The Cabinet: Montgomery Blair (1813-1883)

Montgomery Blair
Montgomery Blair
Montgomery Blair
Montgomery Blair
Montgomery Blair
Montgomery Blair

Montgomery Blair

“The Blairs have to an unusual degree the spirit of clan. Their family is a closed corporation. Frank is their hope and pride. They have a way of going with a rush for anything they undertake; especially have Montgomery and the Old Gentleman.” President Lincoln confided to visitors on December 9, 1863.1 A month earlier on November 2, Mr. Lincoln had written Montgomery Blair that he wanted “what I believe will be best for the country and best for him….”2 But what the Blairs thought best often differed from what others thought best – particularly when the Blairs were outspoken in their criticism of the failures of other public officials in the Lincoln Administration.

“Many evidences of intimacy between the President and the Blair family existed at this time. Lincoln’s frequent trips to Silver Springs, the access of the Blairs to his private rooms, the President’s crossing Pennsylvania Avenue for chats with Montgomery at the Blair ‘mansion,’ the sight of Montgomery’s children playing on the White House lawn with the Lincoln boys – these affairs were common knowledge,” wrote James M. Trietsch in The Printer and the Prince. “They aroused to fury the anti-Blair element, the abolitionists and the violent radicals, who acknowledged against Lincoln’s association with this powerful clan of moderates.”3

Noah Brooks described Blair as “the best-read man in Lincoln’s cabinet, and he was well versed in literature ancient and contemporaneous; but his manners were awkward and unattractive. In politics he was a restless mischief-maker, and…he was apparently never so happy as when he was in hot water or making it hot for others.”4 In his dispatches back to California in December 1863, Brooks observed that “Blair, though a good Postmaster General, is the meanest man in the whole government.”5

“Blair’s dislike for [Secretary of War Edwin M.] Stanton bordered on hatred; his contempt for Chase ran dark and deep. Egotistical, voluble, and indiscreet, he broadcast his opinions of both men in conservative Republican and Democratic circles….As much as Welles liked Blair, he deplored his vindictiveness, his habit of judging everything and everything and everyone from a narrowly partisan perspective,” wrote Welles biographer John Niven.6 Journalist Charles A. Dana, who became Stanton’s assistant secretary, later wrote that Blair “was a capable man, sharp, keen, perhaps a little cranky, and not friendly with everybody, but I always found him pleasant to deal with, and I saw a great deal of him. He and Mr. Stanton were not very good friends, and when he wanted anything in the War Department he was more likely to come to an old friend like me than go to the Secretary. Stanton, too, rather preferred that.”7

Montgomery Blair’s high point as a Cabinet member came quickly in the Lincoln Administration. He and his family were uncompromising war hawks in March and April 1861. When the rest of the Cabinet was unwilling to take a strong stand to resupply Fort Sumter and confront the Confederacy, Montgomery Blair was. Historian Allan Nevins wrote: “Blair, anxious for the immediate relief of Sumter, stood triumphant. A fortnight earlier a majority of the Cabinet had been against that step; now three out of six were for making the attempt, and the other three were for militant action at other points – action that would mean war. Seward remarked to Montgomery C. Meigs that all men of sense saw that war must come. This, however, may have been either adroit dissimulation or a passing mood of discouragement, for he still clung to the hope that, by hook or crook, he could maintain peace.”8

Blair’s primary antagonist in this power struggle was Secretary of State William H. Seward and his ally, General Winfield Scott. At the conclusion of his first state dinner on March 28, President Lincoln convened his Cabinet for a special meeting. He shared with them a report from General Scott that suggestion the evacuation of both Fort Sumter and Fort Pickens: “It is doubtful whether the voluntary evacuation of Fort Sumter alone would have a decisive effect upon the states now wavering between adherence to the Union and Secession. It is known, indeed, that it would be charged to necessity and the holding of Fort Pickens would be induced in support of that view. Our southern friends, however, are clear that the evacuation of both the Forts would instantly soothe and give confidence to the eight remaining slaveholding states and render their cordial adherence to the Union perpetual,” wrote Scott.9 Blair surmised that the sentiments of the letter if not the letter itself came from Secretary Seward.

