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Maine state law read that if no candidate received 50% of the vote, the legislature decides. Harris Plaistead, Greenback / Democrat candidate (the Greenback party was opposed to the Gold Standard) received 49.9% of the vote, Daniel Davis, Republican, received 49.8% of the vote. The remaining votes were split between Joshua Nye and William P. Joy.
So, the question remained: who would be the next governor? Earlier in the year of 1880 the then Governor, Alonzo Garcelon, a Democrat, had ordered an investigation of voter fraud and determined that the Republicans had cheated and the legislature was, in fact, controlled by the Democrats. Now Garcelon - who had been a Republican until 1868 when, objecting to Reconstruction, switched parties and became a Democrat - decided he needed to act.
The obvious concern among Republicans was that Garcelon would use his power as Governor, and his dislike of the Republicans, to push the Legislature to choose Plaistead over Davis. Interestingly, Plaistead had also been a Republican but had left the part over the party’s monetary policy and found himself a Greenbacker. So, James Blaine, Senator from Maine, and a power in the Republican Party (former Speaker of the House, later Secretary of State, and in 1884 the Republican nominee for President), determined that the Republicans should not lose the State House in Maine, took matters into his own hands. He arrived in the capital with nearly 100 armed men and occupied the State House. Alceron responded by calling out the state militia. Joshua Chamberlain, former Brigadier General, and Governor of Maine from 1867 to 1871, was appointed the head of the militia.
Chamberlain arrived at the State House, dismissed the militia, sent home most of the armed men, and arranged for the Augusta police to keep control. He remained in the State House most of the next 12 days - in some sense a de facto hostage. During that 12 days the governorship was decided.
The Greenbackers and the Democrats together held the majority of the seats in the legislature, but couldn’t arrive at a consensus. The Republicans eventually worked out a plan to stop their opponents from reaching the chamber, held a vote and selected Davis. The result was then sent to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court for a ruling on the election results. During this period, there were threats of assassination and kidnapping, and on one occasion, Chamberlain went outside and faced-down a crowd of 25–30 men intending to kill him; both sides offered him bribes: they would appoint him a United States senator if he helped get their man elected. In any case, the legislature had voted, and the court eventually decided the legislature’s vote was legal (if a bit irregular), and Davis took office. Having gratified neither side in the dispute, Chamberlain did not become a senator, and his career in politics ended.
But, a solution was worked out, and everyone departed peacefully,
The fascinating character in the middle of all this is Joshua Chamberlain, governor of Maine, professor of rhetoric at Bowdoin, president of Bowdoin, a soldier who was wounded six times, who saw 170 of 340 men of his killed in a single day’s combat, who saved the Union line at Gettysburg by ordering a bayonet charge. Chamberlain was man who had seen the very worst that humanity can offer, he and his battalion were also at Marye’s Heights at Fredericksburg, they fought at Cold Harbor and at Petersburg and elsewhere, and he took the surrender of Lee’s Army at Appomattox.
The wound that Chamberlain received at Petersburg in 1864 - a bullet that passed through him from hip to hip - nearly killed him and forced him to wear a catheter for the rest of his life; it caused him to have a never-ending series of infections and fevers, and led to 6 operations attempting to solve the problem. None worked and the wound was blamed for his death 49 years later.
Chamberlain was a hero in every sense, and by literally all accounts bore no grudge against the men he had fought, no bitterness or anger over the men he had lost, no thirst for revenge for the wounds that he bore. Rather, he spoke of a “radiant fellowship of the fallen.”
Chamberlain recognized that we are all imperfect, in fact very imperfect, that we all are answerable for our failings, and that we all must hope and pray for forgiveness.
But we had with us, to keep and to care for, more than five hundred bruised bodies of men - men made in the image of God, marred by the hand of man and must we say in the name of God? And where is the reckoning for such things? And who is answerable? One might almost shrink from the sound of his own voice, which had launched in the palpitating air words of order - do we call it? - Fraught with such ruin. Was it God’s command we heard or his forgiveness we must ever implore?
But he also recognized that there was hope, if we open our hearts.
Those who will may raise monuments of marble to perpetuate the fame of heroes. Those who will may build memorial halls to remind those who shall gather there in after times what manhood could do and dare for right, and what high examples of virtue and valor have gone before them. But let us make our offering to the ever-living soul. Let us build our benefactions in the ever-growing heart, that they shall live and rise and spread in blessing beyond our sight, beyond the ken of man and beyond the touch of time.
Hundreds of the men who served with him were killed, scores of his friends were killed, many, many more were horribly wounded, he himself was wounded six times, horribly wounded once. Yet, as best I can find he never had a harsh word to say about anyone, and he honored and respected the valor of his foes to his death, even as he loathed the institute of slavery. He saw a thousand-fold more horror and pain and suffering than anyone involved in the current rioting and mayhem, yet he was able to forgive, and forget, to look past it, to reconcile, to heal, to build.
Of the army he served in, and of his nation, he later said: “This army will live, and live on, so long as soul shall answer soul, so long as that flag watches with its stars over fields of mighty memory, so long as in its red lines a regenerated people reads the charter of its birthright, and in its field of white God’s covenant with man.”
Chamberlain later recounted how, at Appomattox, where he had accepted the surrender of Lee’s army, that most of the Confederate generals had accepted the end of the war and the results of the fighting. One said: “General, this is deeply humiliating, but I console myself with the thought that the whole country will rejoice at this day’s business.” Another pointed at the flag of the United States and said simply: “That is my flag, and I will prove myself as worthy as any of you.”
But Chamberlain also noted that: There are some who seem not willing to have peace unless they can have their way with it; nor even victory, unless the spoils of victory are theirs.
Let’s not let that be the legacy of this generation, let that not be the “peace” we build. Perhaps, instead of screaming and whining and preening, while posing for selfies, we should take advice from someone of real courage, learn from his behavior, heal the nation, let’s rejoice in that distant day’s business, and move forward.
There seems to be some who simply want to destroy the nation, and to wallow in hate while doing so. For those, all that can be hoped is that somehow they realize that the road they are on leads only to their own destruction. But to those who might still be able to rise above hate, consider this: Joshua Chamberlain, despite his wounds and losses, could arrive at a reconciliation with those he had fought, and looked forward hopefully to healing and building. If he can, can’t we?
About Pete O'Brien
Peter O’Brien has more than 30 years of successful leadership and planning experience in a wide range of organizations afloat and ashore on three continents. Mr. O’Brien’s Navy career included ten years at sea, more than a dozen years stationed overseas and multiple ...