: "Blaine, Blaine, James G. Blaine, the continental liar from the state of Maine, ‘Burn this letter!"

To counter Cleveland’s image of superior morality, Republicans discovered reports that Cleveland had fathered an illegitimate child while he was a lawyer in Buffalo, New York, and chanted "Ma, Ma, where’s my Pa?". (To which the Democrats, after Cleveland had been elected, appended: "Gone to the White House, Ha! Ha! Ha!") Cleveland admitted to paying child support in 1874 to Maria Crofts Halpin, the woman who claimed he fathered her child named Oscar Folsom Cleveland. Halpin was involved with several men at the time, including Cleveland’s friend and law partner, Oscar Folsom, for whom the child was also named. Cleveland did not know which man was the father, and is believed to have assumed responsibility because he was the only bachelor among them. At the same time, Democratic operatives accused Blaine and his wife of not having been married when their eldest son, Stanwood, was born in 1851; this rumor was false, however, and caused little excitement in the campaign.{}

Both candidates believed that the states of New York, New Jersey, Indiana, and Connecticut would determine the election. In New York, Blaine received less support than he anticipated when Arthur and Conkling, still powerful in the New York Republican party, failed to actively campaign for him. Blaine hoped that he would have more support from Irish Americans than Republicans typically did; while the Irish were mainly a Democratic constituency in the 19th century, Blaine’s mother was Irish Catholic, and he believed his career-long opposition to the British government would resonate with the Irish. Blaine’s hope for Irish defections to the Republican standard were dashed late in the campaign when one of his supporters, Samuel D. Burchard, gave a speech denouncing the Democrats as the party of "Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion". The Democrats spread the word of this insult in the days before the election, and Cleveland narrowly won all four of the swing states, including New York by just over one thousand votes. While the popular vote total was close, with Cleveland winning by just one-quarter of a percent, the electoral votes gave Cleveland a majority of 219–182.