Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

Montgomery Blair (1861–1864): Postmaster General

Montgomery Blair was born in 1813 in Franklin County, Kentucky. He received a presidential appointment from Andrew Jackson to West Point and graduated in 1835. Blair served in the military from 1835 to 1836, during which time he saw action in Florida’s Seminole War. Blair left the Army in 1836, studied law at Transylvania University, and was admitted to the Missouri state bar in 1837.

From 1839 to 1842, Blair served as U.S. district attorney for Missouri before becoming mayor of St. Louis, a position he held until 1843. Blair served two terms (1845-1849) as judge of the Court of Common Pleas and then, from 1855 to 1857, as first solicitor general for the U.S. Court of Claims. During the 1840s, Blair attended several Democratic National Conventions as a delegate; by 1848, however, he had left the Democrats for the antislavery Free Soil Party.

Because of his views on slavery, Blair ultimately became one of the earliest supporters of the Republican Party. As Dred Scott’s attorney, he argued -- before the U.S. Supreme Court -- that since Scott’s master had taken him into a free state, Scott was free. The case drew enormous attention, and supporters of John Brown contacted Blair to defend Brown after the latter attacked the federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry. Blair refused, though he did assist in the defense’s efforts.

In 1861, President Abraham Lincoln tapped Blair to become his postmaster general. Blair spent his tenure trying to keep the state of Maryland in the Union and postal routes open in southern post offices still loyal to the Union. Blair’s moderate approach to the South enraged Radical Republicans, who pressured Lincoln to ask for his resignation in 1864.

Though Blair complied with Lincoln’s wishes, he left the Republican Party, rejoined the Democrats, and established a Democratic newspaper that supported the presidential candidacy of Samuel Tilden in 1876. He was elected to the Maryland House of Delegates two years later and launched a failed bid in 1882 for a seat in the House of Representatives. Montgomery Blair died in 1883.