James Gillespie Blaine was born in West Brownsville, Pennsylvania, south of Pittsburgh. His father was a large landowner who provided an excellent education for his son. Blaine graduated from Washington College (later Washington and Jefferson) in 1847 and spent several years as a teacher, first in a military academy and later a school for the blind. In 1854, Blaine moved to Maine to become part owner of a local newspaper. In 1859, Blaine became chairman of the Republican state party organization, a position he would hold for more than 20 years. He served three terms in the Maine legislature and in 1863, was elected to Congress. Blaine developed a reputation as a skilled parliamentarian and later was elected speaker of the house.
He opposed the reconstruction plan of Andrew Johnson and later voted in favor of impeachment. In 1866, Blaine uttered remarks alluding to Roscoe Conkling as "the turkey gobbler member from New York," an obvious reference to Conkling`s bearing as a physical fitness enthusiast; the two would remain bitter political rivals. In 1876, Blaine was elected to the U.S. Senate where he was a firm supporter of hard money programs and protective tariffs. He was a backer of Rutherford B. Hayes and leader of the Half-Breed faction of the party; he was opposed by Conkling and the Stalwarts. Blaine failed to win the Republican nomination in 1876 and again in 1880. He was politically hurt by apparent involvement in a railroad scandal. Blaine was rewarded for his support of James A. Garfield in 1880, by being named secretary of state; he resigned shortly after President Garfield`s assassination. In 1884, Blaine received the Republican nomination on the first ballot, but disaffected liberals – the so-called Mugwumps – objected to the candidate`s questionable dealings and threw their support to the Democrat Grover Cleveland. The resulting campaign was exceptionally bitter and provided a narrow victory for the Democrats. Blaine refused to seek the nomination in 1888, threw his support to Benjamin Harrison and later received an appointment as secretary of state. Blaine carried out his duties with relish and made contributions to Pan-Americanism and to U.S. expansionism. Blaine resigned as secretary of state in 1892, to wrest the nomination from President Harrison, but was unsuccessful.
James G. Blaine was truly a master politician – an accomplished public speaker, bright, well-schooled on the issues, and a great behind-the-scenes operator. Despite being one of the most able figures of his day, Blaine`s maneuverings with politicians and big business earned him powerful enemies.