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Template:Infobox Senator Francis Preston Blair, Jr. (February 19, 1821 – July 9, 1875) was an American politician and Union Army general during the American Civil War. He represented Missouri in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, and he was the Democratic Party's nominee for Vice President in 1868.

Early life and career

Blair was born in Lexington, Kentucky. He was the son of Francis Preston Blair and the brother of Montgomery Blair. He was also the cousin of B. Gratz Brown. He attended schools in Washington, D.C., graduated from Princeton University in 1841, and studied law at Transylvania University. After his admission to the bar in Lexington, he went on to practice in St. Louis in 1842.

Blair participated in the Mexican-American War and was appointed attorney general for the New Mexico Territory after it was secured by General Stephen W. Kearny. 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 defeated in 1858, but successfully contested the election and was finally seated on June 8, 1860, resigning on June 25, 1860. He was unsuccessful as a candidate in the special election to fill the vacancy caused by his own resignation, but was elected in 1860 to the 37th Congress, serving until his resignation in July 1862 to become a Colonel in the Union Army. 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.

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.

Civil War

File:Francis Preston Blair, Jr. and staff - Brady-Handy.jpg

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 and personally organized and equipped a secret body of 1000 men formed out of the paramilitary Wide Awakes organization 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. A few days later (May 10, 1861), Federal troops 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 but also inflamed secessionist sentiments in the state due to the subsequent St. Louis Massacre.

Blair was promoted brigadier general of volunteers in August 1862 and then to major general in November. He commanded the 1st Brigade, which consisted of the 13th Illinois Infantry, the 29th, 30th, 31st, and 32nd Missouri Infantries, the 58th Ohio Infantry, 4th Company, Ohio Light Artillery, and Company C, 10th Missouri Cavalry.

File:Francis Preston Blair Jr.jpg

Francis Preston Blair, Jr.
(NSHC statue)

In the US Army, he 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

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 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."[1] At least one Democratic Congressman saw Blair as the cause of Seymour's defeat, calling his behavior "stupid and indefensible."[1]

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 Mr. 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, if not entirely, 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.

See also


This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.
  • [1]
  • Edmund Lester Pearson Studies in Murder (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Company, Inc. - Dolphin Books, 1924, 1963), p. 95-126: "The Twenty-Third Street Murder".
  1. 1.0 1.1 Quoted in Eric Foner, A Short History of Reconstruction. Harper Perennial, 1990, p. 145
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