1866 James Stevens, stabbed to death at the courthouse of Johnson County, MO, Warrensburg, during a Sen. Francis Preston Blair speech.
|Senator and General Francis Preston Blair|
General and Missouri Senator Francis Preston Blair
Future senator Francis P. Blair of St. Louis was the unsuccessful Democratic vice presidential candidate in the 1868 election. Blair was the running mate of former New York governor Horatio Seymour. They lost the election to the Republican ticket of Ulysses S. Grant and Schuyler Colfax.
|Francis Preston Blair, Jr|
Gen. Blair Spoke at the Old Johnson County, MO Courthouse - Tensions Arose and One Man Was Stabbed To Death
Original Courthouse, Johnson County, MO
Built in 1842
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 racist terms, warning of the rule of "a semi-barbarous race of blacks who are worshipers of fetishes and polygamists" 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 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, who had been bludgeoned to death the previous night. There was a series of hearings, and even suspicion towards several people, but the mystery was never solved.
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 a candidate for office until his death from a fall in 1875. He is interred in Bellefontaine Cemetery.
In 1899, the state of Missouri donated a marble statue of Blair to the U.S. Capitol's National Statuary Hall Collection.
|Gen. Francis Preston Blair, Jr.|
General Francis Preston Blair, Jr and Staff
(1821–75). Missouri politician Francis Preston Blair, Jr., was active before and during the American Civil War and in the following Reconstruction period. He opposed slavery and secession but later came out against Radical Reconstruction and black suffrage.
FRANCIS PRESTON BLAIR, JR. (1821–1875)
Frank Blair, Union general, congressman, and senator, was born February 19, 1821, at Lexington, Kentucky, 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. The 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 proved popular with his fellow students but was hardly dedicated to his studies. He attended both Yale University and the University of North Carolina, from both of which he was expelled, before graduating from Princeton University in 1842, his degree held back for a year because of a riotous party a few weeks before he was originally due to graduate. In the meantime he had gone to Transylvania University Law School in Lexington, from which he graduated in 1843. He spent that spring and summer in Washington writing editorials for his father at the Globe before going to St. Louis in the fall to begin the practice of law with his brother Montgomery Blair.
In the fall of 1845, having suffered some health problems, Frank Blair decided to join a “buffalo hunt” along the Santa Fe Trail. He spent the winter with his cousin George Bent in Bent’s Fort in eastern Colorado. He was still there when the Mexican War broke out the following spring. Caught up in the excitement, he joined Gen. Stephen Watts Kearny’s expedition when it came through on the way to Santa Fe. Kearny appointed Blair attorney general at Santa Fe. Working with Alexander W. Doniphan, Willard Preble Hall, and David Waldo, Blair drew up an American Code of Law for the liberated region of New Mexico and tried several cases in the newly established circuit court there before returning to St. Louis in the summer of 1847. On September 8, 1847, he married Appoline Alexander of Woodford County, Kentucky, a distant cousin, and they established their permanent home in St. Louis where Frank resumed the practice of law. They had eight children.
To Frank Blair, however, his legal practice always took second place to his interest in politics. Although owning slaves himself, he became a strong supporter of the Free Soil movement and in the presidential election of 1848 briefly established a Free Soil newspaper, the Barnburner, to champion the cause of Martin Van Buren. A devotee of his father’s close friend Sen. Thomas Hart Benton, in whose law office he had taken additional training, Blair took an active role in Benton’s unsuccessful campaign to save his Senate seat in 1850 following his split with Claiborne Fox Jackson and David Rice Atchison over the question of slavery extension. He would continue to champion Benton’s cause throughout numerous other election campaigns in the 1850s. Blair joined his cousin B. Gratz Brown and several others in July 1852 to purchase the St. Louis Morning Signal, which they promptly renamed the Missouri Democrat. Blair and Brown used this organ to promote their successful candidacies for the Missouri legislature that fall as well as the election of Benton to the United States House of Representatives. Through the editorial pages of the Democrat as well as their newly gained legislative seats, the two men openly opposed the extension of slavery into new territories and denounced the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, which opened the door for pro-slavery settlers to enter Kansas.
