Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Francis Preston Blair, Jr, born February 19, 1821

Francis Preston Blair, Jr.
Francis Preston Blair, Jr.  was born in Lexington, Kentucky. He was the the third and youngest son of Francis Preston and Eliza Gist Blair. 

At the time his father was the circuit-court clerk of Franklin County, but the senior Blair would gain fame later as a newspaper editor, particularly after Andrew Jackson called him to Washington in 1830 to take charge of the Washington Globe newspaper. His father’s political influence would be a dominant factor in the development of Frank’s career, with the senior Blair eventually harboring strong presidential ambitions for his youngest son.  Frank Blair grew up in the shadow of the Jackson White House, and he would maintain a lifelong devotion to Old Hickory and the ideals of Jacksonian Democracy, as he understood them. Educated in private schools, he was popular with his fellow students.

He was 40 years old when the Civil War began.

Washington, D.C. around 1830
Frank Blair began the practice of law in St. Louis, Missouri in 1842.  He participated in the Mexican-American War.  

A personal and political friend of  Thomas Hart Benton, he became known for his views opposing slavery. 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.  He was elected in 1860 to the 37th Congress, serving until his resignation in July 1862 to become a Colonel in the Union Army. 

In the days following Lincoln's election, 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 force, if necessary, to prevent Missouri from following suit.  Immediately after South Carolina's secession in
"Wide Awake" Parade
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 Unionist "Home Guards", drawn from the "Wide Awakes"
 - the Republican marching clubs of the 1860 campaign.

Blair and Captain (later General) Nathaniel Lyon suddenly transferred the arms in the U.S. Arsenal at St. Louis to Alton, Illinois. On 10 May 1861, Lyon, with the Home Guards and a U.S. regular Army company, captured several hundred 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. Blair resigned from the House of Representatives in July 1862, having been appointed a colonel of Missouri volunteers.  Blair subsequently commanded a division in the Vicksburg  campaign and in the fighting around Chattanooga, and was one of William Sherman's corps commanders in the final campaigns in Georgia and the Carolinas.
General Blair with his Staff
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.
Banner for Presidential Campaign
 of Horatio Seymour and Francis Blair

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 racist 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." At least one Democratic Congressman saw Blair as the cause of Seymour's defeat, calling his behavior "stupid and indefensible."
Blair was stricken by a crippling stroke in November 1872, and sought recovery in a sanitarium at Clifton Springs, New York. He died at his home in St. Louis on July 9, 1875, following a fall.
Gravesite of Francis Blair, Jr.

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