According to historian Allan Nevins, “Lincoln unquestionably felt a sense of betrayal when he told his Cabinet of Scott’s stand. That night, knowing that he must meet the crisis, he did not sleep. He rose greatly depressed. To a friend he remarked that he was ‘in the dumps’ – for he knew that he must try to relieve Sumter, and relief meant war.” Montgomery Blair was even more agitated. He told the Cabinet that night: “Mr. President, you can now see that General Scott, in advising the surrender of Fort Sumter, is playing the part of a politician, not a general.”10

So agitated was Blair that he threatened to resign. According to Navy Secretary Gideon Welles, Blair “wrote his resignation, determined not to continue in the Cabinet if no attempt were made to relieve Fort Sumter. Before handing in his resignation, a delay was made at the request of his father. The elder Blair sought an interview with the President, to whom he entered his protest against non-action, which he denounced as the offspring of intrigue. His earnestness and indignation aroused and electrified the President; and when, in his zeal, Blair warned the President that the abandonment of Sumter would be justly considered by the people, by the world, by history, as treason to the country, he touched a chord that responded to his invocation. The President decided from that moment that an attempt should be made to convey supplies to Major Anderson, and that he would reinforce Sumter. This determination he communicated to the members of the Cabinet as he saw them, without a general announcement in Cabinet-meeting. The resolve inspired all the members with hope and courage, except Mr. Seward, who was evidently disappointed. He said it was of vastly more importance to turn our attention to Fort Pickens. I told him this had been done and how; that we had a considerable naval force there, almost the whole of the Home Squadron, and we had sent, a fortnight before, orders to land the troops under Captain Vogdes from the Brooklyn. He said that still more should, in his opinion, be done; that it was practicable to save Fort Pickens, it was confessedly impossibly to retain Sumter.”11

Historian Nevins related how the Blair family saga played out: “‘It would be treason to surrender Sumter, sir,’ trumpeted the old man. He told Lincoln that the step would ‘irrevocably lose the Administration the public confidence.’ Acquiescence in secession would be a recognition of its constitutionality. Scott was timid and senile; as for Seward, the man had never known what principle and firmness meant. ‘If you abandon Sumter,’ Blair declared, in effect, ‘you will be impeached!’ And returning to Silver Springs, he wrote the President that while he did not question Scott’s patriotism, he regarded Seward as a thoroughly dangerous counselor.”12 In the aftermath, preparations began to resupply Fort Sumter and Fort Pickens.

The Blairs began the Lincoln Administration as exponents of tough measures toward the South. Montgomery was the hardliner in Mr. Lincoln’s Cabinet in the crisis over Fort Sumter. But as the Civil War proceeded, the Blairs emerged as very conservative on issues involving slavery and persistent critics of General John C. Frémont and Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase. The Blairs had been among Frémont’s original supporters – even before he was appointed to lead the Union Army in Missouri in the summer of 1861. “I remember especially Mr. Montgomery Blair…insisting that Mr. Frémont must at once be given large and important military command, and predicting that the genius and energy of this remarkable man would soon astonish the country,” recalled General Carl Schurz in his memoirs.13 “When this war first began they could think of nothing but Fremont; they expected everything from him and upon their earnest solicitation he was made a general and sent to Mo.,” President Lincoln recalled.14

But relations between Frémont and Montgomery’s brother Frank Blair, a leading Republican in Missouri, quickly broke down. General Montgomery Blair and Montgomery Meigs were dispatched to Missouri to investigate the situation in early September. When that failed to resolve difficulties, General Frémont dispatched his formidable wife Jessie to Washington where she insisted on a disastrous midnight interview with President Lincoln. “Taken together, Mrs. Fremont’s display of temper in Washington and Montgomery Blair’s highly prejudiced report concerning affairs in St. Louis unquestionably deepened the President’s feeling that Fremont had been an unfortunate choice for the Western Department. Jessie, having done irreparable harm, turned back to St. Louis.,” wrote Frémont biographer Allan Nevins.

