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The 19th Century Divorce That Seized the Nation and Sank a Presidential Candidate



In 1891, South Dakota had a few of the laxest divorce legal guidelines in the nation, and Sioux Falls had the nicest resort for a whole bunch of miles. And in order that spring, Mary made the four-day journey from New York City for a divorce that regulation and society would deny her at residence. She would grow to be generally known as considered one of the first of the “divorce colony,” a coterie of sad wives — for it was the ladies amongst the divorce seekers who induced the most consternation — whose private selections to depart their husbands compelled the challenge into the nationwide dialog.

Mary lived in Sioux Falls together with her three-year-old son for nearly a 12 months — the state regulation’s required 90 days to achieve residency and then the months it took her case to make its manner by the courts. Throughout that point, the intimate particulars of life in the Blaine household performed out in the newspapers. In courtroom filings, Mary accused Jamie of abandonment and neglect, however the headlines painted a portrait of a wayward boy spoiled by his household and forgiven for each blunder.

Jamie had been broadly generally known as the black sheep of the Blaine household since he had been kicked out of at the very least three preparatory faculties for, the newspapers gleefully reported, drunkenness, petty theft and dalliances with the refrain women. At 23, his continued dangerous conduct ensured the Jamie was not welcome in good D.C. society, however his father nonetheless appeared decided to disregard his son’s ingesting, flirting, fist fights, incapability to carry a job and crippling debt.

James had begun to gear up for a struggle, sending a non-public investigator to pry into Mary’s life. When Mary appeared in a South Dakota courtroom in February 1892, some 250 folks turned out to observe what was certain to be fiery divorce proceedings — however the Blaines didn’t seem in courtroom. The household acquiesced to the divorce in hopes of preventing additional gossip.

The method didn’t work. When the decide awarded Mary her divorce decree, custody of her son and alimony, he additionally delivered a beautiful rebuke not simply of Jamie — “reprehensible,” with a “hardness of heart” and “reprobacy of mind” — however of the total Blaine household for its function in climbing divorce fee. From the bench, in entrance of keen reporters, the decide declared, “the cause of the estrangement and separation, so far as the court is able to judge from the testimony, was the unfriendliness on the part of the family of the defendant.”

James G. Blaine Sr. was a grasp orator. On the stump, he commanded consideration like a main man standing in the highlight. But earlier than he was a politician with a nationwide platform and the capability to attract hundreds to a rally, James had been a journalist, and he nonetheless typically turned to the pen to make his case. In his Senate days, James had pioneered the artwork of the Sunday night time information launch. Knowing from private expertise the issue of filling the Monday morning version after a quiet weekend, James picked that second to ship statements or share his correspondence with pleasant papers certain to print them as information. In this fashion, his voice reached not hundreds however tens of millions. Over the years, he used this platform to tell the public about his journey plans, his well being and his candidacy for prime workplace.

In the days after Mary obtained her decree, James sat down once more to write down. James had stayed mum whereas his household’s non-public issues performed out in the papers, however silence had not confirmed to be a successful technique for the man identified for his conversational excesses. The assertion of the courtroom made clear to him that he had underestimated Mary and the effectiveness of her story. And so, on Sunday, February 28, 1892, James launched “a personal statement” to the press. The subsequent morning, it stuffed two full columns on the entrance pages of the nation’s newspapers.

The Blaine household had been maligned in a South Dakota courtroom, however James would enchantment the ruling to the courtroom of public opinion. With the love letters that Mary wrote to his son in the early days of their courtship as proof, James penned an indictment of the younger lady — and any lady who would avail herself of the courts to seek out freedom from her husband.

James’ youngest son’s conduct — sufficient to “turn the feelings of every moral man in the country,” Mary’s lawyer had warned — had given Democrats ample ammunition in opposition to candidate Blaine, and now James sought to vary the narrative.



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