Francis Preston Blair Jr.

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For his father, the journalist and politician, see Francis Preston Blair.
Francis Preston Blair Jr.
General Francis Preston Blair.jpg
General Blair during the Civil War
United States Senator
from Missouri
In office
January 20, 1871 – March 4, 1873
Preceded by Daniel T. Jewett
Succeeded by Lewis V. Bogy
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Missouri's 1st district
In office
March 4, 1861 – June 10, 1864
Preceded by John R. Barret
Succeeded by Samuel Knox
In office
June 8, 1860 – June 25, 1860
Preceded by John R. Barret
Succeeded by John R. Barret
In office
March 4, 1857 – March 3, 1859
Preceded by Luther M. Kennett
Succeeded by John R. Barret
Member of the Missouri House of Representatives
In office
1870–1871
Personal details
Born (1821-02-19)February 19, 1821
Lexington, Kentucky, U.S.
Died July 8, 1875(1875-07-08) (aged 54)
St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.
Political party Free Soil (1848–1854)
Republican (1854–1861)
Unconditional Union (1861–1866)
Democratic (1866–1875)
Spouse(s) Appoline Alexander
Alma mater University of North Carolina
Princeton University
Transylvania University
Profession Lawyer, soldier
Military service
Allegiance  United States
Service/branch United States Army
Union Army
Years of service 1846–1848; 1862–1865
Rank Union Army major general rank insignia.svg Major General
Commands 1st Bde, 4th Div, XV Corps
2nd Div, XV Corps
XV Corps
XVII Corps
Battles/wars Mexican-American War
American Civil War

Francis Preston Blair Jr. (February 19, 1821 – July 8, 1875) was an American jurist, politician and soldier. He represented Missouri in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, and was active in preventing the state of Missouri from being absorbed into the Confederacy at the beginning of the Civil War. Blair was instrumental in appointing Nathaniel Lyon as the new military commander of the Western Department of the U.S. Army. He assisted Lyon in securing help of the St. Louis' Home Guard in moving over 20,000 rifles and muskets from the St. Louis Arsenal to Illinois. Missouri secessionists considered this event as breaking of informal truce established in the state. This set the scene for the Camp Jackson Affair and continuing guerrilla activity by outraged pro-slavery elements.

In 1862, Blair joined the Missouri volunteers, being promoted major general, commanded a division at Vicksburg under Sherman, took part in Sherman's March to the Sea and ended the war as a corps commander. In 1868, he was Horatio Seymour's vice-presidential candidate, but his dramatic speeches about the dangers of black emancipation were believed by some to have cost the Democrats the election. He suffered a paralyzing stroke in 1872, but continued to be active in state politics till his death.

Early life and career[edit]

Blair was born in Lexington, Kentucky. He was the third and youngest son of newspaper editor and politician Francis Preston Blair, and Eliza Violet (Gist) Blair. He was the brother of Montgomery Blair, a Mayor of St. Louis and Postmaster General under Lincoln, and the cousin of B. Gratz Brown, a U.S. Senator and Governor of Missouri. Blair attended schools in Washington, D.C., was matriculated in Yale and the University of North Carolina, but graduated from Princeton University in 1841, and then studied law at Transylvania University. After his admission to the Kentucky bar in Lexington, he went on to practice in St. Louis in 1842 with his elder brother; in 1842-1845, he worked in the law office of Thomas Hart Benton.[1]

Mexican-American War[edit]

In fall 1845, Blair traveled to the West for buffalo hunt and stayed for a winter in eastern Colorado with his cousin George Bent in Bent’s Fort, a settlement on the Santa Fe Trail. After the Mexican-American War started he joined the expedition of General Stephen W. Kearny in Santa Fe, who then appointed Blair as an attorney general for the New Mexico Territory after it was secured. In collaboration with Alexander William Doniphan, Willard Preble Hall, and David Waldo, Blair developed an American Code of Law for the region and became a judge of the newly established circuit court.[2]

In the political arena[edit]

Being more interested in politics than law, Blair came back to St. Louis in the summer of 1847. A personal and political friend of Thomas Hart Benton, he became known for his views opposing slavery and strong advocacy of free soil politics. Blair served in the Missouri House of Representatives from 1852 to 1856. He was an outspoken Free-Soiler and was elected as a Republican to the United States House of Representatives in 1856. On January 14, 1858, he delivered a major speech describing slavery as a national problem and proposing to solve it by gradual emancipation and settling freed slaves in South and Central America.[3][4] A year later, he gained national prominence with his speech in Boston, The Destiny of the Races of This Continent.[5]

