Montgomery Blair (May 10, 1813 – July 27, 1883), the son of Francis Preston Blair, elder brother of Francis Preston Blair, Jr. and cousin of B. Gratz Brown, was a politician and lawyer from Maryland. He served in the Lincoln administration cabinet as Postmaster-General from 1861 to 1864, during the Civil War.

Montgomery Blair
Montgomery Blair, photo three-quarters length seated.jpg
20th United States Postmaster General
In office
March 5, 1861 – September 24, 1864
PresidentAbraham Lincoln
Preceded byHoratio King
Succeeded byWilliam Dennison
Personal details
Born(1813-05-10)May 10, 1813
Franklin County, Kentucky, U.S.
DiedJuly 27, 1883(1883-07-27) (aged 70)
Silver Spring, Maryland, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic (Before 1854; 1865–1883)
Republican (1854–1865)
Spouse(s)Caroline Buckner (1836–1844)
Mary Woodbury
Children4
EducationUnited States Military Academy (BS)
Transylvania University (LLB)
Military service
Allegiance United States
Branch/service United States Army
Years of service1835–1836
RankSecond Lieutenant
Battles/warsSeminole Wars

Early life and educationEdit

Blair was born in Franklin County, Kentucky.[1] His father, Francis P. Blair, Sr.,[1] was editor of the Washington Globe and a prominent figure in the Democratic Party during the Jacksonian era. As a boy, Montgomery "often listened to the talk of his father and Andrew Jackson."[2]

Blair graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1835, but after a year's service in the Seminole War, he left the Army, studied law, and began practice at St Louis, Missouri, in 1839.[1] In 1836, he married Caroline Rebecca Buckner of Virginia. After her death in 1844, he married Mary Elizabeth Woodbury, daughter of Levi Woodbury.[3] After serving as United States district attorney (1839–43) and as judge of the court of common pleas (1834–1849), he moved to Maryland in 1852 and devoted himself to law practice principally in the United States Supreme Court.[1] He was United States Solicitor in the Court of Claims (1855–58) and was associated with George T. Curtis as counsel for the plaintiff in the Dred Scott v. Sandford case of 1857.[1]

CareerEdit

The Blairs, like many other nationalist Democrats but, unusually for politicians from the border states, had abandoned the Democratic Party in the wake of the Kansas–Nebraska Act[1] and had been among the founding leaders of the new Republican Party. Four years after Blair switched political parties, President Buchanan removed Blair from his position of United States Solicitor in 1858.[1] In 1860, Blair took an active part in the presidential campaign on behalf of Abraham Lincoln.[1] After his election, Lincoln appointed Blair to his cabinet as Postmaster General in 1861.[1] Lincoln expected Blair, who advocated taking a firm stance with the southern states, to help balance more conciliatory members of his cabinet.[5] While Postmaster-General, Blair instituted a uniform rate of postage and free delivery in cities.[1] Blair also began the sale of money orders by post offices to reduce the mailing of currency to reduce post office robberies.[1] He also called for the First International Postal Conference, which was held in Paris in 1863 and began the process that led to the Universal Postal Union.[6]

While the Blairs, as a family, were often characterized as conservative on the issue of slavery, Blair notably served as the defense counsel for Dred Scott when the enslaved African-American took his case to the Supreme Court in 1857. Scott was the slave of an Army doctor, John Sanford (the name was misspelled in the official record) who had taken his servant along for prolonged stays in free territory. On Scott's behalf, Blair argued that the time the black man had spent in the free state of Illinois and in Minnesota, free territory since the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, made him a free man. The ruling by Court's majority against Scott's right to freedom is often cited as one of the contributing causes of the Civil War. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Roger Taney affirmed that the black man had no rights "that the white man was bound to respect" and that black slaves could not be considered American citizens despite having been born in the U.S. This landmark decision was denounced as a step toward the "nationalization" of slavery by Lincoln and others opposed to the expansion of that institution. Conservative as he may have been on other aspects of the slavery issue, Blair's work in the case of Dred Scott vs. Sandford suggests a willingness to embrace more progressive viewpoints.

