Francis Preston Blair (Sr.) remains history-proof

At that time at which Fremont is relieved, and later when McClellan must be restored, there appears in Civil War military histories a shadowy advisor to the president named Francis Preston Blair, sometimes styled "senior."

He is introduced, if at all, as a former confidant of  Andrew Jackson. To military historians, politics is so marginal, so irrelevant to their narratives of personal achievement and earned rewards, that only to them can this equation make sense: Anti-Whig Jackson + Super Whig Lincoln = Special Advisor F.P. Blair, Sr.

Deep readers are baffled by such nonsense. We have wondered, since the Centennial, what a Jackson stalwart was doing in Lincoln's confidence (and vice versa). The answers are easy to access but seem to be unknown even to political and general writers.

Look at this.

Doris K. Goodwin, in Team of Rivals, makes many references to Blair.

* He "prophesies" Edward Bates winning the 1860 election
* He gives a speech for Bates
* He recommends his son for postmaster general
* Lincoln "liked" him
* He advised Lincoln on the Sumter crisis
* His family supports McClellan as commander
* He dissuades McClellan from sending a letter of protest after relief
* His family defends a Maryland man in a controversy
* Lincoln keeps his door open to "the Blairs."
* Lincoln accepts a message from him
* He comments on Chase resigning from the Cabinet
* He conveys son Montgomery's offer of resignation from the cabinet
* He has "never been turned away" from "private audience" with Lincoln
* He seeks a new post for his son
* He meets Chase after Lincoln's death

At no point do we learn who he is or why he has access to Lincoln. Goodwin does not seem to know that Edward Bates was Blair's checkmate to the Seward nomination, making Lincoln's presidency possible. She seems not to know that Blair had two cabinet members, both Montgomery and Edward Bates. She neglects much more.

James McPherson, in Battle Cry of Freedom, makes only a few references to Blair.

* He is a Republican leader (undefined)
* Bates versus Seward in 1860 is a Francis P. Blair plot
* "The Blairs" were "border state tycoons"
* The Early raid on DC damaged Blair homes
* Late war peace negotiations were an intrigue by this "old Jacksonian"

And that's it. We don't even have him conferring with Lincoln, although we now know he is some kind of Republican, that Seward is his foe and that Bates is his puppet. This is good but wasted by underdevelopment. The reference to tycoon is important, more on which below.

Reading between McPherson's lines, one could surmise that the "team of rivals" represented a split into two Republican factions, "the Blairs" and Weed-Sewards.

David Donald in Lincoln provides the least information.

* Blair was an "associate" of Lincoln
* He "forced his way into Lincoln's office" during Sumter
* Lincoln relied on "the Blairs" for "guidance" on Missouri politics
* He favored deportation of blacks
* He favored McClellan
* He favored son Montgomery's plan to remake the cabinet
* He was involved in the dismissal of Montgomery from the cabinet
* He was a "loyal conservative advisor"

Anyone reading this has the right to wonder if Donald knew anything at all about the senior Blair. However the reference to being an "associate of Lincoln" is important.

Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln, A Life:

* Blair commented on the formation of the 1860 cabinet
* Lincoln used him to offer R.E. Lee command of the Union Army
* "The Blairs" backed Fremont's Missouri command
* "The Blairs" promoted colonization schemes
* Quotes correspondence of F.P. Blair
* Refers to Blair support of Lincoln in 1864
* Involved in Montgomery's resignation
* Urges Montgomery's appointment to office

If we took all these snippets together, we would have the beginning of a rationale for why Blair might have had continuous access to Lincoln. For my part, I assumed him for many years to merely be the "family spokesman" for brothers who were key politicos in Missouri and Maryland, this despite the demerit of himself having been a Jacksonian.

Francis P. Blair, along with his "associates" Lincoln, and Weed-Seward, founded the Republican Party at the national level. He (and Weed-Seward) competed to fund races nationwide and build the party from early days, Blair using his "tycoon" funds. Blair chaired the first Republican convention. He engineered Fremont's presidential nomination in 1856. In the second national convention, he engineered Seward's defeat which created Lincoln's opportunity.

Until 1864, who could tell whether Blair or Weed-Seward would come out on top in the national Republican Party? Lincoln kept both factions close.

Blair's end is marked by Montgomery's failed cabinet reorganization plan. His father would have become a special advisor to the president, such as to be a virtual "dictator." He aspired to be the head of government, a role that Seward attempted to secure in 1861 and likewise failed.

And in the nominating process of 1864, the key role of Francis P. Blair is superseded.

Expect Civil War history to continue to spare you such useless and painful minutiae.

(This post reworks elements found here.)


A new year revelation

The New York Times list of top Civil War books may be the saddest thing you ever read but this can make you sad as well.

Pop history is an impersonator, roaming the room soused, boasting its history credentials, breathing its cheap sensibilities into your face, offering nothing but the drunk's stock-in-trade of nostalgia, stories, emotions, drama and "life lessons." You finish whatever show/book/podcast recalling the smell of puke.

Good news: I'm growing wiser. I used to hold Civil war history in unique contempt but have learned that pop history is all bad, everywhere, and at all times.

I won't be as hard on our wretched ACW books any more. Perspective at last.


Happy New Year

Much to share in 2019. Humble request, however. If you are not subscribed to this blog, please stop accessing it.