Blair was defeated in 1858, but won the next election in 1860 to the 37th Congress. The election results were contested by his opponents; Blair was seated in Congress on June 8, 1860, however resigned on June 25, 1860 to let Congress to cast a vote to reseat him. He was subsequently elected in 1862 to the 38th Congress, but had to relinquish his seat on June 10, 1864, after Samuel Knox successfully contested his election. In Congress, he served as chairman of the important Military Affairs Committee.[6]

The Blairs were unwavering supporters of Abraham Lincoln during his rise to the presidency and years in office, and in return enjoyed his political patronage. In December 1863, Lincoln said that, "The Blairs have to an unusual degree the spirit of clan. Their family is a close corporation. Frank is their hope and pride. They have a way of going with a rush for anything they undertake, especially have Montgomery and the Old Gentleman."[7]

In the days following Lincoln's election as president, when it became evident that several southern states were advocating secession, Blair was among the leaders of a new political movement in Missouri, the Unconditional Union Party, which advocated the use of its paramilitary Home Guard, if necessary, to prevent Missouri from following suit of secession.

Civil War[edit]

General Blair and his staff

Immediately after South Carolina's secession in December 1860, Blair, believing that the southern leaders were planning to carry neutral Missouri into the movement, began active efforts to prevent it. He personally organized and equipped a force of several thousand strong Home Guard, drawn from the Wide Awakes, the Republican marching clubs of the 1860 presidential campaign, and the members of the German gymnastic movement in St. Louis, Turnverein. When tensions rose, Blair and Captain (later brigadier general) Nathaniel Lyon suddenly transferred the arms in the U.S. Arsenal at St. Louis to Alton, Illinois.[8] On May 10, 1861, Lyon, with the Home Guards and a U.S. regular Army company, captured several hundred secessionist state militia which had been positioned to seize the Arsenal. The Camp Jackson Affair gave the Federal cause a decisive initial advantage in Missouri but also inflamed secessionist sentiments in the state.[9]

Open warfare between Union forces and the followers of pro-Southern Missouri governor Claiborne Jackson was imminent. To avoid this, General William S. Harney, the Army commander in Missouri, agreed to the Price-Harney Truce with Missouri State Guard commander Sterling Price on 21 May.

Blair objected, and contacted Republican leaders in Washington. Within a few weeks, Harney was replaced by Lyon as temporary commander. Lyon drove Jackson and Price to the southwestern corner of Missouri before he was killed at the Battle of Wilson's Creek, while Blair helped organize a new all-Unionist state government, and John C. Frémont took over as the U.S. Army Western Department commander.

Frémont was himself a prominent Republican with Missouri connections. Blair soon came to regard Frémont as a political rival, and they clashed over many aspects of Frémont's operations in Missouri. Frémont as the regional Army commander was responsible for spending a lot of money in a great hurry for supplies and equipment. Blair expected most of this money to go his allies in the St. Louis business community, but Frémont and his staff had their own ideas. Blair's bitter complaints, added to the waste and corruption, helped discredit Frémont, who was replaced on November 2.

Blair resigned from the House of Representatives in July 1862, having been appointed a colonel of Missouri volunteers. He was promoted brigadier general of volunteers in August 1862 and then to major general in November.

In Missouri, Blair commanded a brigade consisting of the 13th Illinois Infantry, the 29th, 30th, 31st, and 32nd Missouri Infantry, the 58th Ohio Infantry, 4th Company, Ohio Light Artillery, and Company C, 10th Missouri Cavalry.

Francis Preston Blair Jr.
(NSHC statue)

Blair subsequently commanded a division in the Vicksburg campaign and in the fighting about Chattanooga, and was one of William T. Sherman's corps commanders in the final campaigns in Georgia and the Carolinas. His XVII Corps was engaged protecting the rear areas of Sherman's army until later in the Atlanta Campaign. Before it left on the March to the Sea, XVII Corps absorbed part of the detachment of XVI Corps that had served with Sherman.

Postbellum activities[edit]

At the close of the war, Blair, having spent much of his private fortune in support of the Union, was financially ruined.

In 1866, like his father and brother he opposed the Congressional Reconstruction policy, and on that issue left the Republican Party. He was the unsuccessful Democratic candidate for vice president in 1868, running with Horatio Seymour. Blair contributed to the Democratic defeat by going on a speaking tour in which he framed the contest with Ulysses S. Grant and the pro-Reconstruction Republicans in stark racial terms, warning of the rule of "a semi-barbarous race of blacks who are worshipers of fetishes and poligamists" and wanted to "subject the white women to their unbridled lust."[10] At least one Democratic Congressman saw Blair as the cause of Seymour's defeat, calling his behavior "stupid and indefensible."[10]

Blair had an odd minor notoriety, when on July 29, 1870, he was an accidental witness to an incident in a famous homicide case. Staying at the then famous Fifth Avenue Hotel, facing West 23rd Street off Fifth Avenue, Blair woke up to cries of help from across the street. He watched from his hotel window as two men ran out of a brownstone mansion across the street. They were two of the sons of Benjamin Nathan, the Vice President of the New York Stock Exchange. Benjamin Nathan was found in the mansion, bludgeoned to death. There was a series of hearings, and even suspicion towards several people, but the mystery was never solved.[11]

In 1871 Blair was chosen by the Missouri Legislature as a United States Senator. On November 16, 1872, he was stricken down by paralysis, from which he never recovered. Largely owing to his stricken condition, he was defeated for reelection to the Senate in January 1873. Blair learned to write painfully with his left hand and continued his political efforts.