Blair served as Postmaster-General from 1861 until September 1864, when Lincoln accepted an earlier offer by Blair to resign. Lincoln's action may have been a response to the hostility of the Radical Republican faction, which stipulated that Blair's retirement should follow the withdrawal of John C. Frémont as a candidate for President in that year. Regarding Lincoln's action, Blair told his wife that the president had acted "from the best motives" and that "it is for the best all around." After he left the cabinet, Blair still campaigned for Lincoln's re-election and Lincoln and the Blair family retained close ties.[7]

Under Blair's administration, such reforms and improvements as the establishment of free city delivery; the adoption of a money order system; and the use of railway mail cars were instituted, the last of which had been suggested by George B. Armstrong (d. 1871), of Chicago, general superintendent of the United States railway mail service from 1860 to his death.

Differing from the Republican Party on the Reconstruction policy, Blair gave his adherence to the Democratic Party after the Civil War, along with his brother, who was the Democratic vice presidential candidate in 1868.

In 1876, Blair was counsel to Secretary of War William W. Belknap during the House of Representatives investigation into the Trader post scandal and requested the House Investigation Committee chaired by Hiester Clymer to drop the charges against Belknap if the latter resigned office. Clymer, however, declined Blair's offer. Belknap was impeached by the House of Representatives for receiving illicit payments from the Fort Sill trader post on the Western frontier while Secretary of War. Belknap had been given sole power by Congress to choose sutlers to operate lucrative trader posts that sold supplies to U.S. soldiers and Indians. Belknap resigned over the scandal and was acquitted in a Senate trial during the summer of 1876. Many senators did not believe that Congress could convict a private citizen, but the Senate passed a resolution that stated Congress could convict a private citizen.

In 1882, Blair unsuccessfully ran for U.S. Representative from Maryland's sixth district.[1]

Later life and deathEdit

 
The Montgomery Blair mausoleum in Rock Creek Cemetery

His 600-acre (2.4 km2) manor in present-day Silver Spring, Maryland was named Falkland. It was burned by Confederate troops during their thrust towards Washington, D.C. After several years afflicted with "inflammation of the spinal membranes," he died at Silver Spring on July 27, 1883. The funeral services were held at Rock Creek Church, and he was buried at Rock Creek Cemetery.[1] In memory of Blair, the United States Post Office closed on July 30, 1883.[1]

Personal lifeEdit

Blair's wife was Mary Woodbury, a daughter of Levi Woodbury. Together, they had one daughter, Minnie Blair. They had three sons, Woodbury Blair, Gist Blair, and Montgomery Blair Jr., all of whom were attorneys.[1]

Montgomery Blair and Mary Woodbury Blair were the great-grandparents of actor Montgomery Clift.

In popular cultureEdit

  • Blair is portrayed by actor Lew Temple in the 2012 film Saving Lincoln.
  • In the 2012 film Lincoln, Blair is portrayed by actor Byron Jennings. In the film, Blair is depicted as not being in favor of the 13th Amendment, referring to it as "rash and dangerous" and telling Lincoln that conservative Republicans will only vote for it "if every other possibility is exhausted." Later in the film, he urges Lincoln not to pursue the effort at the amendment's passage.
  • To commemorate the centennial of the First International Postal Conference, Blair's portrait appeared on a U.S. airmail stamp, Scott catalogue C66, issued in 1963.

WorksEdit

LegacyEdit

GalleryEdit

NotesEdit

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o "Montgomery Blair: A Prominent Figure in Political History Passes Away". The Washington Post. July 28, 1883. p. 1.
  2. ^ Allan Nevins, The War for the Union, vol. 1: The Improvised War, 1861-1862 (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1959), p. 43.
  3. ^ Moroney, p. 5; https://hdl.handle.net/2027/mdp.39015016417332
  4. ^ "Art & History: First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation by President Lincoln". U.S. Senate. Retrieved August 2, 2013. Lincoln met with his cabinet on July 22, 1862, for the first reading of a draft of the Emancipation Proclamation. Sight measurement. Height: 108 inches (274.32 cm) Width: 180 inches (457.2 cm)
  5. ^ Goodwin, 2005, Chapter 11.
  6. ^ Universal Postal Union About history
  7. ^ Goodwin, 2005, Chapter 24.

ReferencesEdit

Further readingEdit

  • Davis, Madison. The Public Career of Montgomery Blair: particularly with reference to his services as Postmaster General of the United States. Washington, D.C.: Columbia Historical Society, 1910
  • Moroney, Rita Lloyd. Montgomery Blair, Postmaster General. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1963 44p.

External linksEdit