James G. Blaine

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James G. Blaine : biography

31 January 1830 – 27 January 1893

Teacher and publisher

In 1848, Blaine was hired as a professor of mathematics and ancient languages at the Western Military Institute in Georgetown, Kentucky. Although he was only eighteen years old and younger than many of his students, Blaine adapted well to his new profession. Blaine grew to enjoy life in his adopted state and became an admirer of Kentucky Senator Henry Clay. He also made the acquaintance of Harriet Stanwood, a teacher at the nearby Millersburg Female College and native of Maine. On June 30, 1850, the two were married. Blaine once again considered taking up the study of law, but instead took his new bride to visit his family in Pennsylvania. They next lived with Harriet Blaine’s family in Augusta, Maine for several months, where their first child, Stanwood Blaine, was born in 1851. The young family soon moved again, this time to Philadelphia where Blaine took a job at the Pennsylvania Institution for the Instruction of the Blind (now Overbrook School for the Blind) in 1852, teaching science and literature.

Philadelphia’s law libraries gave Blaine the chance to at last begin to study the law, but in 1853 he received a more tempting offer: to become editor and co-owner of the Kennebec Journal. Blaine had spent several vacations in his wife’s native state of Maine and had become friendly with the Journal’s editors. When the newspaper’s founder, Luther Severance, retired, Blaine was invited to purchase the publication along with co-editor Joseph Baker. He quickly accepted, borrowing the purchase price from his wife’s brothers. Baker soon sold his share to John L. Stevens, a local minister, in 1854. The Journal had been a staunchly Whig newspaper, which coincided with Blaine’s and Stevens’s political opinions. The decision to become a newspaperman, unexpected as it was, started Blaine on the road to a lifelong career in politics. Blaine’s purchase of the Journal coincided with the demise of the Whig party and birth of the Republican party, and Blaine and Stevens actively promoted the new party in their newspaper. The newspaper was financially successful, and Blaine was soon able to invest his profits in coal mines in Pennsylvania and Virginia, forming the basis of his future wealth.

Maine politics

Blaine’s career as a Republican newspaperman led naturally to involvement in Republican party politics. In 1856, he was selected as a delegate to the first Republican National Convention. From the party’s early days, Blaine identified with the conservative wing, supporting Supreme Court Justice John McLean for the presidential nomination over the more radical John C. Frémont, the eventual nominee. The following year, Blaine was offered the editorship of the Portland Daily Advertiser, which he accepted, selling his interest in the Journal soon thereafter. He still maintained his home in Augusta, however, with his growing family. Although Blaine’s first son, Stanwood, died in infancy, he and Harriet had two more sons soon afterward: Walker, in 1855, and Emmons, in 1857. They would have four more children in years to come: Alice, James, Margaret, and Harriet. It was around this time that Blaine left the Presbyterian church of his childhood and joined his wife’s religion, becoming a member of the South Parish Congregational Church in Augusta.

In 1858, Blaine ran for a seat in the Maine House of Representatives, and was elected. He ran for reelection in 1859, 1860, and 1861, and was successful each time by large majorities. The added responsibilities led Blaine to reduce his duties with the Advertiser in 1860, and he soon ceased editorial work altogether. Meanwhile, his political power was growing as he became chairman of the Republican state committee in 1859, replacing Stevens. Blaine was not a delegate to the Republican convention in 1860, but attended anyway as an enthusiastic supporter of Abraham Lincoln. Returning to Maine, he was elected Speaker of the Maine House of Representatives in 1861 and reelected in 1862. With the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, he supported Lincoln’s war effort and saw that the Maine Legislature voted to organize and equip units to join the Union Army.