|The date did manage to slip by without much fanfare but if you're a history buff like me - even though I'm not sure exactly what a “history buff” is - I AM sure you know why Nov. 4, 1884, is such an important date here in Maine.
That’s right! It was on that date that the election of 1884 was held, and it was also the day on which a Mainer - our own James G. Blaine - came closer than any Mainer before or since to being elected president of these United States.
On November 4, 1864, New York Gov. Grover Cleveland narrowly defeated our Republican U.S. Sen. James G. Blaine to become the first Democrat elected president since before the Civil War. Little ol' New York decided the election, giving Gov. Cleveland the state's 36 electors by a margin of just 1,047 of 1,167,003 votes cast, and no Mainer has come closer than that since. But it's the way Blaine lost New York that's the real story.
I guess one advantage of being a history buff is knowing a little about historical events like the election of 1884 and the small comfort you get from knowing that the rascals we have running for office these days seem almost decent when compared to those nineteenth century political rascals.
Those who've studied it closely say the election of 1884 was one of the dirtiest elections in American history, filled with all kinds of good, wholesome all-American things like mudslinging and acrimony. Sound familiar?
Democrats that year nominated Grover Cleveland - known to some as “Grover the good” - because he was seen as a clean, honest reformer who was first elected reform mayor of Buffalo and then governor of New York. So imagine the shock when the Buffalo Evening Telegraph reported that Cleveland had fathered a child out of wedlock, and that the child had gone to an orphanage, and that the poor mother had been driven to an asylum.
Shocked by the news, the Cleveland campaign decided that maybe candor would be the best approach to the whole mess. They admitted that Cleveland had an "illicit connection" with the mother and that a child had been born and was given the Cleveland surname. But they also said that there was no proof that Cleveland was the daddy, though he took responsibility for the child and found it a home.
Voters seemed content with Cleveland's honest explanation and the presidential race against our own Sen. Blaine remained close. The mudslinging and acrimony continued unabated.
In the final weeks of this bitter campaign Blaine suffered a direct hit from the political equivalent of a torpedo to the waterline and at first he didn't even know he'd been hit.
What happened was a group of New York preachers visited Blaine and made a bunch of fiery speeches saying all kinds of nasty things about his opponents. Their spokesman was a wild-eyed preacher named the Rev. Dr. Samuel Burchard. At one point during his emotional rant, the Rev. Burchard referred to Blaine's opponents as being members of a party of “Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion.”
Blaine just sat there nodding and smiling, having no idea that the Rev. Burchard had just made an anti-Catholic slur. But a sharp, attentive Democratic operative standing by did notice the slur and quickly passed it along to Cleveland's campaign managers who - just as quickly - made sure that it was widely publicized. And remember, this was way before YouTube.
They say that single statement riled up the Catholic vote in New York City, and in a matter of days it seemed like everyone in New York was against Maine's Blaine.
It's said that one nasty remark cost Blaine New York State and by losing New York he lost the election by one of the narrowest margins in political history. And that is how Mainer James G. Blaine managed to not become president.
It's hard to imagine a statement like that throwing an election today but who knows? Maybe someone should try it again and see what happens.