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Blaine Scandals: Mulligan Letters and Marriage
Republican presidential nominee James Blaine had been tarred with the taint of corruption since 1876. In 1869, Blaine used his influence as speaker of the house to ensure passage of a land grant for the Little Rock & Fort Smith Railroad. In gratitude, Warren Fisher, one of the firm's contractors, allowed Blaine to sell securities in the railroad company and, at the speaker's insistence, pocket a suspiciously large commission in bonds. When the railroad had financial difficulties, resulting in the bonds becoming nearly without value, one of the firm's wealthy backers, Tom Scott, bought the almost worthless bonds back from Blaine and his friends at a price well above their market value. In return, Speaker Blaine pushed legislation to benefit Scott's Texas & Pacific Railroad.

The scandal first came to light when Blaine was seeking the Republican nomination in 1876. Blaine attempted to exonerate himself on the floor of the House, but copies of letters to Fisher were revealed by a disgruntled company clerk, James Mulligan. An official House investigation, though, was dropped when Blaine was appointed to the Senate. Blaine's questionable dealings, as well his attempt to cover up the scandal by lying to his colleagues and the public, came back to haunt him when he sought the Republican nomination in 1880 and the presidency in 1884. The full text of the letters was published widely in newspapers during 1884. As a postscript to one of the Mulligan letters (as they became known), Blaine had scribbled, "Burn this letter!" Democratic followers chanted that phrase at political rallies during the campaign.

Blaine also had to deal with his own sex scandal. The rumor originally appeared on the back-page of The New York Times in 1876, but, with Blaine's loss of the nomination, failed to gain public attention. In late August 1884, the Indianapolis Sentinel revived the allegation that as a young man Blaine had impregnated a young woman, whom he married only under threat of her father's shotgun. The Republican nominee swiftly denied the charge, and sued the newspaper for libel. He was probably trying to force a public retraction, but the tactic backfired. The newspaper could not prove their case of a shotgun-marriage, but it did produce evidence that the Blaines had married in Pittsburgh on March 29, 1851, and that their first child was born less than three months later on June 18.

Blaine's response was that there had been two marriage ceremonies. A private one in Millsburg, Pennsylvania, on June 30, 1850, without a minister, public notice, or state license. When the couple was living in Kentucky, Blaine feared that the lack of license made the marriage illegitimate under Kentucky law, so they remarried in Pittsburgh with a minister and license. At the time, however, it was Kentucky that did not require a marriage license and Pennsylvania that did. Other irregularities in Blaine's story came to light, such as the fact that June 30, 1850, occurred on a Sunday, a day when most Protestants would not schedule a wedding. Also, Blaine would have been only twenty years old, and thus a minor marrying without parental approval.  Whatever the reality was (and of the eyewitnesses, only the Blaines were still alive in 1884), the Republican nominee once again seemed like a liar, in contrast to his Democratic rival, and Blaine's possible involvement in a premarital sexual relationship uncut the force of the Republican use of Cleveland's Maria Halpin affair.

Republican Campaign
Blaine's letter of acceptance promoted the benefits of a protective tariff and greater trade with Latin America, two issues of vital interest and importance to the nominee. Previously known for his prevalent "waving of the bloody shirt" (associating the Democratic party with secession, rebellion, and violence), in 1880 Blaine had encouraged the Garfield campaign to emphasize the tariff, instead. In his 1884 letter of acceptance, the Republican nominee observed (wrongly) that a changing South made the bloody shirt irrelevant. He also emphatically approved of civil service reform, and, unlike Cleveland's vague endorsement, Blaine detailed ways of expanding it, such as including the foreign service. The Mugwumps, however, were not buying such a last-minute conversion. Blaine made tariff protection the core of his campaign.

Like Garfield, Blaine was very active managing the campaign behind the scenes. The chairman of the Republican National Committee was Benjamin Jones, a wealthy steel magnate from Pittsburgh, but daily operations were handled by Stephen Elkins, a coal baron from West Virginia and a close friend of Blaine's. President Arthur remained aloof from the Republican campaign, but vice-presidential nominee John Logan dedicated all his energies to the battle. Logan concentrated on extolling the virtues of the previous five Republican administrations, which a Blaine-Logan administration would continue. Logan served the ticket loyally, even though he and Blaine were known to dislike each other, and the Illinois senator was never welcomed into Blaine's inner circle. Except for vigor, Logan did not bring much to the Republican ticket. He was popular with Western Republicans, but so was Blaine.

