In 1854 Blaine moved to Maine, where he became a newspaper editor and, in the political turmoil of the 1850s, served as one of the "founding fathers" of the new Republican party. More than any other political figure of his time, Blaine seemed to symbolize the success--and occasional failure--of the Republican party in the Gilded Age of the late nineteenth century. He launched his political career in 1858, winning a seat in the state legislature, and became chair of the Republican State Committee in 1859. He chose, as many others did, to hire a substitute when drafted for the Civil War. Instead, Blaine was elected to the House of Representatives in 1862, beginning what has been described as a "long, colorful, and controversial national record" (Marcus, p. 7). After three terms in Congress, at the age of thirty-nine, he became Speaker of the House in 1869. Blaine served in that capacity until 1875, when the Republicans lost control of the House. This six-year term in a powerful and rewarding position represents the least controversial phase of his career on the national scene in what has been called "probably . . . the happiest period of Blaine's life" (Muzzey, p. 63).
Over and over again, contemporaries spoke of Blaine's "magnetism," the nineteenth-century equivalent of charisma. Many of the most sophisticated Republicans of the time indeed were drawn to him and devoted much of their political lives to a continuing crusade to put Blaine in the White House.