James G. Blaine

Oil portrait of James G. Blaine
James G. Blaine, painting by Freeman Thorpe, 1905. Accessed trough “The Capitol Project” University of Virginia

James G. Blaine was a Republican politician from the state of Maine. Blaine served in the U.S. House of Representatives as congressman and as Speaker of the House, U.S. Senate, and the U.S. Secretary of State. ” His long tenure in public life, his commitment to Republicanism, and his ability to rally large numbers of both party workers and voters all suggest he was an excellent candidate” (Halloran 255).  Highly favored as a possible presidential nominee going into the 1876 and 1880 presidential conventions, he ultimately lost the nominations to Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876 and James Garfield in 1880, in part due to allegations of corruption.  Blaine won the presidential nomination in 1884, but lost the election to Democrat Grover Cleveland.

Both Nast and the chief editor at Harper’s Weekly, George William Curtis strongly felt Blaine was not the man to lead the Republican Party or the United States in 1880. (Halloran 255). Their respective careers at Harper’s Weekly, championing Republican values, made each man in his own way, important political powerhouses in the Republican Party.

Only The New York Times welcomed Blaine’s nomination.” The remaining and traditional New York press, including Harper’s Weekly, were troubled by his nomination (West 83).

Morton Keller believes that for Nast, Blaine represented everything that was wrong with the Republican Party, and the reasons for the “threat of Democratic supremacy” lied with the Republican leadership failing to lead on their “social and ideological commitment” (Keller 324).

Nast began to attack Blaine in his cartoons as early as 1878  when it became apparent that as a U.S. Senator, Blaine was the kind of Republican who was “willing to abrogate the terms of the Burlingame Treaty in order to secure a Chinese Exclusion measure” (Paine 413). His first attacks on Blaine began on account of Blaine’s “advocacy of Chinese Exclusion” (Paine 386). According to Nast’s biographer, Blaine was “heartsick” by Nast’s renditions and worried that the images would spoil his chance at the presidency. Blaine, cognizant of Nast’s influence where political figures were concerned, appealed to Nast directly through correspondence.

Blaine had been an early supporter of an earlier version of the Chinese Exclusion Act, a bill that had “passed both Houses, but was firmly and bravely vetoed by President Hayes” (Paine 413). Nast saw Blaine’s support as pandering for California votes.

“Throughout U.S.history, politicians and pundits have reshaped the meaning of “America” amid moral panics and national dilemmas” (Tchen/Yeats).  Depicting the Chinese as evil and dangerous allowed political power brokers to determine the immigration policy that determined American eligibility. Politicians like James G. Blaine took the lead against the Chinese. A position for which Thomas Nast could not abide or forgive.

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Thomas Nast's cartoons of Chinese Americans

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