John Nicolay noted in mid-September, 1861: “It is now about in the third week since the [Blair] family who were mainly instrumental in urging his appointment upon the Prest., came to him and with many professions of humility and disappointment said they were compelled by the indisputable evidence of experience to confess that in regard to his capabilities for the important duties to which he had been assigned, he had to their perfect satisfaction proven himself a complete failure, and that they now urged his immediate removal, as strenuously as they had formerly urged his apptmt.”15

The Blairs had a penchant for such confrontations. Blair, himself a West Point graduate, seemed to make a habit of annoying both military and civilian authorities. For example, General Henry W. Halleck became incensed by Blair’s comments concerning the failure of the Army to prevent the burning his family home at Silver Spring when Confederate soldiers attacked Washington on July 10-12, 1864. Halleck heard of the comments and wrote Secretary of War Stanton: “As there have been for the last few days a large number of officers on duty in and about Washington who have devoted their time and energies night and day, and have periled their lives, in the support of the Government, it is due to them as well as to the War Department that it should be known whether such wholesale denouncement & accusation by a member of the cabinet receives the sanction and approbation of the President….If so the names of the officers accused should be stricken from the rolls of the Army; if not, it is due to the honor of the accused that the slanderer should be dismissed from the cabinet…”

Former Senator Orville H. Browning reported in his diary in July 1864: “Called at the Presidents and spent an hour. Among other things he showed me a letter from Genl Halleck to Mr Stanton demanding that P M Genl Blair should be dismissed from the cabinet for saying the officers in command in Washington were poltroons for permitting the rebels to blockade the City and burn private residences almost under our guns. It was sent by Stanton to the President – He read me the letter and his reply, in which he said he should be the sole judge of when, and for what to dismiss a cabinet officers.”16

President Lincoln tried to retain peace within his Administration, writing to Stanton: “Your note of to-day, inclosing Gen. Halleck’s letter of yesterday, relative to offensive remarks supposed to have been made by the Post-Master-General concerning the Military officers on duty about Washington, is received. The General’s letter, in substance demands of me that if I approve the remarks, I shall strike the names of those officers from the rolls; and that if I do not approve them, the Post-Master-General shall be dismissed from the Cabinet. Whether the remarks were really made I do not known; nor do I suppose such knowledge is necessary to a correct response. If they were made I do not approve them; and yet, under the circumstances, I would not dismiss a member of the Cabinet therefor. I do not consider what may have been hastily said in a moment of vexation at so severe a loss is sufficient ground for so grave a step. Besides this, truth is generally the best vindication against slander. I propose continuing to be myself the judge as to when a member of the Cabinet shall be dismissed.”17

At the next cabinet meeting, Mr. Lincoln read a statement: “I must myself be the judge how long to retain in and when to remove any one of you from his position. It would greatly pain me to discover any of you endeavoring to procure another’s removal, or in any way to prejudice him before the public. Such endeavor would be a wrong to me, and, much worse, a wrong to the country. My wish is that on this subject no remark be made nor question asked by any of you, here or elsewhere, now or hereafter.”18

There were limits to the Blair influence – as even Montgomery Blair realized. Teenage Waller R. Bullock went to Washington in the summer of 1864 to try to obtain the release of his imprisoned Confederate brother. He went to the home of the Blairs, who were relatives of his mother, and explained his goal – the first step of which “was an introduction to Mr. Lincoln through some influential person or common friend.” Blair responded that “such a request to the President will be altogether useless. I can assure you that there are many members of Congress, and others high in authority, that would be glad to have their friends and relatives released from prison on such terms as you ask, and are unable to accomplish it.” Bullock eventually accomplished his goal – without the help of Blair or anyone else of influence.19