Following in the footsteps of Democratic candidates Stephen Douglas (1860), Horatio Seymour (1868), and Horace Greeley (1872), Republican Blaine went on a campaign tour in the fall. It was a grueling schedule of more than 400 speeches across several states over a six-weeks period. He spent two weeks in Ohio, and the state went Republican in its October state elections. After traversing the Midwest, an exhausted Blaine headed for New York.

Blaine's New York Woes
In 1884, New York had more electoral votes than any other state, was competitively contested between Republicans and Democrats, and was crucial for both parties in winning the White House. The personal animosity of John Kelly toward Cleveland had been smoothed over by Hendricks and others, so that the Tammany Hall boss reluctantly supported the Democratic national ticket in New York. The Republican ticket, however, was hindered by the obstinate opposition of former senator Roscoe Conkling. When party mediators solicited his cooperation, the bitter rival of the Republican nominee replied: "Gentlemen, you have been misinformed. I have given up criminal law!" Although Conkling did not actively campaign against Blaine, he did write anonymous commentaries attacking the Republican nominee, which were published in the New York World.

To compound Blaine's trouble in New York, he faced two public-relations disasters in the final days before the election. On October 29, a tired Blaine attended a meeting of Protestant clergy at New York's posh Fifth Avenue Hotel. The attendees passed resolutions endorsing the Republican ticket and condemning the Democratic party. One of the speakers, the Reverend Samuel Burchard, depicted the Democrats as the party of "Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion." The sentiment was nothing new. James Garfield had uttered it in 1876, and it encapsulated mainstream Republican stereotypes of the Democratic party. The political problem for Blaine was that he had been courting Irish Catholic voters, by criticizing British policies toward Ireland. Democrats distributed the remark to Northern cities with large Catholic communities. Blaine did not repudiate Burchard's anti-Catholic slur until after it had been widely publicized and its damage was too great to be reversed.

Making a bad day worse, on the evening of October 29, Blaine attended a fundraising dinner at New York City's elegant restaurant, Delmonico's. The guest list of rich contributors included Jay Gould and John Jacob Astor. Blaine spoke on the topic of the Republican role in generating economic prosperity for New York City and the nation. Unfortunately for the candidate, it lent credence to Democratic claims that the Republicans cared only for the interests of the rich, not the working class. The next day, a damning cartoon by Walt McDougall appeared in the New York World. It condemned the Delmonico dinner through a biblical analogy to the avarice and hedonism of King Belshazzar's court. Entitled "Belshazzar Blaine and the Money Kings," the cartoon featured Blaine and his wealthy contributors feasting greedily on a lavish array of political spoils, while in front of their table a poor family begs for table scraps, unnoticed by the self-indulgent dinner guests.

Election Results
On November 4, 1884, 78 percent of the American electorate cast ballots for president, a figure down only slightly from the turnout in 1880. The results were even closer than the previous election. The election in New York state was so close that it was not known until several days after the polls closed. Cleveland narrowly captured his home state, and won the popular total by less than 3/10 of a percent, collecting 4,875,971 votes (48.5%) to Blaine's 4,852,234 (48.26%). Greenback-Labor nominee Benjamin Butler won 1.8% of the vote, while Prohibitionist nominee John St. John received 1.5%. St. John's New York vote totals were particularly harmful to Blaine.

In the Electoral College, it was New York that provided the Cleveland margin of victory, 219-182. The new Democratic president, the first elected since before the Civil War, also won the entire South; the border states of Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Missouri; plus, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Indiana. Blaine won the rest of the North and all the Western states. In such a close election, many factors have an exaggerated effect: scandals, gaffes, third parties, bad weather, and an economic downturn. But voters on both sides were also casting ballots for positive reasons, because the candidates represented the skill or the character that they wanted to see in the White House and stood for the issues that most concerned them.

Sources consulted: William A. DeGregario, The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents; Mark D. Hirsh, "Election of 1884," in Arthur Schlesinger Jr., ed., History of Presidential Elections; Mark W. Summers, Rum, Romanism, & Rebellion: The Making of a President: 1884; Richard E. Welch Jr., The Presidencies of Grover Cleveland.

 
 
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