James Gillespie Blaine (January 31, 1830 – January 27, 1893) was a U.S. Representative, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, U.S. Senator from Maine, two-time United States Secretary of State, and champion of the Half-Breeds. He was a dominant Republican leader of the post-Civil War period, obtaining the 1884 Republican nomination, but lost to Democrat Grover Cleveland.
His paternal grandfather was another James Blaine, the first of the family to settle in Brownsville. He was elected Justice of the Peace for several years. His paternal great-grandfather Col. Ephraim Blaine (1741-1804), served in the Continental Army during the American War of Independence, from 1778 to 1782 as commissary-general of the Northern Department. His wife was Rebekah Galbraith.
With many early evidences of literary capacity and political aptitude, James Blaine graduated at Washington College (now Washington and Jefferson College) in nearby Washington, Pennsylvania, in 1847, where Blaine was a member of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity. Subsequently, Blaine taught at the Western Military Institute in Blue Lick Springs, Kentucky, and from 1852 to 1854, he taught at the Pennsylvania Institution for the Blind in Philadelphia. During this period, also, he studied law. Blaine married Harriet Stanwood on June 30, 1850.
Editorial work was soon abandoned for a more active public career. Blaine served as a member in the Maine House of Representatives from 1859 to 1862, serving the last two years as Speaker of the House. He also became chairman of the Republican state committee in 1859, and for more than 20 years personally directed every campaign of his party. Among Blaine's adoring admirers, he was known as the "Plumed Knight."
Blaine was elected as a Republican to the 38th United States Congress and to the six succeeding U.S. Congresses and served from March 4, 1863, to July 10, 1876, when he resigned. He was Speaker of the House for three terms—during the 41st through 43rd United States Congresses. He served as chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Rules during the 43rd through 45th United States Congresses, followed by over four years in the Senate.
The House was the fit arena for his political and parliamentary ability. He was a ready and powerful debater, full of resource, and dexterous in controversy. The tempestuous politics of the Civil War and Reconstruction period suited his aggressive nature and constructive talent. The measures for the rehabilitation of the states that had seceded from the Union occupied the chief attention of Congress for several years, and Blaine bore a leading part in framing and discussing them. The primary question related to the basis of representation upon which they should be restored to their full rank in the political system. A powerful section contended that the basis should be the body of legal voters, on the ground that the South should not be given more seats as long it disenfranchised Freedmen. Blaine, on the other hand, contended that representation should be based on population instead of voters, as being fairer to the North, where the ratio of voters varied widely, and he insisted that it should be safeguarded by security for impartial suffrage. This view prevailed, and the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was substantially Blaine's proposition.
James Blaine of Maine opposed the Radical Republican scheme of military governments for the southern states, insisting there be a clear path by which they could release themselves from military rule and resume civil government. He was the first in Congress to oppose the claim, which gained momentary and widespread favor in 1867, that the public debt, pledged in coin, should be paid in greenbacks. He took up the cause of naturalized American citizens who, on return to their native land, were subject to prosecution on charges of disloyalty. His work led to the treaty of 1870 between the United States and Britain, which placed adopted and native citizens on the same footing.
When President Andrew Johnson appointed General Hugh B. Ewing as U.S. Minister to Holland in 1866, James Blaine urged for Ewing to be recalled and replaced with his brother Charles. James Blaine of Maine told the President that Hugh was 'acting badly', although this seems to have arisen out of James Blaine's personal conflict with President Johnson. James Blaine was disingenuous, having represented to prominent politicians in Ohio, including Senator John Sherman, that he was doing everything possible to nominate his close personal friend Ohioan General Roeliff Brinkerhoff for the post. Nonetheless, James Blaine's request to recall General Ewing was never acted upon, and Ewing served until 1870.
In 1875, allegedly to promote the separation of church and state, Blaine proposed a constitutional amendment that would prohibit the use of public funds by any religious school. The amendment did not pass at the federal level, falling only four votes short of the required two-thirds majority in the Senate, but a majority of states subsequently adopted similar laws, which are commonly known as Blaine Amendments. The amendment did not forbid generic religious instruction at public schools, so long as it was not under the control of a particular sect. (Indeed, public schools continued to teach Biblical studies and religious instruction for some years even in states which adopted Blaine Amendments.)
Catholics denounced the Blaine Amendment as anti-Catholic, but it was strongly supported by pietistic Protestants, especially Methodists, Baptists and Congregationalists.
