James G. Blaine


James G. Blaine : biography

31 January 1830 – 27 January 1893

His time in the Senate allowed Blaine to develop his foreign policy ideas. He advocated expansion of the American navy and merchant marine, which had been in decline since the Civil War. Blaine also bitterly opposed the results of the arbitration with Great Britain over American fishermen’s right to fish in Canadian waters, which resulted in a $5.5 million award to Britain. Blaine’s Anglophobia combined with his support of high tariffs when he initially opposed a reciprocity treaty with Canada that would have reduced tariffs between the two nations, but by the end of his time in the Senate he changed his mind, believing that Americans had more to gain by increasing exports than they would lose by the risk of cheap imports.

Retirement, death, and legacy

Blaine had always believed his health to be fragile, and by the time he joined Harrison’s cabinet he truly was unwell. The years at the State Department also brought Blaine personal tragedy as two of his children, Walker and Alice, died suddenly in 1890. Another son, Emmons, died in 1892. With these family issues and his declining health, Blaine decided to retire and announced that he would resign from the cabinet on June 4, 1892. Because of their growing animosity, and because Blaine’s resignation came three days before the 1892 Republican National Convention began, Harrison suspected that Blaine was preparing to run against him for the party’s nomination for president.

Harrison was unpopular with the party and the country, and many of Blaine’s old supporters encouraged him to run for the nomination. Blaine had denied any interest in the nomination months before his resignation, but some of his friends, including Senator Matthew Quay of Pennsylvania and James S. Clarkson, chairman of the Republican National Committee, took it for false modesty and worked for his nomination anyway. When Blaine resigned from the cabinet, his boosters were certain that he was a candidate, but the majority of the party stood by the incumbent. Harrison was renominated on the first ballot, but die-hard Blaine delegates still gave their champion 182 and 1/6 votes, good enough for second place.

Blaine spent the summer of 1892 at his Bar Harbor cottage, and did not involve himself in the presidential campaign other than to make a single speech in New York in October. Harrison was defeated soundly in his rematch against former president Cleveland and when Blaine returned to Washington at the close of 1892, he and Harrison were friendlier than they had been in years. Blaine’s health declined rapidly in the winter of 1892–1893, and he died in his Washington home on January 27, 1893. After a funeral at the Presbyterian Church of the Covenant, he was buried in Oak Hill Cemetery in Washington. He was later re-interred in Blaine Memorial Park, Augusta, Maine, in 1920.

A towering figure in the Republican party of his day, Blaine fell into obscurity fairly soon after his death. A 1905 biography by his wife’s cousin, Edward Stanwood, was written when the question was still in doubt, but by the time David Saville Muzzey published his biography of Blaine in 1934, the subtitle "A Political Idol of Other Days" already spoke to its subject’s fading place in the popular mind, perhaps because of the nine men the Republican Party nominated for the Presidency from 1860 to 1912, Blaine is the only one who never became President. Although several authors studied Blaine’s foreign policy career, including Edward P. Crapol’s 2000 work, Muzzey’s was the last full-scale biography of the man until Neil Rolde’s 2006 book. Historian R. Hal Williams is currently working on a new biography of Blaine, tentatively titled James G. Blaine: A Life in Politics.. Accessed March 6, 2013.

1876 presidential election

Mulligan letters

Blaine entered the 1876 presidential campaign as the favorite, but his chances were almost immediately harmed by the emergence of a scandal. Rumors had begun to spread in February of that year that Blaine had been involved in a transaction with the Union Pacific Railroad in which the railroad had paid Blaine $64,000 for some Little Rock and Fort Smith Railroad bonds he owned, even though the bonds were nearly worthless; in essence, the alleged transaction was a sham designed to bribe Blaine. Blaine denied the charges, as did the Union Pacific’s directors. Blaine claimed he never had any dealings with the Little Rock and Fort Smith Railroad except to purchase bonds at market price, and that he had lost money on the transaction. Democrats in the House of Representatives nevertheless demanded a Congressional investigation. The testimony appeared to favor Blaine’s version of events until May 31, when James Mulligan, a Boston clerk formerly employed by Blaine’s brother-in-law, testified that the allegations were true, that he had arranged the transaction, and that he had letters to prove it. The letters ended with the damning phrase, "Kindly burn this letter." When the investigating committee recessed, Blaine met with Mulligan in his hotel room; what transpired between the men is unknown, but Blaine left with the letters and refused to turn them over to the committee.