CHAPTER VIII. THE OVERTURN OF 1884
No less a contrast existed between Blaine and Cleveland as political characters. The former's experience in the machinery of politics, in the disposal of its loaves and fishes, has already been mentioned. Of that part of politics, Cleveland had had no experience. It is said that he never was in Washington, except for a single day, until he went there to become President. Both were bold and active fighters, but Blaine was a strategist, a manager and a diplomat, while Cleveland could merely state the policy which he desired to see put into effect, and then crash ahead. Blaine had the instinct for the popular thing, was never ahead of his party, was surrounded by his followers; Cleveland saw the thing which he felt a moral imperative to accomplish and was far in advance of his fellows. The Republican was popular among the professional political element in his party and was supported by it; the Democrat never was. Cleveland openly declared his attitude on controverted issues, in words that admitted of no ambiguity and at times when only silence or soft words would save him from defeat. Blaine lacked the moral courage and the indifference to immediate results which were necessary for so exalted an action. Cleveland had more of the reformer in his nature, and had so keen a sense of responsibility and duty that his political career was a succession of battles against things that seemed wrong to him. Blaine accepted the party standards as they were; he belonged to the past, to the policies and political morality of war and reconstruction; Cleveland belonged to the transition from reconstruction to the twentieth century.
The particular thing, however, that came out of Blaine's past to dog his foot-steps, give him the enmity of the Independents - better known as the "Mugwumps" - and, doubtless, to defeat him, was a series of transactions exposed in the Mulligan letters. In order to understand these, it is necessary to inquire into events that occurred fifteen years before the overturn of 1884. In April, 1869, a bill favorable to the Little Rock and Fort Smith Railroad - an Arkansas land-grant enterprise - was before the House of Representatives. Blaine was Speaker. As the session was near its close and the bill seemed likely to be lost, its friends bespoke Blaine's assistance. He suggested that a certain point of order be raised, which would facilitate the passage of the measure, and also asked General John A. Logan to raise the point. Logan did so, Blaine sustained him and the act was passed. Nearly three months later, Warren Fisher, Jr., a Boston business man, asked Blaine to participate in the affairs of the Little Rock Railroad. Blaine signified his readiness, closing his letter with the words, "I do not feel that I shall prove a dead-head in the enterprise if I once embark in it. I see various channels in which I know I can be useful." When Blaine's enemies got hold of this, they declared that he intended to use his position as Speaker to further the interests of the road, as he had done at the time of the famous point of order; his friends asserted that he intended merely to sell the securities of the road to investors. Whether one of these contentions is true, or both, he did sell considerable amounts of the securities of the road to Maine friends, getting a "handsome commission." Considerable correspondence passed between Blaine and Fisher from 1869 to 1872 when their relations ended. Blaine understood that all their correspondence was mutually surrendered.
In the spring of 1876, the presidential campaign was on the horizon and Blaine was a prominent candidate for the Republican nomination. Meanwhile ugly rumors were flying about concerning the connection of certain members of Congress, Blaine among them, with questionable railroad transactions, and he arose in the House to deny the charges. He did not discuss the matter fully, as he did not wish his Maine constituents to know that he had received a large commission for selling Little Rock securities. Gossip grew, however, and a congressional investigation resulted in May, 1876. Blaine was one of the witnesses, but was doubtless anxious to bring the investigation to an end, since it clearly reduced his chances of receiving the nomination. Presently gossip said that Warren Fisher and James Mulligan were going to testify. Mulligan had been confidential clerk to one of Mrs. Blaine's brothers and later to Fisher. When Mulligan began his testimony it appeared that he intended to lay before the committee a package of letters that had passed between Blaine and Fisher, and thereupon, at Blaine's whispered request, one of the members of the committee procured an adjournment for the day. That evening Blaine found Mulligan at the latter's hotel and prevailed on him to surrender the letters temporarily, in order that Blaine might read and then return them. Blaine thereupon consulted two lawyers and on their advice he refused to restore the package to Mulligan. Merely to keep silence, however, was to admit guilt. Blaine, therefore, arose one day in the House of Representatives and holding the letters in his hand read selections and defended himself in a remarkable burst of emotional oratory. At the climax of this defence he elicited from the chairman of the committee of investigation an unwilling admission that the committee had suppressed a dispatch which Blaine declared would exonerate him. Blaine was triumphant, his friends sure that he had cleared himself and the matter dropped for the time. Further investigation was prevented by Blaine's refusal to produce the letters even before the committee and by his sudden illness shortly afterward. His election to the Senate soon took him out of the jurisdiction of the House committee and no action resulted.