A Postal Revolution and a Political Upheaval

An Enemy of Many

As a devout abolitionist who disagreed with the radical Republicans on many aspects of their politics, particularly reconstruction, the outspoken Blair continued to make enemies. He spoke openly, and bluntly, about his opponents, and as he had little toleration for any beliefs that weren’t in line with his own. Gideon Welles, the fellow cabinet member with whom Blair shared similar beliefs, liked and admired Blair “for his common sense, his complete loyalty to Lincoln, and his acute intelligence;”(1) however, he “deplored [Blair’s] vindictiveness, his habit of judging everything and everyone from a narrowly bipartisan perspective."(2) Despite all of Blair’s admirable qualities, even his friends were able to see his shortcoming in temperament.

Blair’s political speeches often sorely denounced the beliefs of his political opponents. The Democratic Party, at that time associated with the pro-slavery movement, hated Blair because of his fiery condemnations of the pro-slavery south. In an April 1863 speech, Blair boldly stated: “The real democrats everywhere are all with the real republicans, in arms for their country and its constitution.”(3) In saying this, Blair was making a huge jab at the Southern Democratic Party; his message was clear: while southern slaveholders may call themselves Democrats, they were not the true to those party members who shared a spirit and dedication for the Union cause. Furthermore, his fierce abolitionist beliefs caused him to come to drastic conclusions about the south as a slaveholding region:

...if the vassalage which holds the black race as mere animated machines, and is rapidly reducing the poor whites of the South to a dependence and suffering, rendering the fate of the slave of a kind master enviable—if such vassalage is to be upheld by the great modern dynasties abroad…how long will it be before such armed usurpation here will, by its reactionary force, recover the arbitrary power that belong to the age of the Bourbons, the Tudors, and of that horde of feudal proprietors who monopolized the soil…(4)

In effect, Blair could not help but wonder how a slaveholding system that also managed to cast a shadow on poor whites could function without turning back the clock in a sense and developing into a feudal system much like those that existed historically in Europe. He was further troubled by this issue because European rulers had not denounced either southern slavery or the South’s secession from the Union; though he found this lack of action repulsive in itself, he also understood that any support that the Confederacy was given would only encourage southern leaders further.

The Confederacy did not appreciate Blair’s blatant comments and to no one’s surprise, the Confederate Army under General Jubal Early burned down the Postmaster General’s estate, Falkland, in Silver Springs, Maryland, on July 11, 1864.(5) Of this event, Blair’s son Gist wrote, “It was a total loss, because although insured, it was not insured against the public enemy.”(6) Losing Falkland at the hands of the South was a humiliation that no amount of money could make up for. However, more pressing matters were Blair’s relationship with his fellow Republicans. The radical Republicans were increasingly disenchanted by Blair as it became apparent that he would stop at nothing to convince everyone that his reconstruction plan—which was, for the most part, shared by Lincoln—was the right plan. In doing so, his insults against the radical Republicans stopped at no end.

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Ruins of the Blair family home, Falkland

In advocating for his ideal plan for reconstruction, Blair took it upon himself to endlessly insult the radical Republicans whom he vehemently called “Ultra-Abolitionists;” in particular he plagued Chase and Stanton. One of his methods of denouncing the radicals was by condemning the concept of state suicide, which Blair found to be absolutely despicable:

The assumption that certain States of the South are extinct—annihilated by the Rebellion—and that a Congress, composed of representatives from the States in which the rebellion does not exists, has the right to consider the sister republics where the insurrection for the moment prevails, as dead bodies, to be disposed of as they please when they get possession of them, is abhorrent to every principle on which the union was founded.(7)

Blair, who was very much of the opinion that the Southern insurrection was only a momentary event and that most Southern citizens supported the Union, could not understand how the radical Republicans could so quickly sweep the Confederacy under the rug. To further his belief, he stated, "As members of the Union, the States assailed by treason may be said to be paralysed [sic], but they live in all their vital powers, ready for resurrection. In the persons of their loyal people the moment the stone is rolled away. The traitors only will have committed political suicide."(8) In Blair’s mind, the Confederate states were still a part of the Union, as bound by the Constitution. They could claim to be a different political entity but they would never truly be one. When the time came for them to accept their place within the Union, they should be welcomed with open arms while those few who instigated the rebellion would be publicly shamed.

To further humiliate the radical Republicans, Blair went so far as to insult their intelligence and moral character:

No learning is necessary to enable one to see that a State cannot be guilty of treason or any other crime: only common sense is wanting to comprehend that guilt cannot be imputed to any but a sentient being; and only common honesty is required to perceive the injustice of disfranchising loyal citizens on account of the offences committed by the disloyal.(9)

The assumptions Blair made about the radical Republicans were glaring; not only were their beliefs regarding how to go about reconstruction completely wrong, but now, according to the postmaster general, they were also stupid and immoral. The radical Republicans, who were already not fond of Blair and his politics, now had further reason to dislike him: “…Montgomery Blair had overreached himself. The men he despised and against whom everyone knew he was hurling…were seen as victims of personal slander.”(10) If the radical Republicans were going to continue to support Lincoln in his bid for reelection in 1864, something had to be done about Blair. Blair’s work ethic aside, these men would not support a president who included among his cabinet members someone who had so little respect for the political beliefs of others, particularly when it was their beliefs that were being so violently attacked.

1) Niven, 471.
2) Ibid.
3) Montgomery Blair, "The Principles Involved in the Rebellion: Speech of the Honorary Montgomery Blair, Postmaster General of the United States, at the Mass Meeting of the Loyal National League” (Speech, Union Square, New York, April 11, 1863), 7, Transcript.
4) Ibid, 6.
5) Moroney, 35.
6) Gist Blair, quoted in Ibid, 36.
7) Blair, (Speech, October 3, 1863), 6.
8) Ibid, 8.
9) Ibid.
10) Niven, 472.