1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Blair, Francis Preston

BLAIR, FRANCIS PRESTON (1791–1876), American journalist and politician, was born at Abingdon, Virginia, on the 12th of April 1791. He removed to Kentucky, graduated at Transylvania University in 1811, took to journalism, and was a contributor to Amos Kendall’s paper, the Argus, at Frankfort. In 1830, having become an ardent follower of Andrew Jackson, he was made editor of the Washington Globe, the recognized organ of the Jackson party. In this capacity, and as a member of Jackson’s “Kitchen Cabinet,” he long exerted a powerful influence; the Globe was the administration organ until 1841, and the chief Democratic organ until 1845; Blair ceased to be its editor in 1849. In 1848 he actively supported Martin Van Buren, the Free Soil candidate, for the presidency, and in 1852 he supported Franklin Pierce, but soon afterwards helped to organize the new Republican party, and presided at its preliminary convention at Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, in February 1856. He was influential in securing the nomination of John C. Frémont at the June convention (1856), and of Abraham Lincoln in 1860. After Lincoln’s re-election in 1864 Blair thought that his former close personal relations with the Confederate leaders might aid in bringing about a cessation of hostilities, and with Lincoln’s consent went unofficially to Richmond and induced President Jefferson Davis to appoint commissioners to confer with representatives of the United States. This resulted in the futile “Hampton Roads Conference” of the 3rd of February 1865 (see Lincoln, Abraham). After the Civil War Blair became a supporter of President Johnson’s reconstruction policy, and eventually rejoined the Democratic party. He died at Silver Spring, Maryland, on the 18th of October 1876.

His son, Montgomery Blair (1813–1883), politician and lawyer, was born in Franklin county, Kentucky, on the 10th of May 1813. He graduated at West Point in 1835, but, after a year’s service in the Seminole War, left the army, studied law, and began practice at St Louis, Missouri. After serving as United States district attorney (1839–1843), as mayor of St Louis (1842–1843), and as judge of the court of common pleas (1843–1849), he removed to Maryland (1852), and devoted himself to law practice principally in the Federal supreme court. He was United States solicitor in the court of claims from 1855 until 1858, and was associated with George T. Curtis as counsel for the plaintiff in the Dred Scott case in 1857. In 1860 he took an active part in the presidential campaign in behalf of Lincoln, in whose cabinet he was postmaster-general from 1861 until September 1864, when he resigned as a result of the hostility of the Radical Republican faction, who stipulated that Blair’s retirement should follow the withdrawal of Frémont’s name as a candidate for the presidential nomination in that year. Under his 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 having been suggested by George B. Armstrong (d. 1871), of Chicago, who from 1869 until his death was general superintendent of the United States railway mail service. Differing from the Republican party on the reconstruction policy, Blair gave his adherence to the Democratic party after the Civil War. He died at Silver Spring, Maryland, on the 27th of July 1883.

Another son, Francis Preston Blair, jun. (1821–1875), soldier and political leader, was born at Lexington, Kentucky, on the 19th of February 1821. After graduating at Princeton in 1841 he practised law in St Louis, and later served in the Mexican War. He was ardently opposed to the extension of slavery and supported Martin Van Buren, the Free Soil candidate for the presidency in 1848. He served from 1852 to 1856 in the Missouri legislature as a Free Soil Democrat, in 1856 joined the Republican party, and in 1857–1860 and 1861–1862 was a member of Congress, where he proved an able debater. Immediately after South Carolina’s secession, Blair, believing that the southern leaders were planning to carry Missouri into the movement, began active efforts to prevent it and personally organized and equipped a secret body of 1000 men to be ready for the emergency. When hostilities became inevitable, acting in conjunction with Captain (later General) Nathaniel Lyon, he suddenly transferred the arms in the Federal arsenal at St Louis to Alton, Illinois, and a few days later (May 10, 1861) surrounded and captured a force of state guards which had been stationed at Camp Jackson in the suburbs of St Louis with the intention of seizing the arsenal. This action gave the Federal cause a decisive initial advantage in Missouri. Blair was promoted brigadier-general of volunteers in August 1862 and a major-general in November 1862. In Congress as chairman of the important military affairs committee his services were of the greatest value. He commanded a division in the Vicksburg campaign and in the fighting about Chattanooga, and was one of Sherman’s corps commanders in the final campaigns in Georgia and the Carolinas. In 1866 like his father and brother he opposed the Congressional reconstruction policy, and on that issue left the Republican party. In 1868 he was the Democratic candidate for vice-president on the ticket with Horatio Seymour. In 1871–1873 he was a United States senator from Missouri. He died in St Louis, on the 8th of July 1875.