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The entire period of Mr. Blaine's public life has been devoted to the support of the principles of the Republican party. In two most important ways he has earned the right to represent that party.
First, as a brilliant, bold, and skillful leader in the House of Representatives, and then as an aggressive, eloquent, and convincing campaign speaker.
In successive presidential contests he advanced the cause and defended the positions of the Republican party in a manner to satisfy his friends and to command the respect and excite the fears of his opponents.
Mr. Blaine was elected a member of the thirty-eighth Congress and he took his seat in December, 1863. His career as a public man then opened before him and at the first session he achieved a national reputation. He was then thirty-three years of age.
That House of Representatives was the first House elected under the pressure and the responsibilities of the war. "Fortunate is that country whose annals are uninteresting," is a maxim whose reason is found in the fact that in peaceful times men of moderate abilities rise to places of distinction and thus the times neither show forth eminent talents in rulers nor extraordinary events in affairs. The Thirty-eighth Congress contained many able men and in American history it is only surpassed by the Thirty-ninth Congress. The House of Representatives numbered among its members Stevens, Kelley, Randall, and Schofield of Pennsylvania; Schenck, Garfield, Cox, Ashley, and Pendleton, from Ohio; Winter Davis, Francis Thomas, and Creswell from Maryland; Wilson, Allison, and Kasson, from Iowa; E. B. Washburne, and Owen Lovejoy from Illinois, and Voorhees, Julian, Orth, and Colfax from Indiana. Many of these men, and others their equals from other States, had had long experience in public affairs. In such an assembly it was no easy undertaking for a new member to rise to a position of recognized equality with old leaders and trained parliamentarians. The House of Representatives always possesses a large share of ability, and the judgment pronounced upon its own members is always a just judgment. Mediocrity and pretense may find favor occasionally, but for a brief period only at most, while capacity to deal with questions and affairs is early recognized and the possessor is accorded his true position freely and without delay. The House is usually just to its own members.
It is a noticeable fact, that of the eminent men who were members of the House of Representatives of the Thirty-eighth Congress, and
especially of those who were members for the first time, a large number were under forty years of age. Of those mentioned, neither Garfield, Blaine, Cox, Ashley, Randall, Pendleton, Creswell, Wilson, Allison, or Voorhees had reached that age. Some of these men had then acquired a national reputation, and others gained that distinction without delay. Mr. Conkling had been elected to the Thirtysixth Congress when he was only thirty years of age, and at an earlier period in our history Webster, Clay, Calhoun and others were known to the country before they had reached that period of life, and their qualities were as well understood, and appreciated as justly as they were in their maturer years.
It is a singular fact, that at this moment there is not one man in the country, and who is less than forty years of age, that has achieved a national reputation in politics or law. The same remarks may be made of England, France, and Germany. If there are exceptions, knowledge of the gifted persons has not reached this country.
The first important debate in which Mr. Blaine took a part related to the tariff, and his speech was called out by an attack made by Mr. Cox of Ohio, upon the system of protection, and consequently upon New England as at once responsible for the wrong and the chief beneficiary of it.
After an elaborate review of the tariff, Mr. Cox said: "I never was afraid of buying in the cheapest market and selling in the dearest market I could find." 'The tendency of the present tariff system, and, in fact, of all tariffs, revenue or protective, more or less, is to drain wealth from the unprotected States and accumulate it in the protected States. It can now be understood why New England accumulates wealth so much more rapidly than the Western States.”
To these assertions and doctrines Mr. Blaine replied, and in his reply he exhibited the qualities which have rendered him efficient in controversial debate and conspicuous before the country. He spoke for Maine as a State, but as a member of the Union, rather than as a State of the New England group. His mode of defense was a system of attack also. Ohio was arraigned as a State that derived more benefit from the system of protection than fell to the State of Maine.
Mr. Cox's speech was prepared with great care, and it was stuffed with statistics, designed to prove that the doctrine of protection was an error, that its application in this country divided the States into two classes—the protected and non-protected,—and that the Eastern States, and the States of New England especially, were protected,
while the States of the West were the non-protected class. In his view, taxation without benefits was imposed upon one set of States, and bounties, which yielded no consideration in return, were distributed to other States. The argument was based upon the census of 1860, supported by writers upon political economy, from Adam Smith to Dr. Wayland, and elaborated through twenty-five columns of the Congressional Globe. Mr. Blaine's reply was made without preparation, and it illustrates, therefore, his ability to command his resources upon the instant-a quality indispensable in a leader.
An inexorable law of parliamentary life assigns to the leader the task of meeting every opponent upon the ground that he may choose, and that without delay. For this task Mr. Blaine was ever ready, and he accepted it not so much as a necessity or a duty as a pleasure which he coveted. If his reply to Mr. Cox does not present him at his best, it illustrates his readiness in debate, his system of defense by attack, and his power to marshal the facts and events in history in support of his views and position.
