James G. Blaine

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James G. Blaine : biography

31 January 1830 – 27 January 1893

Republicans remained in control of the House in the 42nd and 43rd Congresses, and Blaine was reelected as Speaker at the start of both of them, for a total term of six years in the Speaker’s chair. His popularity continued to grow, and Republicans dissatisfied with Grant mentioned Blaine as a potential candidate for president in 1872. Instead, Blaine worked steadfastly for Grant’s reelection, which was a success. Blaine’s growing fame brought growing opposition from the Democrats, as well, and during the 1872 campaign he was accused of receiving bribes in the Crédit Mobilier scandal Blaine denied any part in the scandal, which involved railroad companies bribing federal officials to turn a blind eye to fraudulent railroad contracts that overcharged the government by millions of dollars. No one was able to satisfactorily prove Blaine’s involvement (and the law that made the fraud possible had been written before he was elected to Congress) but other Republicans were exposed by the accusations, including Vice President Colfax, who was dropped from the ticket at the 1872 Republican National Convention.

Although he supported a general amnesty for former Confederates, Blaine opposed extending it to include Jefferson Davis, and he cooperated with Grant in helping to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1875 in response to increased violence and disenfranchisement of blacks in the South. He refrained from voting on the anti-third term resolution that overwhelmingly passed the House that same year, believing that to vote for it would look self-interested. Blaine was loyal to Grant, but the scandals of the Grant administration did not taint how the public perceived him; according to his biographer, Blaine was never more popular than when he was Speaker of the House. Liberal Republicans saw him as an alternative to what they saw the corruption of other Republican leaders, and some even urged him to form a new, reformist party. Although he remained a Republican, this base of moderate reformers remained loyal to Blaine and became known as the Half Breed faction of the party.

Blaine Amendment

The 1874 House elections produced a Democratic majority for the 44th Congress, and Blaine’s time as Speaker was at an end. This gave Blaine more time to concentrate on his presidential ambitions, and to develop new policy ideas. One result was a foray into education policy. In late 1875, President Grant made several speeches on the importance of the separation of church and state and the duty of the states to provide free public education. Blaine saw in this an issue that would distract from the Grant administration scandals and let the Republican party regain the high moral ground. In December 1875, he proposed a joint resolution that became known as the Blaine Amendment.

The proposed amendment codified the church-state separation Blaine and Grant were promoting, stating that:

The effect was to prohibit the use of public funds by any religious school, although it did not advance Grant’s other aim of requiring states to provide public education to all children. The bill passed the House but failed in the Senate. Although it never passed Congress, and left Blaine open to charges of anti-Catholicism, the proposed amendment served Blaine’s purpose of rallying Protestants to the Republican party and promoting himself as one of the party’s foremost leaders.

Secretary of State, 1889–1892

Harrison had developed his foreign policy based largely on Blaine’s ideas, and at the start of his term, Harrison and Blaine had very similar views on the United States’ place in the world. In spite of their shared worldview, however, the two men became personally unfriendly as the term went on. Harrison was conscious that his Secretary of State was more popular than he, and while he admired Blaine’s gift for diplomacy, he grew displeased with Blaine’s frequent absence from his post because of illness, and suspected that Blaine was angling for the presidential nomination in 1892. Harrison tried to limit how many "Blaine men" filled subordinate positions in the State Department and denied Blaine’s request that his son, Walker, be appointed First Assistant Secretary, instead naming him Solicitor of the Department of State. Despite the growing personal rancor, the two men continued, with one exception, to agree on the foreign policy questions of the day.