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Bible Encyclopedias

1911 Encyclopedia Britannica

James Gillespie Blaine

JAMES GILLESPIE BLAINE (1830-1893), American statesman, was born in West Brownsville, Pennsylvania, on the 31st of January 1830, of sturdy Scottish-Irish stock on the side of his father. He was the great-grandson of Colonel Ephraim Blaine (1741-1804), who during the War of Independence served in the American army, from 1778 to 1782 as commissary-general of the Northern Department. With many early evidences of literary capacity and political aptitude, J. G. Blaine graduated at Washington College in Washington, Pennsylvania, in 1847, and subsequently taught successively in the Military Institute, Georgetown, Kentucky, and in the Institution for the Blind at Philadelphia. During this period, also, he studied law. Settling in Augusta, Maine, in 1854, he became editor of the Kennebec Journal, and subsequently of the Portland Advertiser. But his editorial work was soon abandoned for a more active public career. He was elected to the lower house of the state legislature in 1858, and served four years, the last two as speaker. He also became chairman of the Republican state committee in 1859, and for more than twenty years personally directed every campaign of his party.

In 1862 he was elected to Congress, serving in the House thirteen years (December 1863 to December 1876), followed by a little over four years in the Senate. He was chosen speaker of the House in 1869 and served three terms. 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 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 could not then secure an increment of political powet on account of the emancipated blacks unless these blacks were admitted to political rights. 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 Constitution was substantially Blaine's proposition. In the same spirit he opposed a scheme of military governments for the southern states, unless associated with a plan by which, upon the acceptance of prescribed conditions, 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 favour in 1867, that the public debt, pledged in coin, should be paid in greenbacks. The protection of naturalized citizens who, on return to their native land, were subject to prosecution on charges of disloyalty, enlisted his active interest and support, and the agitation, in which he was conspicuous, led to the treaty of 1870 between the United States and Great Britain, which placed adopted and native citizens on the same footing.

As the presidential election of 1876 approached, Blaine was clearly the popular favourite of his party. His chance for securing the nomination, however, was materially lessened by persistent charges which were brought against him by the Democrats that as a member of Congress he had been guilty of corruption in his relations with the Little Rock & Fort Smith and the Northern Pacific railways.' By the majority of Republicans, at least, he was considered to have cleared himself completely, and in the Republican national convention he missed by only twenty-eight votes the nomination for president, being finally beaten by a combination of the supporters of all the other candidates. Thereupon he entered the Senate, where his activity was unabated. Currency legislation was especially prominent. Blaine, who had previously opposed greenback inflation now resisted depreciated silver coinage. He was the earnest champion of the advancement of American shipping, and advocated liberal subsidies, insisting that the policy of protection should be applied on sea as well as on land. The Republican national 1 This attack led to a dramatic scene in the House, in which Blaine fervidly asseverated his denial.

War. He died at Silver Spring, Maryland, on the 27th of July 1883.

Another Son, Francis Preston Blair, jun. (1821-1875), soldier and political leader, was born at Lexington, Kentucky, on the 19th of February 1821. After graduating at Princeton in 1841 he practised law in St Louis, and later served in the Mexican War. He was ardently opposed to the extension of slavery and supported Martin Van Buren, the Free Soil candidate for the presidency in 1848. He served from 1852 to 1856 in the Missouri legislature as a Free Soil Democrat, in 1856 joined the Republican party, and in1857-1859and1861-1862was a member of Congress, where he proved an able debater. Immediately after South Carolina's secession, Blair, believing that the southern leaders were planning to carry Missouri into the movement, began active efforts to prevent it and personally organized and equipped a secret body of l000 men to be ready for the emergency. When hostilities became inevitable, acting in conjunction with Captain (later General) Nathaniel Lyon, he suddenly transferred the arms in the Federal arsenal at St Louis to Alton, Illinois, and a few days later (May ro, 1861) surrounded and captured a force of state guards which had been stationed at Camp Jackson in the suburbs of St Louis with the intention of seizing the arsenal. This action gave the Federal cause a decisive initial advantage in Missouri. Blair was promoted brigadier-general of volunteers in August 1862 and a major-general in November 1862. In Congress as chairman of the important military affairs committee his services were of the greatest value. He commanded a division in the Vicksburg campaign and in the fighting about Chattanooga, and was one of Sherman's corps commanders in the final campaigns in Georgia and the Carolinas. In 1866 like his father and brother he opposed the Congressional reconstruction policy, and on that issue left the Republican party. In 1868 he was the Democratic candidate for vice-president on the ticket with Horatio Seymour. In1871-1873he was a United States senator from Missouri. He died in St Louis, on the 8th of July 1875.

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Bibliography Information
Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'James Gillespie Blaine'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica. 1910.

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