James G. Blaine

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James G. Blaine : biography

31 January 1830 – 27 January 1893

Blaine and his wife and daughters sailed for Europe in June 1887, visiting England, Ireland, Germany, France, Austria-Hungary, and finally Scotland, where they stayed at the summer home of Andrew Carnegie. While in France, Blaine wrote a letter to the New-York Tribune criticizing Cleveland’s plans to reduce the tariff, saying that free trade with Europe would impoverish American workers and farmers. The family returned to the United States in August 1887. His letter in the Tribune had raised his political profile even higher, and by 1888 Theodore Roosevelt and Henry Cabot Lodge, both former opponents, urged Blaine to run against Cleveland again. Opinion within the party was overwhelmingly in favor of renominating Blaine.

As state conventions drew nearer, Blaine announced that he would not be a candidate. His supporters doubted his sincerity and continued to encourage him to run, but Blaine still demurred. Hoping to make his intentions clear, Blaine left the country and was staying with Carnegie in Scotland when the 1888 Republican National Convention began in Chicago. Carnegie encouraged Blaine to accept if the convention nominated him, but the delegates finally accepted Blaine’s refusal. John Sherman was the most prominent candidate and sought to attract the Blaine supporters to his candidacy, but instead found them flocking to Benjamin Harrison of Indiana after a telegram from Carnegie suggested that Blaine favored him. Blaine returned to the United States in August 1888 and visited Harrison at his home in October, where twenty-five thousand residents paraded in Blaine’s honor. Harrison defeated Cleveland in a close election, and offered Blaine his former position as Secretary of State.

1880 presidential election

Hayes had announced early in his presidency that he would not seek another term, which meant that the contest for the Republican nomination in 1880 was open to all challengers—including Blaine. Blaine was among the early favorites for the nomination, as were former President Grant, Treasury Secretary John Sherman of Ohio, and Senator George F. Edmunds of Vermont. Although Grant did not actively promote his candidacy, his entry into the race re-energized the Stalwarts and when the convention met in Chicago in June 1880, they instantly polarized the delegates into Grant and anti-Grant factions, with Blaine the most popular choice of the latter group. Blaine was nominated by James Frederick Joy of Michigan, but in contrast to Ingersoll’s exciting speech of 1876, Joy’s lengthy oration was remembered only for its maladroitness. After the other candidates were nominated, the first ballot showed Grant leading with 304 votes and Blaine in second with 284; no other candidate had more than Sherman’s 93, and none had the required majority of 379. Sherman’s delegates could swing the nomination to either Grant or Blaine, but he refused to release them through twenty-eight ballots in the hope that the anti-Grant forces would desert Blaine and flock to him. Eventually, they did desert Blaine, but instead of Sherman they shifted their votes to Ohio Congressman James A. Garfield, and by the thirty-sixth ballot he had 399 votes, enough for victory.

Garfield placated the Stalwarts by endorsing Chester A. Arthur of New York, a Conkling loyalist, as nominee for vice president, but it was to Blaine and his delegates that Garfield owed his nomination. When Garfield was elected over Democrat Winfield Scott Hancock, he turned to Blaine to guide him in selection of his cabinet and offered him the preeminent position: Secretary of State. Blaine accepted, resigning from the Senate on March 4, 1881.

1884 presidential election

Nomination

In the months leading up to the 1884 convention, Blaine was once more considered the favorite for the nomination, but President Arthur was contemplating a run for election in his own right. George Edmunds was again the favored candidate among reformers and John Sherman had a few delegates pledged to him, but neither was expected to command much support at the convention. John A. Logan of Illinois hoped to attract Stalwart votes if Arthur’s campaign was unsuccessful. Blaine was unsure he wanted to try for the nomination for the third time and even encouraged General William T. Sherman (John Sherman’s older brother) to accept it if it came to him, but ultimately Blaine agreed to be a candidate again.