The influence of Blair’s critics was considerable. Criticism of Blair escalated in the autumn of 1863 after Blair made a speech in which he damned Radical Republicans. Journalist Noah Brooks wrote: “The speech, which was an elaborate defense of the alleged conservative policy of the President, was also a bitter arraignment of prominent members of the Cabinet, Senators, and Representatives. The speech was subsequently issued in pamphlet form and created considerable stir in Washington, and among the President’s real friends in Maryland. The title-page of the pamphlet edition of this speech gave the speaker considerable fictitious importance as ‘a member of Lincoln’s Cabinet,’ and the speech was ingeniously worded so as to endue it with an appearance of having been sanctioned by the President in order to set himself right before the people as against the wicked as persons of the more radical men in the party. Of course Lincoln eventually heard of this extraordinary oration, and a friend, calling on him one day, found him reading a little slip cut from a newspaper, from which he was endeavoring to get some idea of the then famous Rockville speech. The visitor offered to send the President a copy of the pamphlet as published by Blair; and, at his request, I took it to the President, who was greatly amused, as well as astonished by the ingeniously worded title-page of that queer document.”20

The hornets’ nest that Blair had stirred in the October 3 speech in Rockville, Maryland threatened to sting President Lincoln. Pennsylvania Congressman Thaddeus Stevens wrote to Senator Charles Sumner of the speech: ‘The speech of the P.M. Genl. is so vulgar, so infamous that I think it becomes necessary the true men of the party to bring it to the attention of the President with a request for his removal – He has done us more harm in our election than all the copperhead speeches of the campaign – If the President persists in retaining such men as Blair and Seward we must take care that his reign shall not be prolonged. We must think of a successor. What shall be done.” A similar letter from Stevens to Secretary of the Treasury Chase concluded: “If these are the principles of the Administration no earnest Anti-Slavery man will wish it to be sustained. If such men are to be retained in Mr. Lincoln’s Cabinet, it is time we were consulting about his successor.”21

This kind of aggravation the President didn’t need, but Blair couldn’t seem to avoid. Attorney General Edward “Bates thought that Blair courted the President assiduously in 1863 in order to retain his good opinion while he appealed to the Democrats in the elections,” wrote William Ernest Smith. “Bates was unjust to Blair, inasmuch as Blair was begging his friends through letters to keep the Republicans in power to guarantee the end of slavery, and was supporting the President at every turn while he was attempting to organize a Republican party in the border states. Nevertheless, Bates noted that Blair yielded ready assent to whatever the President proposed. He certainly must have felt assured that his speech would be favorably received at the White House.”22

Later in October 1863, Philadelphia Press editor John W. Forney encountered Blair at the White House and in President Lincoln’s presence forcefully suggested he should resign. “The President sat by, a silent spectator of this singular and unexpected scene,” wrote journalist Noah Brooks a few days later.. “I hope, however, that he was edified, for if he does not realize the unfortunate position in which he is being pushed by Blair, he must make up his mind to fall with Blair, for it is morally certain that no such fossiliferous theories and narrow-minded policy as that of the Postmaster General is to be indorsed by the people of any of the loyal states.”23

The President himself argued: “The controversy between the two sets of men represented by Blair and by Sumner is one of mere form and little else. I do not think Mr. Blair would agree that the States in rebellion are to be permitted to come at once into the political family and renew their performances, which have already so bedeviled us, and I do not think Mr. Sumner would insist that when the loyal people of a State obtain supremacy in their councils and are ready to assume the direction of their own affairs they should be excluded. I do not understand Mr. Blair to admit that Jefferson Davis may take his seat in Congress again as a reprsentative of his people.”24

Montgomery Blair’s enemies extended to the legislative branch – and to President Lincoln’s friends as well as to Radical Republicans. John Hay recalled a dinner conversation with Philadelphia Congressman William D. Kelly in which Kelly launched into “a tirade against Blair, ‘This man calls himself the distinctive friend of Lincoln & says that the opposition to im is oppn. to the Presdt.'” Kelly’s own loyalty to President Lincoln was firm, saying “the Lord has give us this man to keep as long as we can.”25 Another Pennsylvanian, newspaper editor John W. Forney, berated Blair in private and to Blair’s face in the President’s company. Forney did so again in public in Gettysburg in November 1863 the night before the military cemetery was dedicated.26