In the 1856 presidential election Blair supported John Charles Frémont while securing his own election to Congress as a Free Soiler. In his maiden speech in Congress Blair argued that slavery was doomed in the South and urged the adoption of a policy of gradual emancipation coupled with the deportation and colonization of the freed slaves in Central America.
This remained a major theme as he moved to the forefront of the newly emerging Republican Party and became one of its chief spokesmen in the late 1850s. He assisted Abraham Lincoln in his 1858 unsuccessful Illinois senatorial contest with Stephen A. Douglas and thereby developed a strong friendship that would continue throughout the Civil War. Blair’s own contest for reelection also appeared unsuccessful that fall as initial returns indicated that his opponent Richard Barret had won by 426 votes. Blair contested the election, however, and was eventually seated by the House of Representatives in a narrow vote. Over the next two-years, he suffered a series of financial reverses brought on by his bad habit of co-signing notes for various relatives and friends.
Although initially supporting the candidacy of Missouri’s favorite son Edward Bates for the Republican presidential nomination in 1860, Blair quickly endorsed Lincoln’s candidacy when the Republican convention turned to the Illinoisan. He himself was running for reelection to Congress. He organized a support group known as the Wide Awakes, who marched with him from one rally to another, often battling with supporters of other candidates who sought to break up Republican rallies. Following his own reelection in August, Blair campaigned extensively for Lincoln throughout Missouri, Illinois, and Pennsylvania. In the aftermath of Lincoln’s election, Frank’s brother Montgomery was chosen postmaster general in the new cabinet, while his father became a close personal adviser to the new president. Frank himself visited Lincoln in Springfield to strengthen the already existing bond between the two.
With the election of Claiborne Fox Jackson as governor, Missouri found itself divided between a pro-Confederate state executive and a majority of citizens who wished to remain neutral in any impending contest between North and South. Blair, on the other hand, was staunchly committed to the preservation of the Union with Missouri an integral part of it. He reorganized his Wide Awakes into Home Guards, drilling them secretly to prepare for any untoward move by the governor. When Jackson refused to furnish volunteers for the Union army in the wake of Fort Sumter, Blair and a new found ally, Capt. Nathaniel Lyon, offered the Home Guards, who were promptly accepted. Having organized a Committee of Public Safety, the two men developed a plan of defense for the federal arsenal in south St. Louis with its sixty thousand stand of arms.
When Governor Jackson mustered the state militia into a week-long training operation in early May 1861, Blair and Lyon immediately suspected that the governor had designs on the arsenal. On May 10 they surrounded the St. Louis encampment known as Camp Jackson with their newly mustered Home Guards and demanded its surrender. Although the militia complied, bloodshed occurred in the aftermath, and St. Louis was plunged into panic. The state legislature, meeting at Jefferson City, quickly passed bills giving the governor broad military powers to defend the state. A temporary truce between state and federal forces lasted a month until Blair and Lyon forced a showdown with state officials at the Planters’ House in St. Louis on June 11. The state government was now driven into exile as Lyon and Blair moved forces up the Missouri River to occupy the state capital and defeat Jackson’s newly organized Missouri State Guard at Boonville.
When Congress convened the following month, Blair was defeated for Speaker of the House by Galusha Grow of Pennsylvania but was chosen chairman of the Committee on Military Defense where he did yeoman’s work to help organize the war effort. At the instigation of the Blairs, Gen. John C. Frémont was appointed to command the Department of the West at St. Louis. Blair quickly became disillusioned with Frémont, however, because of his failure to support Lyon in the field and disputes over procurement contracts. His criticism of Frémont led to his arrest by the general, but in the end the Blairs prevailed as Frémont was removed from his command by Lincoln. This caused Frank to lose much of the German support, which had previously been his, because of the Germans’ enthusiasm for Frémont’s emancipation policy.
