Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: West Brownsville, Washington County
A Congressman and Senator from Maine, West Brownsville native James G. Blaine would become the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives.
James Gillespie Blaine was born on January 31, 1830 in West Brownsville, Pennsylvania. He graduated from Washington and Jefferson College in 1847 at the age of seventeen. He met his wife, Harriet Stanwood with whom he had six children with, while teaching at the Western Military Institute at Georgetown, KY. Blaine was one of the "founding fathers" of the Republican Party. He eventually was the Speaker of the House, and had been a candidate for the presidency twice. During his retirement he wrote his memoirs Twenty Years of Congress: From Lincoln to Garfield in two volumes. After suffering the deaths of three of his children, he died in Washington in 1893 at the age of 63.
James Gillespie Blaine was born on January 31, 1830 in West Brownsville, Pennsylvania to Ephraim L. Blaine and Maria Gillespie Blaine. He came from a Scotch-Irish background from a family with a long history in the United States. The Blaine and Gillespie families had strong homes, were well and educated, as well as well-known. In 1843 when Blaine was thirteen he entered Washington and Jefferson College, which he had graduated from in four years. This school consisted of a small faculty which taught only the basics in subjects such as history, political science, psychology, social studies, mathematics, and biological or physical laboratory studies. After college and only a few weeks before his 18 th birthday, Blaine started a career as a teacher at the Western Military Institute at Georgetown in Kentucky. For three and a half years he taught mathematics and ancient languages. Before he left the Institution, he met Harriet Stanwood, a teacher at Millersburg Seminary, an all-girls school twenty miles from Georgetown. Eventually their friendship turned into love and they were married on June 30, 1850. It was a year later at the end of the school year that Blaine had resigned from the Institute in 1851. In order to support his newly-born son and wife, he accepted a position at The Pennsylvania Institute for the Education of the Blind as an instructor in English and literature. Soon after, Blaine had been approached about filling the position of chief editor for the Kennebec Journal. He quickly accepted and moved his family to Augusta, Maine in 1854. By the age of twenty-four he became quite familiar with his environment in New England and absorbed in the influences of its history and became known as "Blaine of Maine." He left the Kennebec Journal to become the editor of The Portland Daily Advertiser in 1857, but in 1860 returned to the Kennebec Journal. Though he performed his academic duties successfully, it was not education, but politics that was in his heart. In 1858 Blaine, at the age of twenty-nine had been elected to the Legislature. He spent two years on the floor of the Lower House and two years in the chair. One year later became chair of the Republican State Committee. It was in 1862, that Blaine was elected to the House of Representatives. He served three years in the House and then became Speaker of the House in 1869. Throughout his life, Blaine had gained many enemies who tried to ruin his political career. One such attempt was the famous Mulligan Letters. A man from Boston, James Mulligan, claimed to have an assortment of letters from Blaine to Warren Fisher Jr. Mulligan had been the bookkeeper for Fisher who was the builder of Little Rock and Fort Smith, Arkansas. The information in these letters were thought to be damaging to Blaine's reputation, according to his political opponents. Blaine then ordered Mulligan to return the personal letters, and Mulligan obliged. The way in which Blaine reacted to the situation only made him look guiltier. He tried to gain back his respect by reading parts of the letters to the House, but the uncertainty of his character remained. A political leader, Colonel Robert G. Ingersoll of Illinois, gave a speech in which he was the first to call Blaine "The Plumed Knight." He is quoted in Northrop's Life and Public Services of Hon. James G. Blaine as saying Blaine was a "heroic spirit, his courageous bearing and manly characteristics, all of which united to make him the most magnetic political leader of his time." For the first ballot for the nomination for the presidency, Blaine received 285 votes. On the seventh ballot he received 351, but was beaten out by Rutherford B. Hayes who received 384 votes, and the nomination. The Republican National Convention gave him continuous support for the presidential nomination from 1880 until 1892 even though he never campaigned for any nomination after 1876. In December 1876, Blaine was appointed to be United States Senator after the resignation of Senator Lot M. Morill. Blaine had been just as active in the Senate as he had been in the House. He took part in all significant debates and was known as a leader on the Republican side. President Garfield had offered Blaine the Secretary of State's position, which in 1880 he accepted. He was confirmed by the Senate in 1881 and immediately assumed office. Blaine resigned as chair of the Republican State Committee of Maine in 1881, and seemed to retire; though his popularity remained the same through the beginning of the decade. During this time he began writing his memoirs Twenty Years of Congress: From Lincoln to Garfield in two volumes. In 1884, Blaine had received the majority vote for the presidential nomination and John A. Logan was selected to be his running mate. Seven weeks before the election, he began an exhausting travel schedule, spanning the Northeast and the Midwest. While at an appearance in New York City he met with Reverend Samuel D. Burchard. Burchard portrayed the Democrats as the part of "Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion" (referring to liquor, Catholics, and the former Confederacy). Blaine, usually attentive, did not respond to these accusations which led Democrats to quickly notify the New York's Irish Catholic community. The Irish Catholic community, which had previous supported Blaine, after hearing this decided to instead stand behind Grover Cleveland for the vote for presidency. Cleveland ended up receiving the New York electoral vote by only a difference of 36. The campaigning period for the 1884 election was very close and bitterly contested between Blaine and Cleveland. Cleveland's campaign slogan was "Blaine, Blaine, James G. Blaine, The Continental Liar from the State of Maine." This was referring to Blaine's involvement in unethical business deals with the railroad industry and his behavior after they were exposed. Blaine's campaign slogan was "Ma, Ma, Where's my Pa, Gone to the White House, Ha, Ha, Ha." This was referring to the illegitimate child Cleveland allegedly fathered. After losing the presidency to Cleveland, Blaine appeared to retire once more to work on his memoirs. His health had been steadily deteriorating through the next few years. Blaine was eventually restricted to his bed with back pain and in the beginning of 1890 Blaine's son, Walker, had pasted away from pneumonia, and less than three weeks later his daughter Alice also died. Blaine reportedly was never the same after experiencing the loss of his children. Blaine had been feeling the pressure to become the candidate for the presidential election, and then unexpectedly resigned as the Secretary of State a few days before the Republican National Convention in Minnesota in 1892. A few days after the convention another of Blaine's sons, Emmons, died from appendicitis. It is believed that after the death of his third child, Blaine could not endure any more. He had become fatally ill in early January and died in Washington.
Twenty Years of Congress: From Lincoln to Garfield: Vol. One. Norwich, CT: Henry Bill, 1884.
Twenty Years of Congress: From Lincoln to Garfield: Vol. Two. Norwich, CT: Henry Bill, 1893.
Gould, Lewis L. "The Readers Companion to American History—James G. Blaine." Houghton Mifflin. 21 Jan. 2006.
Spetter, Allan Burton. "James Gillespie Blaine." American National Biography. 2006. 7 Mar. 2006. <>http://www.anb.org/>.
Tyler, Alice Felt. The Foreign Policy of James G. Blaine. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1927
This biographical sketch was prepared by Heather Schillaci.
Photo Credit: "Baline, Hon. J. G. of Maine." c. 1870-1880. Photography. Licensed under Public Domain. Cropped to 4x3. Source: Library of Congress : Brady-Handy photograph collection. Source: Online Resource.