Montgomery Blair’s loyalty to those he thought merited it was unwavering. “Montgomery Blair has been friendly and wonderfully deferential to me of late,” Horace Greeley wrote Schuyler Colfax.27 President Lincoln clearly merited the Blairs’ loyalty, but they continued to be harshly critical of Salmon P. Chase in particular and Radical Republicans in general in 1864. As a Congressman, Frank P. Blair, Jr. has vilified Chase in April before resigning his seat to return to his military commission. That had renewed calls for Montgomery’s ouster from the cabinet. The controversy boiled up at the Republican National Convention in Baltimore in early June. “The principle concession in the Baltimore platform made by the friends of the Administration to its opponents was the resolution which called for harmony in the Cabinet; and, although no method was specified by which such harmony could be attained, it was no secret that the Convention requested, and, so far as it authority went, required, that the Cabinet should be rendered homogeneous by the dismissal of those members who were stigmatized as conservatives,” wrote Mr. Lincoln’s aides, John G. Nicolay and John Hay, in their biography of the President.28

“The opposition to Blair was not confined to the radical demonstrations in the Baltimore Convention and out of it,” noted Hay and Nicolay in the biography of Mr. Lincoln. “Some of the most judicious Republicans in the country, who were not personally unfriendly to Blair, urged upon the President the necessity of freeing himself from such a source of weakness and discord. Even in the bosom of the Government itself a strong hostility to Mr. Blair made itself felt.”29

Mr. Lincoln seemed to be equally driven by his loyalty to the Blairs and his concerns for executive privilege. After the 1864 Republican National Convention in Baltimore, Congressman Thaddeus Stevens and former Secretary of War Simon Cameron visited President Lincoln. Stevens demanded: ‘In order that we may be able in our State to go to work with a good will I want you to make us one promise…that you will reorganize your cabinet, and leave Montgomery Blair out of it.”30 The two hour meeting was tense and intense. Colonel R. M. Hoe related the President finally gave his answer, in substance as follows, towering up to his full height, and delivering his words with emphatic gestures, and intense earnestness of speech:

“Mr. Stevens, I am sorry to be compelled to deny your request to make such a promise. If I were even myself inclined to make it, I have no right to do so. What right have I to promise you to remove Mr. Blair, and not make a similar promise to any other gentleman of influence to removed any other member of my cabinet whom he does not happen to like? The Republican party, wisely or unwisely had made me their nominee for President, without asking any such pledge at my hands. Is it proper that you should demand it, representing only a portion of that great party? Has it come to this that the voters of this country are asked to elect a man to be President – to be the Executive – to administer the government, and yet that this man is to have no will or discretion of his own. Am I to be the mere puppet of power – to have my constitutional advisers selected for me beforehand, to my manhood to consent to any such bargain – I was about to say it is equally degrading to your manhood to ask it.”

Historian Allan Nevins wrote: “The Radicals who hated Montgomery Blair were quite as numerous as the Moderates who hated Chase, and their detestation was quite as fervent. The judicious [William P.] Fessenden had fairly well represented the idea of party harmony. Could Lincoln find a replacement for Blair who would equally typify restraint and unity? The President felt liking and respect for Blair, just as he felt respect (though not liking) for Chase, but he did not approve the man’s quarrelsome and malignant streak. Once when Blair was denouncing the Radicals as selfish and vindictive, Lincoln rebuked him. ‘It is much better not to be led from the region of reason into that of hot blood, by imputing to public men motives which they do not avow.'”31

In the spring of 1864 a fringe group of radical abolitionists nominated General John C. Frémont as their candidate for President. Although Frémont and supporters did not campaign actively, they threatened to siphon votes from the Republican-Union tickets. Historian Allan Nevins noted that by the summer, “Montgomery was now disliked in every quarter. He had been barred from the Union League; a radical committee including George S. Boutwell and John Covode had lately demanded his dismissal; Henry Wilson wrote Lincoln that his retention would cost tens of thousands of votes. Men spoke of the Blairs as ‘a nest of Maryland serpents.’ On September 22nd, [Zachariah] Chandler, accompanied by David H. Jerome, later governor of Michigan, had a private interview with Lincoln. He announced the complete success of his labors; he had gotten Fremont out of the race, though not by the means he had expected.”32 Frémont had dropped out without conditions; the conditions were imposed by the Radical Republicans like Michigan Senator Chandler with whom he was negotiating.

