Born on May 19, 1813, in Franklin County, Kentucky, Montgomery Blair practiced law and politics out of St. Louis, Missouri. He represented Dred Scott in the Supreme Court petition that he was a free man, and later served as Postmaster General under Abraham Lincoln. Blair took on anti-slavery positions yet was still seen as conservative in his racial policies and opposed Radical Republicans.
Law Career and Dred Scott
Montgomery Blair was born on May 19, 1813, in Franklin County, Kentucky. His father, Francis P. Blair Sr. worked with President Andrew Jackson, who appointed the younger Blair to West Point. After graduating in 1835, Blair would serve in the Seminole War before attending Transylvania University to study law. He set up practice in St. Louis and would become the U.S. district attorney for Missouri in 1839. He became mayor of St. Louis in 1843 and eventually served as a U.S. Court of Claims judge.
Though Blair had attended Democratic Party national conventions as a delegate in the 1840s, he switched to the Free Soil Party and then the Republican Party as a result of his anti-slavery stance. As an attorney, Blair took on a highly prominent Supreme Court case in 1857 when he represented Dred Scott, an African-American citizen who petitioned for freedom from slavery. Blair was later contacted to help in the defense of abolitionist John Brown after the Harper's Ferry raid. Still, the Blair clan was known to hold slaves.
Lincoln's Postmaster General
After Abraham Lincoln's 1860 election to the U.S. presidency, Blair wished for a seat as part of Lincoln's cabinet. Due to political pressure, Lincoln awarded the postmaster general position to Blair, who was disgruntled over the appointment as he desired, and had been promised, the role of secretary of war.
In the spring of 1861, Blair and his father were staunch advocates of resupplying Fort Sumter in South Carolina, hence providing a military rebuttal to the approaching Confederate force which Lincoln knew would lead to war.
As postmaster general, Blair created standard postal rates for southern states and introduced money orders, also aiming to keep routes open held by southern post offices that remained with the Union.
Major Political Conflicts
The Blair and Lincoln families enjoyed close personal connections, though Blair also garnered a reputation for speaking out against other members of the administration and being a highly antagonistic cabinet member. Despite his earlier cases, his politics on slavery were conservative and he spoke out against the Radical Republicans, who called for more universal human rights in the South. Blair most prominently voiced his opposition to the group in a speech made in the fall of 1863 that was then disseminated in pamphlet form.
Lincoln was pressured by other politicians to force Blair out, which the president initially resisted doing. But in 1864, after maneuvering from the Radical Republicans in throwing support to Lincoln for the next presidential race, Lincoln asked Blair to resign from his post.
Still, Blair worked on behalf of Lincoln's presidential campaign. Like Attorney General Edward Barnes, Blair was also interested in taking over for Roger Taney as Supreme Court chief justice, but the position ultimately went to Salmon P. Chase, whom Blair had actively criticized.
Blair later supported President Andrew Johnson's policies for the South and rejoined the Democratic Party. He ran for Congress in 1865 and 1882, losing both races, though he won a seat in the Maryland House of Delegates in 1878.
Blair died on July 27, 1883 in Silver Spring, Maryland. He was survived by his wife and four children.
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