In the late summer of 1862, Blair raised seven regiments from throughout the Mississippi Valley for the Union cause and received an appointment as brigadier general. He fought with valor at Chickasaw Bayou near Vicksburg in December and actively participated throughout the entire Vicksburg campaign. Promoted to major general, he later commanded the Fifteenth and Seventeenth Corps, respectively, during the Chattanooga and Atlanta
In the interim, between the two campaigns Blair returned to Congress at Lincoln’s request to help defend his plan for Reconstruction against Radical assaults. In two fiery speeches on February 5 and 27, 1864, Blair attacked Secy. of the Treasury Salmon Chase for his policies in the Mississippi Valley and his presidential ambitions while deriding Missouri Radicals, who had falsely accused him of misappropriating funds while in the military. He then returned to his military command, leaving his enemies in Congress sufficiently infuriated that they unseated him in favor of Samuel Knox, who had been contesting his election.
Blair ably led the Seventeenth Corps with Gen. William T. Sherman in the fight for Atlanta and the March to the Sea and through the Carolinas. Declining a postwar military career, Blair returned to Missouri to take up his law practice and try to salvage his political career. Financially ruined by having devoted so much to the Union cause, he tried without success to retrieve his lost fortune through the leasing of a cotton plantation in Mississippi. Frank strongly opposed the Radical Constitution of 1865 and the prescriptive policies of that party, which now controlled Missouri. He challenged the test oath for voting in the courts, but ultimately lost the case on a tie vote in the United States Supreme Court.
Blair helped reorganize the Democratic Party in opposition and campaigned extensively throughout the state for its candidates in the elections of 1866 and 1868. Gaining widespread national recognition for his attacks on Radical Reconstruction, he was nominated by the national party for vice president in 1868. His highly controversial letter to James Broadhead, in which he advocated the overthrow of congressional Reconstruction by strong presidential authority, greatly handicapped the campaign, however, and helped lead to the Democratic defeat.
In the wake of the Liberal Republican split with the Radicals in Missouri in 1870, Blair advocated the “possum policy” of support for the Liberal Republican state ticket while running Democratic candidates in the legislative races. This proved successful, resulting in the election of his cousin B. Gratz Brown as governor. In the aftermath Blair was elected to the United States Senate to replace Charles Daniel Drake, who had resigned to accept a federal judgeship. In the Senate Blair strongly defended the course of the South in challenging Radical Reconstruction through such organizations as the Ku Klux Klan. He played a major role in arranging the 1872 Liberal Republican ticket of Horace Greeley and B. Gratz Brown.
In the aftermath of the election, Blair was stricken by a crippling stroke in November 1872, and sought recovery in a sanitarium at Clifton Springs, New York. In view of this, the Democrats in the state legislature rejected his bid for reelection to a full Senate term that winter. Gov. Silas Woodson appointed him state superintendent of insurance to help provide income, but the work of the office was largely left to deputies as Blair continued to pursue efforts to regain his health. He died at his home in St. Louis on July 9, 1875, following a fall. At his death there was a large outpouring of sympathy for the man who had dominated Missouri politics for the past twenty years. His friends raised funds for the erection of a statue that stands in Forest Park in St. Louis, and he is commemorated, together with Benton, as one of Missouri’s two representatives in Statuary Hall in the national Capitol.
Highly controversial in his lifetime, Frank Blair was either strongly admired or hated by the public and political figures of his day. Convivial and generous to a fault, he could also excoriate his enemies in biting terms. An impassioned orator, he held strongly to opinions with which he had been imbued in his Jacksonian youth as his world changed dramatically around him. Acclaimed by both Sherman and Grant as one of the best of the non West Point-trained generals during the war, he lived and breathed politics, which became his consuming passion.
William E. Parrish, Blair Family. Papers. Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
Blair Family. Papers. Missouri Historical Society, St. Louis.