Although there appears to have been no quid pro quo on Frémont’s part that he would drop out of the race if Montgomery Blair dropped out of the cabinet, it was clearly the goal of Chandler that Blair must go if Frémont quit. According to biographer Benjamin Thomas, the evidence suggest that Chandler “obtained Lincoln’s assent to such a bargain; for in a letter to his wife he wrote: “The President was most reluctant to come to terms but came.” Chandler’s subsequent negotiations with Frémont have never been completely clarified, but Frémont apparently would have no part of the bargain. On September 22 he renounced his candidacy, however, and Lincoln accepted Blair’s resignation the next day.” Blair told Navy Secretary Gideon Welles and Attorney General Edward Bates as they were leaving the President’s office: “I suppose you are both aware that my head is decapitated – that I am no longer a member of the Cabinet.'”33

Perhaps to ease some of the sting, President Lincoln appointed the Blairs’ good friend, former Ohio Governor William Dennison, as his replacement. The appointment also redressed the absence of an Ohio representative that had resulted when Chase had resigned three months earlier. “Mr. Blair accepted his dismissal in a manner which was to have been expected from his manly and generous character,” wrote Hay and Nicolay. “He called upon the President at once, not pretending to be pleased at what had happened, but assuming that the President had good reasons for his action, and refraining from any demand for explanation. He went immediately to Maryland and busied himself in speaking and working for the Union cause, and for the reelection of Mr. Lincoln.34 After Montgomery resigned, Francis P. Blair Sr wrote his son Frank:

Your brother resigned today and in consequence of a conversation I had with the President when your Brother was at Portsmouth – I called on night on the P. at the Soldiers Home to talk with him about the election – things looking then very gloomy and he had been very much depressed I told him that he might rely on my sons to do all they could for him & suggested that he ought recall you from the army to heal party divisions in Missouri & Stump the states that Montgomery would go the rounds also – and would very willingly be a martyr to the Radical phrenzy or jealousy, that would feed on the Blairs, if that would help He said nobody but enemies wanted Montgy out of the Cabinet with one exception & this man was your friend in the Fremont controversy & was also Montgomerys friend. He told me that he replied to this gentleman that he did not think it good policy to sacrifice a true friend to a false one or an avowed enemy – though he remarked ‘Montgomery had himself told him that he would cheerfully resign to conciliate the class of men who had made their war on the Blairs because they were his friends – and sought to injure him among the ignorant partizans of those seeking to supplant him.
When Montg returned some weeks ago, he broached the conversation I had reported to him again to the President & made the same suggestion & in some conversation & I believe letters to some of Fremonts associates intimated that he would quit the Cabinet in case Fremont would retire from the Canvass – Some of those who thought this a good suggestion & were glad to get rid of Montgy pressed this matter. I have no doubt on Fremont & got him to resign on this condition & urged the President to avail himself of Montgomerys overture – & he is out-35

Even after his dismissal, Blair went right on campaigning for President Lincoln – and the family entertained hopes that he might be chosen as the new Chief Justice of the Supreme Court after Roger Taney died on October 12, 1864. Historian Allan Nevins wrote that Blair conducted “a characteristically devious movement to obtain the office. Instigated by the Blair family, William Cullen Bryant, John M. Forbes, and other men of influence had written Lincoln in Blair’s behalf, while editors like Joseph Medill had made representations for him. When Mrs. Lincoln mentioned to Francis P. Blair, Sr., that the pressure of lawyers was giving Chase the advantage, the old politician hurried to the White House to lobby for his son.”36