James Blaine of Maine was an unsuccessful candidate for nomination for President on the Republican ticket in 1876. (See U.S. presidential election, 1876, U.S. presidential election, 1880.) His chance for securing the 1876 nomination, however, was damaged by persistent charges that as a member of Congress he had been guilty of corruption in his relations with the Little Rock & Fort Smith Railway and the Northern Pacific Railway. By the majority of Republicans, he was considered to have cleared himself completely, and at the Republican National Convention he missed the nomination for President by only 28 votes, being finally beaten by a combination of supporters of all the other candidates going to dark horse nominee Rutherford B. Hayes. He was mocked by political opponents as Blaine, Blaine, James G. Blaine, the continental liar from the State of Maine!
James Blaine of Maine was appointed and subsequently elected as a Republican to the United States Senate. He served for four years, and his political activity was unabated— currency laws were especially prominent in his legislative portfolio. Blaine, who had previously opposed greenback inflation, now resisted depreciated silver coinage. He championed the advancement of American shipping, and advocated generous subsidies, insisting that the policy of protection should be applied on sea as well as on land.
James Blaine of Maine was re-elected and served from July 10, 1876, to March 5, 1881, when he resigned to become Secretary of State. While in the Senate, he held the minor chairmanships of the U.S. Senate Committee on Civil Service and Retrenchment (45th Congress) and U.S. Senate Committee on Rules (also 45th Congress). During this period he tried again for a Presidential nomination: the Republican National Convention of 1880, divided between the two nearly equal forces of Blaine and former President Ulysses Grant—John Sherman of Ohio also having a considerable following—struggled through 36 ballots, when the friends of Blaine, combining with those of Sherman, succeeded in nominating James A. Garfield.
He was the unsuccessful Republican nominee for President in 1884; he was the only nonincumbent Republican nominee to lose a presidential race between 1860 and 1912, and only the second Republican Presidential nominee to lose at all. (See U.S. presidential election, 1884.) Republican reformers, called "Mugwumps," supported Cleveland because of Blaine's reputation for corruption. After heated canvassing, during which he made a series of brilliant speeches, he was beaten by a narrow margin in New York. Many, including Blaine himself, attributed his defeat to the effect of a phrase, "Rum, Romanism and Rebellion", used by a Protestant clergyman, the Rev. Samuel D. Burchard, on October 29, 1884, in Blaine's presence, to characterize what, in his opinion, the Democrats stood for. "Rum" meant the liquor interest; "Romanism" meant Catholics; "Rebellion" meant Confederates in 1861.
The phrase was not Blaine's, but his opponents made use of it to characterize his hostility toward Catholics, some of whom probably did switch their vote. Blaine's mother was a Roman Catholic of Irish descent and his sister was a nun, and speculation was that he might gain votes from a heavily Democratic group. However, Catholics were already suspicious of Blaine over his support of the Blaine Amendments, and this confirmed many suspicions.
Refusing to be a presidential candidate again in 1888, he became Secretary of State in the Cabinet of President Benjamin Harrison from 1889 to 1892.
His service at State was distinguished by several notable steps. In order to promote the friendly understanding and cooperation of the nations on the American continents he projected a Pan-American Congress, which, after being arranged for and led by Blaine as its first president, was frustrated by his retirement. (Its most important conclusions were the need for reciprocity in trade, a continental railway and compulsory arbitration in international complications.) Shaping the tariff legislation for this policy, Blaine negotiated a large number of reciprocity treaties which augmented the commerce of his country.
He upheld American rights in Samoa, pursued a vigorous diplomacy with Italy over the lynching of 11 Italians accused of being Mafiosi who murdered the police chief in New Orleans in 1891, held a firm attitude during the strained relations between the United States and Chile over a deadly barroom brawl involving sailors from the USS Baltimore; and carried on with Britain a controversy over the seal fisheries of Bering Sea—a difference afterward settled by arbitration. Blaine sought to secure a modification of the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty, and in an extended correspondence with the British government strongly asserted the policy of an exclusive American control of any isthmian canal which might be built to connect the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
Blaine died in Washington at the age of 62 and was interred in Oak Hill Cemetery. Reinterment took place in the Blaine Memorial Park, Augusta, Maine, in June 1920.
Blaine is featured as the President of the United States in Harry Turtledove's Timeline 191 novel How Few Remain, in which he leads the United States to defeat against the Confederate States of America in the Second Mexican War. Following this defeat, he is remembered as the second, and last Republican president (as of 1946). His defeat in the Second Mexican War combined with Abraham Lincoln's loss of the American Civil War pushes the Republican Party to the political margins. This situation is exacerbated by the party being caught ideologically between the Socialists on the left, and the Democrats on the right.