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Unlike my radio talk show where we talk a lot about politics and listeners call with all kinds of profound and insightful comments, we try not to get too political here at Storyteller Central. Here, we try to be just profound and insightful.
Lately, though, we’ve gotten a lot of e-mails from people who want to know things that might be borderline between the world of politics and the realm of storytelling.
“What are you talking about John,” I hear some of you mumble to yourself as you read this. “ Just where is that borderline?” I will ignore such questions at this time and instead press on with what I intended to write about in the first place.
After the recent election, several readers -- who admitted up front to being new arrivals from away -- wanted to know if any famous Maine politicians ever ran for president. In a somewhat related matter, more than one reader wrote to ask how Maine’s Governor’s Mansion -- the Blaine House -- got its name.
I say “somewhat related” because the Blaine House was once owned and occupied by one of Maine most successful politicians – James G. Blaine – who ran unsuccessfully for president more than almost anyone else in the 19th century.
Who was he?
Well, first of all, although he hated to admit it in public here in Maine, James G. Blaine was from away. He was born in 1830 in the sleepy little town of West Brownsville, Penn. If you know anything about West Brownsville you know why Blaine decided to leave as soon as he could arrange it.
Blaine came up here to Maine in 1854 when he was hired as editor of the Kennebec Journal in Augusta. Later, in what some would consider a step up and others would consider a step down, he moved to Portland to become editor of the Portland Advertiser.
In 1859 Blaine got himself elected to the Maine House of Representatives where he served three years, the last year as Speaker. Then he moved on to Congress as a representative from Maine. He had done so well as Speaker of the Maine House that his colleagues in Congress elected him Speaker there as well.
In 1876 he resigned from Congress and ran unsuccessfully for the Republican nomination for President. He ran for the same nomination four years later and lost once again. Third time being the charm – at least for the nomination -- Blaine became the Republican candidate for president in 1884, but he managed to lose the election, anyway, to Grover Cleveland. He came SO close.
How close?
Well, he lost New York state, and thereby the election, by 1,000 votes. Many people, including Blaine, thought he lost because of remarks made in New York on the eve of the election by the Rev. Samuel D. Burchard, supposedly on Blaine’s behalf. In an emotional speech, the teetotaling, anti-Catholic Burchard referred to the opposing party – the Democrats -- as the party of “…Rum, Romanism and Rebellion!”
Such a speech may not ruffle many feathers today, but back in the 1880s it got lots of people all riled up. Despite the fact that this occurred well before talk radio, “Crossfire,” “Hardball” and “Larry King Live,” the reverend’s words spread like wildfire throughout New York’s immigrant population offending many Irish Catholics in the process.
In the remaining hours of the campaign Blaine reminded New York voters that his own mother was a Catholic but it was not enough.
If you’re a political junkie into stats I’ll just add that by losing the election of 1884 Blaine became the only non-incumbent Republican between 1856-1912 to lose a race for the presidency.
Blaine died in Washington in 1893 and his body was later brought back to Augusta where he was buried in Blaine Memorial Park.
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly throughout New England. John’s e-mail address is
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