No one from Maine has ever been elected president of the United States. James G. Blaine, one of Maine’s most famous and successful politicians, came closest. Our western neighbor New Hampshire gave the country President Franklin Pierce, but many historians consider him one of our worst. I’d rather not claim any than have to claim Pierce.

Although he hated to admit it, James G. Blaine was actually “from away.” He was born in 1830 in the sleepy little town of West Brownsville, Pa., coming to Maine in 1854 when he was hired as editor of the Kennebec Journal in Augusta. Later, in what some would call a step up and others would consider a step down, he moved to Portland to become editor of the Portland Advertiser. In 1859, Blaine was elected to the Maine House of Representatives, where he served three years, the last as speaker of the House. He then moved on to the U.S. Congress as Maine’s representative. He did so well as speaker of the Maine House that his colleagues in Congress elected him speaker there, as well.

Wanting a better job, Blaine resigned from Congress in 1876 and ran unsuccessfully for the Republican nomination for president. He ran for the same nomination four years later and lost again. Third time being the charm – at least for the presidential nomination – Blaine became the Republican candidate for president in 1884, but managed to lose the election, anyway, to Grover Cleveland.

But he came sooo close. How close?

Well, he lost New York State, and thereby the election, by about 1,000 votes.

Many people, including Blaine, thought he lost because of inflammatory remarks made in New York on the eve of the election by the Rev. Samuel D. Burchard, supposedly on Blaine’s behalf. In a fiery speech Burchard referred to the opposing party – the Democrats – as the party of “rum, Romanism and rebellion!” Blaine sat there on the podium, powerless to do anything

As expected, the emotional speech got lots of people all riled up. And remember, this all occurred well before talk radio, iPhones, Facebook, Twitter and texting. 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. Too much damage had been done by the reverend’s remarks and Blaine lost the election.

The campaign between Blaine and Cleveland became famous for two silly campaign slogans, one aimed at each candidate. (I know. What campaign slogans aren’t silly?)

Cleveland supporters often chanted, “James G. Blaine, James G. Blaine, the continental liar from the state of Maine.” While Blaine supporters, after discovering that Cleveland fathered a child out of wedlock, chanted, “Ma, Ma, where’s my pa?”

After Cleveland won the election, the ending of the chant became, “Gone to the White House, ha, ha, ha.”

Don’t you wish our politics still had such wholesome scandals?

I suppose Longfellow could have written better slogans, but, as far as we know, he never offered his services to either candidate.

John McDonald is the author of five books on Maine, including “John McDonald’s Maine Trivia: A User’s Guide to Useless Information.” Contact him at [email protected]


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