According to historian William Ernest Smith, “The elder Blair also took a hand in the case when he addressed a letter to the President on October 20. He began by writing, ‘I beg you to indulge me with a little conference with you on paper about a thing which as involving a good deal of egotism, I am ashamed to talk about face to face.’ He then out-lined the political history of himself and his sons. For thirty years the Blairs had opposed the slave oligarchy and devoted themselves to the cause of the Union, and for four years they had staunchly supported the President ‘Now I come,’ he continued, ‘to what I hope you will consider another & higher opportunity of serving you & the Republic by carrying your political principles & the support of your policy expressed in relation to the reconstruction, into the Supreme Court. I think Montgomery’s unswerving support of your administration in all its aspects coupled with his unfaltering attachment to you personally fits him to be your representative man at the head of that bench.’ He hesitatingly mentioned the fine qualities of his son, and assured the president that he could do nothing better to remove the cloud of ostracism which had descended upon Montgomery as a result of his removal from the Cabinet. Montgomery could go abroad, for his children needed to be educated, but he had to work in his profession to make a living. The elder Blair closed his letter by staring that, ‘Although I have urged this matter with some earnestness you will not infer that I set up any claim. You have done enough for the Blairs to entitle you to their gratitude & of their posterity.” 37

Alas, the appointment went to the Blairs’ bitter enemy, Salmon P. Chase, whose resignation President Lincoln had accepted three months before Blair’s. Historian Burton Hendrick noted that Blair had received support from one unusual quarter. Secretary of State “Seward’s hostility toward Chase may be estimated from the man he urged Lincoln to appoint. He endorsed Montgomery Blair, a cabinet colleague with whom he was scarcely on speaking terms.”38 According to historian William Ernest Smith, “Lincoln had tried to persuade Montgomery Blair to accept either the Spanish or Austrian mission after he asked for his resignation as Postmaster-General, but his offer was peremptorily, though respectfully, declined.”39

Despite the family’s cantankerous nature, their home on Lafayette Square was a social center in Washington. Elizabeth Blair Lee wrote her husband in June 1861: “Whilst we in the family circle were talking – Mr. [Simon] Cameron arrived – said he had no family – no dinner – & Knew where he wanted to come & enjoy both – The table was consequently enlarged – it was hardly fixed when Fremont drove up – & ere fixing was quite done – Govr Sprague & a Rhode Island reinforcement came – now the whole table was cleared off & enlarged.”40 Cameron & Blair continued to be friends for the rest of the Civil War.

Blair’s sister thought the family could learn something from President Lincoln. She wrote her husband, naval Captain Phillips Lee: “Lincoln…is a good true man & is doing a good work for his country & earning great renown for himself. His cool way of doing things will I hope teach the Blairs a lesson not to rush at things or people so violently. I feel as if we were possess[ed] about the Fremonts….”41 On January 14, 1865, Elizabeth Blair Lee wrote that she had gone to the White House and “was received with great kindness.”42

Montgomery Blair had one advantage in navigating the controversies in which he engaged – the good relations of Mrs. Lincoln with the Blair family. She was particularly close to Elizabeth Blair Lee, to whom she wrote three months after Mr. Lincoln’s assassination: “Remember me most truly, to your brother, Judge Blair, your dear father & mother & all friends.”43


