Blair Family Had Many Historic Roles; Aided Lincoln and Served in Cabinet, Congress

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), February 23, 2008 | Go to article overview

Blair Family Had Many Historic Roles; Aided Lincoln and Served in Cabinet, Congress


Byline: John E. Carey, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

One family participated in many historic and breathtaking moments of the Civil War. Its members helped Abraham Lincoln get elected twice to the presidency. On behalf of Lincoln, the elder statesman of the family apparently offered command of the Union Army to Robert E. Lee in 1861. In 1865, that same Washington elder statesman tried to negotiate a peace settlement with his longtime friend Jefferson Davis.

One son served in Lincoln's Cabinet, had his house burned to the ground by Gen. Jubal Early's Confederate forces and resigned his high government post in a sort of political trade.

Another son served in Congress, became a general in the Union Army and then a senator after the war and led a life of brawling adventure.

The family name still causes tourists to stop in awe and respect just one block from the White House, inside the nation's Capitol and in front of a handsome bust in Vicksburg, Miss.

The Blairs of Virginia, Kentucky, Missouri, Maryland and the District of Columbia played a uniquely influential role in American politics from the time Francis P. Blair Sr. became involved in the financial Panic of 1819 until the end of son Frank Blair's Senate term in 1873.

Francis P. Blair Sr.

Francis Preston Blair Sr. (1791-1876) began a long and distinguished career of semigovernment service and influence during the 1819 crisis. He led the Relief Party and became an influential writer of newspaper opinion pieces on politics.

His articles and support for Andrew Jackson so impressed the new president that Jackson urged Blair to move from Kentucky to Washington to become a full-time newspaperman.

In 1830, Blair established the Washington Globe, a party organ, and also published the Congressional Globe. He gained national importance as a political journalist and ran the printing business for Congress. However, he is remembered best as the leader of Andrew Jackson's "kitchen cabinet."

Blair's business partner, John Rives, described Blair as 85 pounds of bones and 22 pounds of "gristle, nerve and brain."

Blair continued to run and edit his newspaper throughout the presidencies of Jackson and Martin Van Buren. When James K. Polk was elected president in 1844, Blair excused himself from the newspaper business but not from his role as an influencer of government policy. He traveled all the way to Jackson's home, the Hermitage, in Tennessee to visit the former president.

Blair supported John C. Fremont's 1856 Republican presidential nomination even after he "retired" to his 20-room mansion, Silver Spring, in Maryland.

He aided Lincoln from the first days of the crisis between the states, offering a prestigious Union Army position to Robert E. Lee, apparently on the president's behalf. (Controversy continues.)

He also crossed Union lines into the Confederacy more than once on peace missions, using a note Lincoln had written that read: "Allow the bearer; F.P. Blair, sr., to pass our lines, go South, and return."

President Lincoln was a frequent guest at Blair's Maryland home, where Blair and his family entertained and persuaded the president.

Montgomery Blair

Montgomery Blair (1813-1883) graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1835. He saw action in the Seminole War, established himself as a lawyer and served as mayor of St. Louis (1842-1843).

He moved to the nation's capital in 1852. His family established residence at the town home (now called Blair House) owned by his father on Pennsylvania Avenue near the White House.

He was U.S. solicitor in the Court of Claims from 1855 to 1858. He and associate George T. Curtis served as counsel for the plaintiff in the Dred Scott case of 1857. Scott and his wife sued in federal court for their freedom after their master moved them to Missouri, a free territory. …

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