JAMES G. BLAINE (R)
Winner: GROVER CLEVELAND (D)
No man was ever big enough to conduct a Presidential contest for himself. The intense interest a candidate must have in the struggle, and the constant strain upon him, would unbalance the most forceful intellect the world has ever produced. James G. Blaine would have been matchless in the skilful management of a Presidential campaign for another, but he was dwarfed by the overwhelming responsibilities of conducting the campaign for himself, and yet he assumed the supreme control of the struggle and directed it absolutely from start to finish. He was of heroic mould, and he wisely planned his own campaign tours to accomplish the best results. In point of fact, he had won his fight after stumping the country, and lost it by his stay in New York on his way home. He knew how to sway multitudes, and none could approach him in that important feature of a conflict; but he was not trained to consider the thousand intricacies which fall upon the management of every Presidential contest.
Three causes combined to lose New York by 1,100 majority when the electoral vote of that state would have made him President. One was his implacable quarrel with Conkling, that lost him 1,000 votes, cast directly for his opponent in Conkling's county of Oneida. They had quarreled when both were comparatively young and rivals for the leadership of the House. In a heated controversy between them Blaine unhorsed Conkling, and inflicted wounds which never healed, and they never spoke from that time during their lives. When both were members of the Senate, if either had occasion to refer to the remarks made by the other, instead of referring to the "Senator from Maine" or the "Senator from New York," they would say: "It has been stated on this floor." Many efforts were made to bring them together, but Conkling was an intense hater, and Blaine was willing to be broken rather than bend. He dined with Jay Gould during his brief stay in New York City, and that brought him no votes and lost him many.
The Burchard episode, that Blaine was blunderingly brought into in New York just on the eve of the election, was very generally accepted as costing him more than enough votes to have given him the State of New York, and thereby his election to the Presidency. It was miserably bad politics in its conception and could not have been more bunglingly executed. Blaine had suffered much from the attacks upon his public integrity, and some of his friends in New York assumed that it would be a great card to have him called upon by 40 or 50 ministers of different denominations and congratulated as the candidate for President.
As originally planned it might have accomplished some good, and certainly would not have done any harm. It was intended that Rev. Dr. Tiffany should deliver the address to Blaine. He was one of the most eloquent divines of the country, was well up in politics, had been in active political movements in Pennsylvania as a leader in the American party when he was connected with Dickinson's College, and was a candidate for United States Senator before the Legislature of 1855. Had he delivered the address to Blaine, it would have been an elegant and faultless congratulation, but when the ministers met some of them strenuously objected to Dr. Tiffany as the oracle of the party, and there were indications of considerable ill-feeling. There was little time for conference, and the dispute was suddenly ended by some one proposing that the oldest minister present should deliver the address to Blaine, and that was adopted to settle the dispute.
Dr. Burchard, unfortunately, happened to be the oldest minister in attendance, and he was rampant against "Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion," but none supposed for a moment that he would make such a fearful break as to publicly denounce Romanism in an address of congratulation to a Presidential candidate, whose mother and sisters were devout Catholics. On his way home from the West he had visited his sister at a convent in Indiana, where she was Mother Superior. Burchard, of course, had no opportunity for preparation, and when the ministerial crowd came into the presence of Blaine he fired off his address in a manner not highly creditable, and proclaimed the fatal sentence against "Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion."
Blaine in his reply made no reference to that feature of Dr. Burchard's address, and he seems not to have appreciated its fearful import until the next day, when he gave out an interview, disclaiming sympathy with it; but it was accepted as an afterthought, and that deliverance of Dr. Burchard certainly drove away from Blaine more than the 600 votes necessary to give him the State of New York and the Presidency. I saw Blaine soon after the election, and asked him why it was that he overlooked the expression at the time. He was a man of such keen perception and so ready in every emergency that I was amazed at his failure to turn the blunder to his advantage, as he could have done by a generous expression on the religious issue involved. He told me that he heard the expression distinctly, but that his mind was just then concentrated on his reply, as he generally spoke spontaneously, and that he thereby failed to become impressed with its importance. He said that when the proceedings were over, and he gave it a moment's reflection, he saw what a fearful mistake had been made; but the emergency was extreme and called for immediate action, and he unfortunately hesitated until another day had passed. It was then too late, and Dr. Burchard certainly cost Blaine many more votes than would have given him his election. Had Blaine been under the command of a competent chairman of his national committee, he would never have been permitted to stop in New York after his great battle had been fought before the people, and had he gone directly from the West to his home in Maine, he would have been President instead of Cleveland.
Blaine and Tilden are the only men I can recall who undertook to manage a Presidential contest for themselves, and both suffered defeats, for which they were wholly responsible.
Blaine committed many serious blunders during the campaign of 1884. He and Cleveland were both made the targets of flagrant scandals, and when the Cleveland scandal was sent to Blaine in the early part of the contest, instead of peremptorily forbidding its use as a campaign factor, as would have been most wise, he sent it to his national committee, and it was given publicity. The Blaine scandal was sent to Cleveland early in the fight, and he at once gave notice to those in charge of his campaign that any personal scandals against Blaine should not have the sanction of the Democratic organization. Blaine never would have committed such a mistake if he had been managing a Presidential campaign for another, and had he been such responsible manager, he never would have permitted a libel suit to be instituted against a newspaper publisher for any scandal, however false and malignant. He was a man of intense earnestness, and the intensity of his interest in his own election for the Presidency unbalanced his judgment and made him often the creature of impulse when he should have been most dispassionate and philosophical. The scandals did not affect a thousand votes out of the many millions cast for President, and Blaine suffered vastly more than Cleveland, because he dignified the scandal against himself by legal proceedings for defamation. The fact that he voluntarily discontinued the suit after the election is the best evidence of the error committed against himself.
From Our Presidents: And How We Make Them, by Alexander Kelly McClure. Originally published by Harper & Brothers in 1900.