  1. Michael Burlingame and John R. Turner Ettlinger, editor, Inside Lincoln’s White House: The Complete Civil War Diary of John Hay, p. 123 (December 9, 1863).
  2. Roy P. Basler, editor, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume VI, p. 554-555 (Letter to Montgomery Blair, November 2, 1863).
  3. James M. Trietsch, The Printer and the Prince, p. 243.
  4. Noah Brooks, Washington, D.C., in Lincoln’s Time, p. 41.
  5. Michael Burlingame, editor, Noah Brooks, Lincoln Observed: The Civil War Dispatches of Noah Brooks, p. 97-98.
  6. John Niven, Gideon Welles: Lincoln’s Secretary of the Navy, .
  7. Charles A. Dana, Recollections of the Civil War, p. 157.
  8. Allan Nevins, The War for the Union: The Improvised War, 1861-1862, p. 55-56.
  9. Burton J. Hendrick, Lincoln’s War Cabinet, p. 170.
  10. Allan Nevins, The War for the Union: The Improvised War, 1861-1862, p. 55-56.
  11. Gideon Welles, The Diary of Gideon Welles, Volume I, p. 13-14.
  12. Allan Nevins, The War for the Union: The Improvised War, 1861-1862, p. 47-48.
  13. Carl Schurz, The Autobiography of Carl Schurz (Abridged), p. 198.
  14. Michael Burlingame and John R. Turner Ettlinger, editor, Inside Lincoln’s White House: The Complete Civil War Diary of John Hay, p. 123 (December 9, 1863).
  15. Michael Burlingame, editor, With Lincoln in the White House: Letters, Memoranda, and Other Writings of John G. Nicolay, 1860-1865, p. 57 (Memorandum, September 17, 1861).
  16. Theodore Calvin Pease and James G. Randall, editor, The Diary of Orville Hickman Browning, Volume I, 1850-1864, p. 677.
  17. Roy P. Basler, editor, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume VII, p. 440 (Letter to Edwin M. Stanton, July 14, 1864).
  18. Roy P. Basler, editor, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume VII, p. 440 (Letter to Edwin M. Stanton, [ca. July 14, 1864]).
  19. Rufus Rockwell Wilson, editor, Lincoln Among His Friends: A Sheaf of Intimate Memories, p. 355-356 (Waller R. Bullock, Century Magazine, February 1898).
  20. Noah Brooks, Washington, D.C., in Lincoln’s Time, p. 126.
  21. Ralph Korngold, Thaddeus Stevens: A Being Darkly Wise and Rudely Great, p. 219-220.
  22. William Ernest Smith, The Francis Preston Blair Family in Politics, Volume II, p. 237.
  23. Michael Burlingame, editor, Noah Brooks, Lincoln Observed: The Civil War Dispatches of Noah Brooks, p. 78-79 (October 30, 1863).
  24. John G. Nicolay and John Hay, Abraham Lincoln: A History, Volume IX, p. 336.
  25. Michael Burlingame and John R. Turner Ettlinger, editor, Inside Lincoln’s White House: The Complete Civil War Diary of John Hay, p. 132 (December 24, 1863).
  26. Michael Burlingame and John R. Turner Ettlinger, editor, Inside Lincoln’s White House: The Complete Civil War Diary of John Hay, p. 112 (November 18, 1863).
  27. William Harlan Hale, Horace Greeley: Voice of the People, p. 277.
  28. John G. Nicolay and John Hay, Abraham Lincoln: A History, Volume IX, p. 332.
  29. John G. Nicolay and John Hay, Abraham Lincoln: A History, Volume IX, p. 337.
  30. Don E. and Virginia Fehrenbacher, editors,Recollected Words of Abraham Lincoln, p.258.
  31. Allan Nevins, The War for the Union: The Organized War to Victory, Volume IV, p. 241.
  32. Allan Nevins, Fremont, p. 580.
  33. Allan Nevins, The War for the Union: The Organized War to Victory, Volume IV, p. 105.
  34. John G. Nicolay and John Hay, Abraham Lincoln: A History, Volume IX, p. 332.
  35. Virginia Jeans Laas, editor, Wartime Washington: The Civil War Letters of Elizabeth Blair Lee, p. 433 (Letter to Samuel Phillips Lee, September 24, 1864).
  36. Allan Nevins, The War for the Union: The Organized War to Victory, Volume IV, p. 118.
  37. William Ernest Smith, The Francis Preston Blair Family in Politics, Volume II, p. 298-299.
  38. Burton J. Hendrick, Lincoln’s War Cabinet, p. 461.
  39. William Ernest Smith, The Francis Preston Blair Family in Politics, Volume II, p. 331.
  40. Virginia Jeans Laas, editor, Wartime Washington: The Civil War Letters of Elizabeth Blair Lee, (Letter to Samuel Philip Lee, June 28, 1861).
  41. Virginia Jeans Laas, editor, Wartime Washington: The Civil War Letters of Elizabeth Blair Lee, p. 84 (Letter to Samuel Philip Lee, October 7, 1861).
  42. Virginia Jeans Laas, editor, Wartime Washington: The Civil War Letters of Elizabeth Blair Lee, p. 462 (Letter to Samuel Phillips Lee, January 14, 1865).
  43. Justin G. Turner and Linda Levitt Turner, editor, Mary Todd Lincoln: Her Life and Letters, p. 259 (Letter from Mary Todd Lincoln to Elizabeth Blair Lee, July 11, 1865).