'It has grown to be a habit in this House, Mr. Chairman, to speak of New England as a unit, and in assailing the New England States to class them together, as has been done to-day by the gentleman from Ohio (Mr. Cox) throughout his entire speech. In response to such attacks, each particular Representative from a New England State might feel called upon to defend the whole section. For myself, sir, I take a different view. I have the honor to represent in part only one State, the State of Maine, and I have no more to do with the local and particular interests of the rest of New England than with any other State in the Union. The other New England States are ably represented upon this floor, and it would be officious and arrogant in me to attempt to speak for them. But when the gentleman from Ohio presumes to charge here that the State I represent receives from Federal legislation any undue protection to her local interests, he either ignorantly or willfully misrepresents the case so grossly, that for ten minutes I will occupy the attention of the House in correcting him.
"If the gentleman from Ohio who has given us such a learned lecture on political economy were at all well posted in regard to the industrial pursuits of the people of Maine, he would know that the great and leading interests are lumber and navigation. Now will the gentleman be good enough to tell the House what protection is extended by the laws of the United States to the lumber interest? At no time in our history, sir, did lumber receive more than a feeble
protection, and even that was taken away ten years ago by the gentleman's political associates when they formed the reciprocity treaty, and thus broke down the only barrier we had, and threw in the whole lumber product of the British Provinces to compete with us. And in regard to our great interest of navigation, will the gentleman be good enough to tell the House when a ship is launched from a Maine ship-yard to engage in the commerce of the world, what protection is given by the United States laws against competition with foreign bottoms? Not a particle, sir. These two great leading interests of my State derive no advantage from Federal legislation, while one of them has been very greatly damaged by the treaty-making power of the Federal Government. I do not hesitate to declare here to-day that the State of Ohio has upon her products and her manufactures ten dollars of protection from Federal legislation where Maine has twenty-five cents.
"But, sir, let us take another view of this matter. The State of Maine consumes every year five hundred thousand barrels of flour, all of which, with a very trifling exception, is brought from the West, and a large proportion, I presume, from the State of Ohio. Now, if the gentleman's logic be good, it would be a very admirable idea for this country to so change its domestic industry as to detach the six hundred thousand people of Maine from their present pursuits and convert them into producers instead of consumers of bread-stuffs and provisions. And let this change be made throughout all the manufacturing and commercial districts of the Union, converting the five million consumers into producers of grain and meats, and the withering effect on the gentleman's State and on the entire West would be too apparent to require a speech of an hour and a half to demonstrate it. Sir, I am tired of such talk as the gentleman from Ohio has indulged in to-day, and in so far that it includes my own State as being a pensioner upon the General Government, or being dependent upon the bounty of any other State, I hurl back the charge with scorn. If there be a State in this Union that can say with truth that her Federal connection confers no special benefit of a material character, that State is Maine. And yet, sir, no State is more attached to the Federal Union than Maine. Her affection and her pride are centered in the Union, and God knows that she has contributed of her best blood and treasure without stint in supporting the war for the Union; and she will do so to the end. But she resents, and I, speaking for her, resent the insinuation that she derives any undue advantage from Federal legislation
or that she gets a single dollar that she does not pay back. As compared with Ohio, whence this slander comes, I repeat, sir, that Maine receives from the Federal legislation no protection worth reckoning.
"No, sir; but the gentleman comes up here and classifies the States of the Union as 'protected' and 'unprotected' States, and he puts my State in the 'protected' class, while the most youthful page on this floor who has studied Mitchell's Geography knows that the gentleman's own State derives from the General Government an immeasurably larger degree of protection for her local interests than the State of Maine does. And I tell the gentleman that he shall not with impunity include my State in his wholesale slander.
"I observe, sir, that a great deal has been said, recently, in the other end of the Capitol in regard to the fishing bounties, a portion of which is paid to Maine. I have a word to say on that matter, and I may as well say it here. According to the records of the Navy Department, the State of Maine has sent into the naval service since the beginning of this war six thousand skilled seamen, to say nothing of the trained and invaluable officers she has contributed to the same sphere of patriotic duty. For these men the State has received no credit whatever on her quotas for the army. If you will calculate the amount of bounty that would have been paid to that number of men had they enlisted in the army instead of entering the navy, as they did, without bounty, you will find it will foot up a larger sum than Maine has received in fishing bounties for the past twenty years. Thus, sir, the original proposition on which fishing bounties were granted that they would build up a hardy and skillful class of mariners for the public defense in time of public danger—has been made good a hundred and a thousand-fold by the experience and the developments of this war.
"Thus much, sir, I have felt called upon to say in response to the elaborate and carefully prepared speech of the gentleman from Ohio. I have spoken in vindication of a State that is as independent and as proud as any within the limits of the Union. I have spoken for a people as high-toned and as honorable as can be found in the wide world. I have spoken for a particular class-many of them my constituents-who are as manly and as brave as ever faced the ocean's storms. And so long, sir, as I have a seat on this floor the State of Maine shall not be slandered by the gentleman from Ohio, or by gentlemen from any other State."