Blair-Lee Family. Papers. Firestone Library, Princeton University, Princeton, N.J.
Laas, Virginia Jeans. WartimeWashington: The Civil War Letters of Elizabeth Blair Lee. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1991.
Parrish, William E. Frank Blair: Lincoln’s Conservative. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1998.
Smith,William E. The Francis Preston Blair Family in Politics. 2 vols. New York: Macmillan, 1933.
Excerpted from 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. To order this book, please call (800) 621-2736 or online at http://press.umsystem.edu/Catalog/ProductSearch.aspx?search=Dictionary+of+Missouri+Biography.
February 19, On this day in 1821, Union General Francis Preston Blair Jr. is born in Lexington, Kentucky. The colorful Blair was instrumental in keeping Missouri part of the Union during the early stages of the Civil War. Blair’s father served as an advisor to several presidents. His namesake and youngest son was privileged and rebellious as a youth. As a college student, the younger Blair was expelled from the University of North Carolina and Yale for misconduct. He finally finished his degree at Princeton, but was denied graduation for participating in a wild party in his final week. Blair’s degree was bestowed a year later after an influential friend intervened on his behalf. Blair studied law in Kentucky and went onto practice in Missouri with his brother, Montgomery, who would later serve as U.S. postmaster general under President Abraham Lincoln. During the 1850s, Francis ran an anti-slave newspaper in St. Louis and served in the Missouri legislature. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1856. Blair was opposed to the extension of slavery, even though he owned a few slaves himself. His stance led to his defeat for re-election in 1858. In 1860, Blair campaigned for Abraham Lincoln and also regained his congressional seat. When the Civil War erupted, he organized Missouri’s Unionist forces and helped save the federal arsenal in St. Louis from the Confederates. Blair personally organized seven regiments from Missouri, and became a brigadier general, winning the respect of his superiors, Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman. Blair commanded a corps
12 January 1865 His Father, Blair House is Named for Him, Vice President's Office Next to the White House
Francis Preston Blair, Sr., aging Democratic political leader, conferred with President Jefferson Davis in Richmond on possible peace. Blair, unofficially but with apparent sanction of President Lincoln, presented suggestions to Davis. The Confederate President gave Blair a letter to Lincoln, which indicated Davis, was willing to enter into peace negotiations and that he would appoint an agent “to enter into conference, with a view to secure peace to the two countries.” Davis was not willing to give up independence for the South and the North’s entire policy was that “of one common country.” At least there had been talk between the two contending sides.
Blair House - Washington, DC Named for Francis Preston Blair, Jr's Father. Built in 1824, Blair House became politically central in Washington, D.C., the moment the Blair family took up residence in 1837. Francis Preston Blair was a circuit court clerk from Frankfort, Kentucky, whose editorials in his local newspaper attracted President Andrew Jackson’s attention. Jackson invited Blair to convert the Globe, a failing D.C. newspaper, into a pro-administration publication, and in 1830, Blair, his wife Eliza, and their three children moved to the nation's capital. Seven years later, they took up residence in the former home of Dr. Joseph Lovell, the first surgeon general of the U.S. Army. It would soon become known as Blair House. As editor of the Globe and the Congressional Globe (the first published proceedings of Congress) with partner John Cook Rives, Blair acquired a good deal of political power. Many political players, including presidents, sought his insight. He was the most influential member of President Jackson's informal group of advisors, the “Kitchen Cabinet,” and remained an important confidant to Jackson’s successor, Martin Van Buren. Abraham Lincoln also sought Blair’s counsel during his presidency and appointed Blair's eldest son, Montgomery, to his cabinet as Postmaster General. In 1859, Francis Preston Blair built a home at 1653 Pennsylvania Avenue, next to Blair House, for his daughter Elizabeth and her husband, Admiral Samuel Phillips Lee. This home, known as Lee House, is now an integral part of the Blair House complex.
|Blair House, Washington, DC Attempted Assassination of Harry S. Truman Occurred Here|