20 Ill-Fated Powerful Men in U.S. History
20 Ill-Fated Powerful Men in U.S. History

20 Ill-Fated Powerful Men in U.S. History

Steve - June 5, 2019

20 Ill-Fated Powerful Men in U.S. History
Photograph of James G. Blaine, by Matthew Brady and Levin Corbin Handy (c. between 1870 and 1880). Wikimedia Commons.

2. Stealing the nomination from President Chester A. Arthur at an acrimonious nominating convention in 1884, James G. Blaine subsequently lost the election to Democratic Party candidate Grover Cleveland

A charismatic speaker and early supporter of Abraham Lincoln, James Gillespie Blaine represented Maine in the House of Representatives from 1863 to 1876, serving as its Speaker for six years between 1869 and 1875. Serving also in the Senate for a single term from 1876 to 1881, as well as Secretary of State under three separate presidents across two periods, Blaine unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination in both 1876 and 1880. Becoming the last individual to successfully overcome a sitting president for their party’s nomination, in 1884 Blaine won on the fourth ballot at a fractious nominating convention to dethrone the incumbent President Chester A. Arthur.

Despite entering the election in good standing, Blaine’s image quickly became tarred by accusations of corruption in connection to his prior business involvement with the railroads. Suffering the abandonment of a group of reformist Republicans – the Mugwumps – the dissatisfied collective was comprised chiefly of supporters of President Arthur embittered by their champion’s defeat in the primaries and the ill-grace of Blaine and his supporters in its aftermath. Unable or unwilling to seek to appease the unhappy faction, the group threw their weight behind Democratic candidate Grover Cleveland and Blaine lost the election by 219 to 182 electoral votes.

20 Ill-Fated Powerful Men in U.S. History
Photograph of Henry Clay, by either Julian Vannerson or Montgomery P. Simons (c. 1848). Wikimedia Commons.

1. Attempting to win a presidential election on three separate occasions, Henry Clay failed in 1824, 1832, and 1844, representing different parties on each flawed effort

Representing Kentucky in both the United States Senate and House of Representatives, interrupting these positions with a single term as Secretary of State from 1825 and 1829, Henry Clay Sr. was a widely celebrated politician of his age. Chosen as Speaker of the House on three separate occasions, holding the title for a combined total of ten years, his capacity for mediation and defusing crises earned him the affable moniker of “Great Compromiser”. Finishing fourth on his first attempt to become president in 1824, carrying only three states and winning thirty-seven electoral votes, it has been alleged Clay’s support for John Quincy Adams during the resultant contingent election in the House was won as part of a “corrupt bargain” for his subsequent cabinet position.

Running against Jackson in the 1832 presidential election as the National Republican candidate, although performing marginally better among an equally crowded four-way slate, Clay likewise lost. Claiming just six states and forty-nine electoral votes, Clay, however, was not to be dissuaded. Trying for a final time in 1844, Clay successfully won the Whig nomination in the absence of John Tyler, meeting Democratic nominee James K. Polk in the general election. Offering his best performance, albeit not enough, Clay lost by 170 to 105 electoral votes, winning eleven states to Polk’s fifteen.


Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“Rufus King: American Federalist”, Robert Ernst, University of North Carolina Press (1968)

“Harry Truman’s Improbable Victory and the Year that Changed America”, David Pietrusza, Union Square Press (2011)

“Truman Defeats Dewey”, Gary A. Donaldson, University of Kentucky Press (2000)

“We Almost Made It”, Malcolm D. MacDougall, Crown Publishing (1977)

“Presidential Elections, 1789-2008: County, State, and National Mapping of Election Data”, Donald Richard Deskins, Hanes Walton, and Sherman Puckett, University of Michigan Press (2010)

“Encyclopaedia of American Political Parties and Elections”, Larry Sabato and Howard Ernst, Infobase Publishing (2007)

“The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party: Jacksonian Politics and the Onset of the Civil War”, Michael F. Holt, Oxford University Press (1999)

“Presidential Also-Rans and Running Mates: 1788 Through 1996”, Leslie Southwick, McFarland Publishing (1998)

“Truman’s Triumphs: The 1948 Election and the Making of Postwar America”, Andrew E. Busch, University of Kansas Press (2012)

Harry Truman and the Election of 1948: The Coming of Age of Civil Rights in American Politics”, Harvard Stitkoff, Journal of Southern History (November 1971)

“Horace Greeley and the Politicians: The Liberal Republican Convention in 1872”, Matthew T. Downey, The Journal of American History (March 1967)

“Grant or Greeley? The Abolitionist Dilemma in the Election of 1872”, James M. McPherson, American Historical Review (1965)

“Founding Myths: Stories that Hide our Patriotic Past”, Ray Raphael, New Press (2004)

“The Eagleton Affair: Thomas Eagleton, George McGovern, and the 1972 Vice Presidential Nomination”, James N. Giglio, Presidential Studies Quarterly (2009)

“Right from the Start: A Chronicle of the McGovern Campaign”, Gary Hart, Quadrangle Publishing (1973)

“Charles Cotesworth Pinckney: Founding Father”, Marvin R. Zahniser, University of North Carolina Press (1967)

“Adlai Stevenson: Television, and the Presidential Campaign of 1956”, Douglas Slaybaugh, Illinois Historical Journal (1996)

“The Election of 1860 Reconsidered”, James A. Fuller, Kent State University Press (2011)

“The Election of 1860: A Campaign Fraught with Consequences”, Michael F. Holt, University Press of Kansas (2017)

“Henry A. Wallace: His Search of a New World Order”, John Maze and Graham White, University of North Carolina Press (1995)

“The Last Campaign: How Harry Truman Won the 1948 Election”, Zachary Karabell, Vintage Publishers (2001)

“Nativism and Slavery: The Northern Know Nothings and the Politics of the 1850s”, Tyler Anbinder, Oxford University Press (1992)

“Millard Fillmore: Biography of a President”, Robert J. Rayback, Pickle Partners Publishing (1959)

“Liberalism’s Last Hurrah: The Presidential Campaign of 1964”, Gary Donaldson, M.E. Sharpe Publishing (2003)

“To Defeat a Maverick: The Goldwater Candidacy Revisited, 1963-1964”, Jeffrey J. Matthews, Presidential Studies Quarterly (1997)

“Free Soil: The Election of 1848”, Joseph G. Rayback, University Press of Kentucky (2014)

“Martin Van Buren and the Emergence of American Popular Politics”, Joel H. Silbey, Rowman and Littlefield Publishers (2002)

“The 1984 Election in Historical Perspective”, William E. Leuchtenburg, Baylor University Press (1986)

“The Return of the Democratic Party to Power in 1884”, Harrison Cook Thomas, Forgotten Books (2018)

“Henry Clay: America’s Greatest Statesman”, Harlow Giles Unger, Da Capo Press (2015)

“Henry Clay and the Election of 1844: The Limits of a Rhetoric of Compromise”, David Zarefsky, Rhetoric and Public Affairs (2003)