Monday, February 6, 2017

“Ma, Ma, Where’s My Pa?”


Despite the legend that he had made the pejorative comment about “Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion,” Blaine seemed the ideal Republican candidate.  While he was raised Protestant, his mother was Catholic, and had his siblings brought up in that faith.  Catholics tended to view him with a tolerant eye if only because fanatic nativists questioned his faith.  Blaine even managed to oppose government aid to religious institutions without coming across as anti-Catholic.

U.S. support was believed key to Irish Home Rule
Blaine was also thought to look favorably on the cause of Irish nationalism that was absorbing politics in the United Kingdom at this time.  Believing that he would put the force of the U.S. government behind settling the Home Rule question, both the Irish Nation and Patrick Ford’s Irish World endorsed his candidacy.
Ford’s endorsement of Blaine outraged his friend, the agrarian socialist Henry George . . . even though George supported no one in the election.  This was not because George opposed Charles Stewart Parnell (1846-1891), “the Chief” who was head of the Home Rule party in Ireland, due to Parnell’s advocacy of widespread ownership of land, where George pushed for nationalization.
George refused to support Blaine because of Blaine’s stand on the tariff and because he was a Republican.  He also refused to support Grover Cleveland, the Democratic candidate.
It seems that Cleveland had alienated the powerful Tammany Hall political machine.  He had taken a reform position and, despite the endorsement he received, refused to accede to any of their demands.
Cleveland, the "traitor," not delivering the spoils.
This seemed the height of ingratitude.  After the fall of Boss Tweed, Honest[1] John Kelly had taken over the Tammany Tiger, the first Catholic to head up the Democratic organization.  To forestall a power grab by Tammany’s Brooklyn rivals, Kelly had endorsed Cleveland for governor.
Rather than repay favors, however, Cleveland had refused to distribute spoils.  As governor, he rejected state job applications connected with or emanating from Tammany Hall (including that of Henry George, who then declared that Cleveland must be corrupt despite his reforms), refused to back a “Freedom of Worship” bill, and vetoed legislation giving aid to a Catholic orphanage system.  While not completely consistent with his reform program, Cleveland’s actions were essential to distance his administration from corrupt machine politics.
What Kelly regarded as Cleveland’s treason split the Democratic Party.  In an effort to prevent Cleveland’s nomination for president, Tammany Hall spread rumors that he was anti-Catholic and opposed Home Rule for Ireland.  It was also falsely alleged that in a speech during the Democratic convention, General Edward Stuyvesant Bragg (1827-1912) had declared, “the Irish may go and be damned.”[2]
The campaign took mudslinging to new depths.  The Democrats wasted no time in reminding people that Blaine had sponsored the proposed amendment to prohibit aid to Catholic schools.  It was also alleged — falsely — that he had been a prominent member of the Know-Nothing movement.
"Another Voice for Cleveland"
Nevertheless, Blaine’s active campaign contrasted favorably with Cleveland’s “front porch” style.  It also didn’t hurt that many of Blaine’s relations were Catholic — his cousin was Mother Superior of a convent.
A clincher appeared to be that Cleveland had assumed financial responsibility for a child fathered on a woman of questionable reputation who had intimate relations with a number of men.  This was widely taken as an admission of guilt.  Republicans gleefully chanted, “Ma, Ma, where’s my Pa?  Sittin’ in the White House, ha, ha, ha!” . . . countered with Democrats labeling "Blaine, Blaine, James G. Blaine, the continental liar from the state of Maine" for his connection with shady railroad deals.
Still, had it not been for the Reverend Burchard’s “unfortunate remark” on “Black Wednesday,” October 29, 1884, Blaine could very well have walked into the presidency on the Catholic vote.  As it was, as noted in the first posting in this series, the election was very close.
#30#


[1] Marlin calls him “Big John,” ibid., 108, 111.
[2] Ibid., 109.

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