James Blaine served as Speaker of the House of Representatives, U.S. Senator, and Secretary of State. The Republicans nominated him for the presidency in 1884. His nomination culminated a successful political career. Blaine secured the nomination in 1884 with a dramatic eulogy for President James Garfield.
1884 Republican presidential nominee James Blaine entered politics in 1856. He spent six years in local Maine politics before ascending to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1862. Blaine’s political and parliamentary skills led to his elevation to the speakership in just seven years. He was the favorite for the presidency in 1876, but scandal derailed his candidacy. As a result, he moved to the U.S. Senate until becoming secretary of state in 1881.
President Garfield appointed Blaine to his cabinet, but the administration lasted only six months. Charles Guiteau shot the president on July 2, 1881. Garfield lingered for nearly three months and finally expired on September 19, 1881. Chester Arthur assumed the presidency upon Garfield's death. Blaine tendered his resignation, but Arthur asked he stay on until congress returned from recess. Blaine remained at his post until December 19.
Blaine delivered a stirring eulogy for his president and former colleague. The address went into print in 1882. The former secretary of state tied Garfield to history and eternity. It linked the fallen president to Lincoln and painted him as a man of conscience. Blaine portrayed the president as quintessentially American. Garfield rose from poverty, with few opportunities for education, and became president. On top of this, President Garfield served the nation in the Civil War. Therefore, he was a hero and public servant. Basically, Blaine transformed Garfield into a martyr. The president did what he had to do for his country and sacrificed his life. The eulogy was reminiscent of Ted Kennedy’s remarks at his brother, Robert’s, funeral in 1968.
The emotionally charged eulogy propelled Blaine back to the forefront of presidential contenders. Scandal derailed his first attempt in 1876. The speech brought new attention to Blaine. Afterward, the former speaker spent two years out of the spotlight. He wrote his memoirs and returned to politics in time for the 1884 Republican National Convention. President Arthur wanted the nomination, but proved too unpredictable for the party bosses. They turned to Blaine, who won the nomination on the fourth ballot. He never trailed in the nomination contest, but eventually lost the 1884 general election to Grover Cleveland. Blaine returned to the state department in 1889. President Benjamin Harrison appointed him secretary of state once more. He retired in 1892.
James Blaine had always been among the top tier of American politicians. He was the Republican frontrunner for the presidential nomination on two occasions. Blaine rehabilitated his reputation with a brilliantly crafted eulogy for President Garfield. The speech catapulted the out-of-work politician back to the forefront of politics. Blaine’s effort demonstrated the power of rhetoric in moving public sentiment.