Blaine, John James 1873 - 1934 | Wisconsin Historical Society

Historical Essay

Blaine, John James 1873 - 1934

Blaine, John James 1873 - 1934 | Wisconsin Historical Society

politician, governor, U.S. Senator, b. Town of Wingville, Grant County. He attended public schools in Montfort, and received a law degree from Northern Indiana Univ. at Valparaiso (1896). Returning to Wisconsin, he was admitted to the bar in 1897, practiced briefly in Montfort and then settled in Boscobel. A Progressive Republican, he was mayor of Boscobel for four terms. He served in the state senate (1909-1912) where he gained prominence (1909) as a leader in the investigation of the campaign expenditures of Senator Isaac Stephenson (q.v.) in an attempt to block his re-election. A vigorous advocate of progressivism and the principles of Robert M. La Follette, Sr. (q.v.), Blaine frequently bolted orthodox Republican lines. He was a La Follette delegate to the Republican convention of 1912 and, when the nomination was given to Theodore Roosevelt, was one of the organizers and vice-president of the Wilson National Progressive Republican League. In 1914 he was an independent Progressive candidate for governor and in 1918 he was elected state attorney general, serving from Jan., 1919, to Jan., 1921. In 1921 he became governor, an office that he held for three consecutive terms (Jan., 1921-Jan., 1927). Although hampered during part of his administration by a hostile legislature, Blaine was instrumental in the passage of many progressive measures. He was successful in promoting pro-labor legislation, creating the state department of markets, fostering a campaign to wipe out bovine tuberculosis, providing equal rights for women, and readjusting inheritance and income taxes. During his administration, state constitutional amendments were passed providing greater home rule for cities and villages and for recall of elective public officials. In 1926 he won the Republican nomination for U.S. Senator over the more conservative incumbent Irvine L. Lenroot (q.v.), was elected, and served from 1927 to 1933. A vigorous opponent of prohibition, Blaine was one of the leaders in the Senate to repeal the 18th Amendment. He championed the cause of labor and agriculture and, in line with Progressive principles, opposed large government appropriations and American membership in the World Court and the League of Nations. He cast the only vote in the Senate against ratification of the Kellogg-Briand Treaty. In 1932 he sought reelection to his Senate seat, but was defeated in the Republican primary by a dark horse, John B. Chapple. Although he always ran for office on the Republican ticket, Blaine shifted his allegiance frequently in national elections. He supported Robert La Follette, Sr., and the Progressive ticket in the presidential election of 1924, Democrat Al Smith in 1928, and Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932. One of the most important men in the Progressive movement, Blaine was often ranked next to La Follette in political importance. After leaving the Senate in 1933 he was appointed by President Roosevelt as a director of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation. Milwaukee Sentinel, Apr. 17, 1934; Madison Capital Times, Apr. 17, 1934; W. F. Raney, Wis. (New York, 1940); Wis. Blue Book (1927); J. J. Blaine Papers.

The Wisconsin Historical Society has manuscripts related to this topic. See the catalog description of the John James Blaine Papers for details.

View a related article at Wisconsin Magazine of History Archives.

View newspaper clippings at Wisconsin Local History and Biography Articles.

Learn More

Explore more than 1,600 people, places and events in Wisconsin history.

[Source: Blue book]