Blair's consuming interest in politics kept him active and he served as Missouri's state superintendent of insurance until his death from head injuries after a fall in 1875.[12] He is interred in Bellefontaine Cemetery.

Family[edit]

In 1847, Blair married Appoline Alexander, they had eight children.[13]

Recognition[edit]

William T. Sherman after hearing about Blair's death said, "I always regarded him as one of the truest patriots, most honest and honorable men, and one of the most courageous soldiers this country ever produced."[14] Ulysses S. Grant wrote about Frank Blair in his memoir that, "There was no man braver than he, nor was there any who obeyed all orders of his superior in rank with more unquestioning alacrity. He was one man as a soldier, another as a politician."[15]

In 1885, a statue to Senator Blair was erected at the entrance to Forest Park in St. Louis at the intersection of Kingshighway and Lindell Blvds.

In 1899, the state of Missouri donated a marble statue of Blair by Alexander Doyle to the U.S. Capitol's National Statuary Hall Collection.[16]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Smith, William E. The Francis Preston Blair Family in Politics. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1933.
  2. ^ Francis Preston Blair Jr. (1821–1875), Dictionary of Missouri Biography edited by Lawrence O. Christensen, William E. Foley, Gary R. Kremer, and Kenneth H. Winn, published by the University of Missouri Press.
  3. ^ Blair, Frank P. Speech of Hon. Frank P. Blair Jr., of Missouri: On the Acquisition of Territory in Central and South America, to Be Colonized with Free Blacks, and Held As a Dependency by the United States. Washington: Buell & Blanchard, printers, 1858.
  4. ^ May, Robert E. Slavery, Race and Conquest in the Tropics: Lincoln, Douglas, and the Future of Latin America. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013, p. 184.
  5. ^ Blair, Frank P. The Destiny of the Races of This Continent: An Address Delivered Before the Mercantile Library Association of Boston, Massachusetts; on the 26th of January, 1859. Washington, D.C: Buell & Blanchard, 1859.
  6. ^ Blair's Congressional Record, Office of the Historian of the U.S. Congress
  7. ^ Mr. lincoln's White House: Frank P. Blair Jr. (1821-1875), The Lehrman Institute
  8. ^ Peckham, James. General Nathaniel Lyon, and Missouri in 1861: A Monograph of the Great Rebellion. New York: American News Company, 1866.
  9. ^ Phillips, Christopher. Damned Yankee: The Life of General Nathaniel Lyon. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1990.
  10. ^ a b Foner, Eric. A Short History of Reconstruction, 1863-1877. New York: Harper & Row, 1990, p. 145.
  11. ^ See The Twenty-Third Street Murder in Edmund Lester Pearson. Studies in Murder. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1924; Dolphin Books, 1963, pp. 95-126.
  12. ^ Francis Preston Blair Jr.'s Obituary, St. Louis Dispatch, July 10, 1875.
  13. ^ Francis Preston Blair Jr., HarpWeek
  14. ^ Francis Preston Blair Jr., Ohio Civil War Central, 2016.
  15. ^ Grant, Ulysses S. The Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant. New York, Webster, 1885.
  16. ^ Statue of Francis Preston Blair, Architect of the Capitol

External links[edit]

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Blair, Francis Preston". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Luther M. Kennett
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Missouri's 1st congressional district

March 4, 1857 – March 4, 1859
Succeeded by
John R. Barret
Preceded by
John R. Barret
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Missouri's 1st congressional district

June 8, 1860 – June 25, 1860
Succeeded by
John R. Barret
Preceded by
John R. Barret
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Missouri's 1st congressional district

March 4, 1861 – July 1862
Succeeded by
Francis P. Blair Jr.
Preceded by
Francis P. Blair Jr.
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Missouri's 1st congressional district

March 4, 1863 – June 10, 1864
Succeeded by
Samuel Knox
Party political offices
Preceded by
George H. Pendleton
Democratic nominee for
Vice President of the United States

1868
Succeeded by
B. Gratz Brown
United States Senate
Preceded by
Daniel T. Jewett
U.S. Senator (Class 3) from Missouri
January 20, 1871 – March 4, 1873
Served alongside: Carl Schurz
Succeeded by
Lewis V. Bogy