Montgomery Blair

The Honorable
Montgomery Blair
20th United States Postmaster General
In office
March 5, 1861  September 24, 1864
President Abraham Lincoln
Preceded by Horatio King
Succeeded by William Dennison, Jr.
Personal details
Born (1813-05-10)May 10, 1813
Franklin County, Kentucky, U.S.
Died July 27, 1883(1883-07-27) (aged 70)
Silver Spring, Maryland, U.S.
Political party Democratic (1848–54; 1865–1883)
Republican (1854–65)
Spouse(s) Mary Elizabeth Woodbury
Children Woodbury
Montgomery, Jr.
Alma mater United States Military Academy
Profession Lawyer
Military service
Service/branch United States Army
Years of service 1835–1836
Rank Second Lieutenant
Battles/wars Seminole War

Montgomery Blair (May 10, 1813 – July 27, 1883), the brother of Francis Preston Blair, elder brother of Francis Preston Blair, Jr. and cousin of B. Gratz Brown, was a politician and lawyer from Maryland. Despite belonging to a prominent slave-holding family, Blair was an abolitionist and a loyal member of the Cabinet of Abraham Lincoln as Postmaster-General during the American Civil War.

Early life and education

Blair was born in Franklin County, Kentucky.[1] His father, Francis P. Blair, Sr.,[1] was, as editor of the Washington Globe, a prominent figure in the Democratic Party during the Jacksonian era, and as a boy Montgomery "often listened to the talk of his father and Andrew Jackson."[2] Blair graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1835, but after a year's service in the Seminole War, he left the Army, studied law, and began practice at St Louis, Missouri, in 1839.[1] After serving as United States district attorney (1839–43) and as judge of the court of common pleas (1834–1849), he moved to Maryland in 1852 and devoted himself to law practice principally in the United States Supreme Court.[1] He was United States Solicitor in the Court of Claims (1855–58) and was associated with George T. Curtis as counsel for the plaintiff in the Dred Scott v. Sandford case of 1857.[1]


  1. ^ "Art & History: First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation by President Lincoln". U.S. Senate. Retrieved August 2, 2013.  Lincoln met with his cabinet on July 22, 1862, for the first reading of a draft of the Emancipation Proclamation. Sight measurement. Height: 108 inches (274.32 cm) Width: 180 inches (457.2 cm)

The Blairs, like many other nationalist Democrats, but unusually for politicians from the border states, had abandoned the Democratic Party in the wake of the Kansas-Nebraska Act[1] and had been among the founding leaders of the new Republican Party. After switching political parties, President Buchanan removed Blair from his position of United States Solicitor in 1858.[1] In 1860, Montgomery Blair took an active part in the presidential campaign on behalf of Abraham Lincoln.[1] After his election, Lincoln invited Blair to be part of his cabinet as Postmaster-General in 1861.[1] Lincoln expected Blair, who advocated taking a firm stance with the southern states, to help balance more conciliatory members of his cabinet.[3] While Postmaster-General, Blair instituted a uniform rate of postage and free delivery in cities.[1] Blair also began the sale of money orders by post offices in order to reduce the mailing of currency, reducing post office robberies.[1] He also called for the First International Postal Conference, which was held in Paris in 1863 and began the process that led to the Universal Postal Union.[4]

Blair served as Postmaster-General from 1861 until September 1864, when Lincoln accepted an earlier offer by Blair to resign. Lincoln's action may have been a response to the hostility of the Radical Republican faction, who stipulated that Blair's retirement should follow the withdrawal of John C. Frémont's name as a candidate for the presidential nomination in that year. Regarding Lincoln's action, Blair told his wife that the president had acted "from the best motives" and that "it is for the best all around." After he left the cabinet, Blair still campaigned for Lincoln's re-election and Lincoln and the Blair family retained close ties.[5]

Under Blair's administration, such reforms and improvements as the establishment of free city delivery, the adoption of a money order system, and the use of railway mail cars were instituted—the last having been suggested by George B. Armstrong (d. 1871), of Chicago, who from 1869 until his death was general superintendent of the United States railway mail service.

Differing from the Republican Party on the Reconstruction policy, Blair gave his adherence to the Democratic Party after the Civil War, along with his brother, who was the Democratic vice presidential candidate in 1868.

In 1876, Blair was counsel to Secretary of War William W. Belknap during the House of Representatives investigation into the Trader post scandal. Blair unsuccessfully requested the House Investigation Committee chaired by Hiester Clymer that charges against Belknap be dropped if Belknap would resign office. Clymer, however, declined Blair's offer. Belknap was impeached by the House of Representatives for receiving illicit payments from the Fort Sill traderpost on Western frontier while Secretary of War. Belknap had been given sole power by Congress to choose sutlers to operate lucrative traderposts that sold supplies to U.S. soldiers and Indians. Belknap resigned over the scandal and was acquitted in a Senate trial during the summer of 1876. Many senators did not believe that Congress could convict a private citizen, although the Senate passed a resolution that stated Congress could convict a private citizen.

Blair unsuccessfully ran for Congress to represent Maryland's sixth district in 1882.[1]

Later life and death

The Montgomery Blair mausoleum in Rock Creek Cemetery.

His 600-acre (2.4 km2) manor in present-day Silver Spring, Maryland was named Falkland. It was burned by Confederate troops during their thrust towards Washington, D.C. After several years afflicted with "inflammation of the spinal membranes," he died at Silver Spring on July 27, 1883. The funeral services were held at Rock Creek Church, and he was buried at Rock Creek Cemetery.[1] In memory of Blair, the United States Post Office closed on July 30, 1883.[1]

Personal life

Blair's wife was Mary Woodbury, a daughter of Levi Woodbury. Together, they had one daughter, Minnie Blair. They had three sons, Woodbury Blair, Gist Blair, and Montgomery Blair Jr., all of whom were attorneys.[1]

Montgomery Blair and Mary Woodbury Blair were the great-grandparents of actor Montgomery Clift.

In popular culture



Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, Maryland is named after Blair.




  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 "Montgomery Blair: A Prominent Figure in Political History Passes Away". The Washington Post. July 28, 1883. p. 1.
  2. Allan Nevins, The War for the Union, vol. 1: The Improvised War, 1861-1862 (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1959), p. 43.
  3. Goodwin, 2005, Chapter 11.
  4. Universal Postal Union About history
  5. Goodwin, 2005, Chapter 24.


External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Horatio King
United States Postmaster General
Served under: Abraham Lincoln

1861 – 1864
Succeeded by
William Dennison, Jr.
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