a1 Selwyn College, Cambridge CB3 9DQ, Englandand a Staff Tutor at the Cambridge University Board of Extra-mural Studies. He wishes to thank Dr John Thompson of St Catharine's College, Cambridge, for his many helpful suggestions about this article.
James Gillespie Blaine has been seen by his contemporaries and historians alike as the archetypal late nineteenth-century politician. Acclaimed by supporters as the “Plumed Knight” and derided by opponents as the “continental liar from the state of Maine,” his political career was impressive. He was Speaker of the House of Representatives, Senator from Maine, came within 2,000 New York votes of winning the Presidency in 1884, and was twice Secretary of State. But his reputation endures mainly as a corrupt and unscrupulous politico. Historians have labelled him immoral, demagogic and “openly anti-British.” They have depicted him as a spokesman for a “seething” late nineteenth–century Anglophobia who was “excessively political, notably in his penchant for cultivating the Irish at Great Britain's expense.” This aspect of Blaine's reputation has been misinterpreted. However, he can still stand as the personification of politics at a time when the spread-eagle rhetoric of campaigns co-existed with pragmatism in policy formulation.