Henry W. Blair

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Henry William Blair
Henry W. Blair LOC picture.png
Former U.S. Representative from New Hampshire's 1st Congressional District
From: March 4, 1893 – March 4, 1895
Predecessor Luther F. McKinney
Successor Cyrus A. Sulloway
Former U.S. Senator from New Hampshire
From: March 5, 1885 – March 3, 1891
Predecessor (himself)
Successor Jacob H. Gallinger
Former U.S. Senator from New Hampshire
From: June 18, 1879 – March 3, 1885
Predecessor Charles H. Bell
Successor (himself)
Former U.S. Representative from New Hampshire's 3rd Congressional District
From: March 4, 1875 – March 4, 1879
Predecessor Hosea W. Parker
Successor Evarts W. Farr
Former State Senator from
New Hampshire

From: 1867–1868
Predecessor ???
Successor ???
Former State Representative from
New Hampshire

From: 1866
Predecessor ???
Successor ???
Party Republican
Spouse(s) Eliza A. Nelson
Military Service
Allegiance United States
Service/branch Union Army
Service Years 1862–1863
Rank Lieutenant Colonel
Unit • Fifteenth Regiment
• New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry
Battles/wars American Civil War

Henry William Blair (December 6, 1834 – March 14, 1920) was a lawyer and Republican from New Hampshire who served as the state's U.S. representative and senator, previously being a member of the state legislator. During the American Civil War, he was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Union Army.

A Radical Republican in his earlier political career,[1] Blair later became associated with the moderate Half-Breeds[2][3] who pushed for civil service reform at the expense of Southern blacks.[4] However, Blair himself consistently fought to benefit blacks, and his efforts were considered decades ahead of his time.[5]

American Civil War

When the Civil War broke out, Blair tried to enlist in the Union military though was twice rejected due to being physically unfit.[5] Ultimately accepted in 1862, he joined the 15th New Hampshire Volunteers and rose among ranks from Captain to Lieutenant Colonel.

Blair was severely wounded at the siege in Port Hudson, Louisiana in 1863,[6] and would spend the rest of the war duration at home in order to convalesce.[5]

Political career

After being elected to a term in the lower state legislature in 1866,[5] Blair proceeded to become a member of the state Senate, serving from 1867 to 1868.

U.S. House, 1875–79

Blair in the 1870s.

Blair narrowly won election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1875, defeating Democrat opponent Henry O. Kent by less than one percentage point from the 3rd congressional district.[7] He was re-elected to a second term in 1877 over Kent in a rematch.[8]

According to The New York Times:[1]

His record in Congress, both as an advocate of radical Republican principles, and of all the genuine moral reforms, particularly temperance reform, is highly spoken of. He is also recommended as an able, honest, and a courageous man; a faithful soldier in the war of the rebellion, and a faithful member of the national House.

The New York Times, June 12, 1879

Like many Republicans at the time which, Blair supported higher protective tariffs, the gold standard, and generous pensions for Union veterans of the Civil War.[6] Blair was also known for advocating and holding "advanced"[5] stances on labor interests, temperance, federal funding of education, and women's suffrage, which later became causes of the Progressive Movement.

Blair did not run for re-election in the 1878 midterms.

Education bill

In 1876, Blair introduced legislation that would spend government revenue generated from public land sales to aid public schools throughout the nation.[5] Known as the "Blair Education Bill," it aimed to allocate $77 million in federal funds based proportionately on illiteracy rates, with the aim of bolstering Southern blacks.[6]

Such legislation passed the U.S. Senate on several occasions, but were blocked by the Democrat-controlled U.S. House.[6] The bill's opponents argued against the necessity by claiming that general literacy rates rose in the South.

U.S. Senate

In 1879, Blair ran for U.S. Senate. Among his intraparty opponents, he led former Sen. Bainbridge Wadleigh on the first ballot, nearly began to trail ex-Governor Benjamin F. Prescott on the fourth ballot, though ultimately secured the party nomination.[1] Blair then won the appointment race to serve as U.S. senator.[9]

Portrait of Douglass from the National Archives.

During late 1882 and early January 1883, Blair added an amendment to the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act that prohibited hiring habitual drunkards to federal government positions, reflecting his effort to combat alcohol abuse.[10] However, he did not vote on the final passage of the Pendleton Act.[11]

Sen. Blair chaired the Committee on Education and Labor, where he renewed efforts to provide federal aid to public schools.[5] Despite previous successful passage of such measures in the chamber, an effort in 1890 resulted in failure.[6] Unlike other Half-Breeds like Rutherford B. Hayes and William A. Wheeler who coldly turned their backs on Southern blacks, Blair viewed the defeat of his education bill in addition to the Lodge Federal Elections Bill of 1890 (introduced by Henry Cabot Lodge, Sr.) to constitute a betrayal of Republican Party principles.[12] He wrote to renowned black leader Frederick Douglass:

It must, I think, have become evident to all that there must be a return to the fundamental issues which stir the heart and touch the life of the Republic or there is nothing except assured defeat for us next autumn.

—Blair in a letter to Douglass

1885 election

Blair ran for re-election in 1885, where the state legislature failed to re-elect him. He subsequently ran in the race to succeed himself (due to his Senate term's expiration),[13] facing William E. "Bill" Chandler for the party nomination.[14]

Two days after his term expired on March 3, 1885, Blair was appointed to the same Senate seat by Governor Samuel W. Hale, and proceeded to run in the special election held in June,[13] where he emerged victorious.[15]

Chinese Exclusion Act

As a backer of domestic labor interests, Blair pushed to exclude Chinese immigrants from the U.S. workforce who had already been the target of bigoted attacks,[6] particularly from the Irish and in the Western region. However, he was one of fifteen to vote against the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882,[16] which prohibited Chinese laborers from immigrating to the U.S. for a decade.

Blair six years later in 1888 voted for the Scott Act,[17] which permanently banned immigration between China and the United States.[6]

Senate defeat, appointment by President Harrison

In 1891, Blair was denied renomination in his re-election bid that year. After declining an appointment to become a district court judge, President Benjamin Harrison that year subsequently nominated him to become Minister to China.[6] The decision was easily ratified by the U.S. Senate, which some interpreted as senators being:

...glad to assist in getting Colonel Blair as far as possible from Capitol Hill.

Although the nomination was approved, China strongly objected due to Blair's support for excluding the Chinese from immigrating to America, and he subsequently tendered his resignation from the position.[6] Harper's Weekly published a cartoon by Bert Wilder depicting Blair as a white elephant with a "possession" deemed unwanted that is difficult to rid.


  2. Welch, Robert E., Jr. (1971). George Frisbie Hoar and the Half-Breed Republicans, pp. 91. Harvard University Press. Retrieved November 26, 2021.
  3. McKinney, Gordon B. (2013). Henry W. Blair's Campaign to Reform America: From the Civil War to the U.S. Senate, p. 2. Google Books. Retrieved November 26, 2021.
  4. Matthews, Dylan (July 20, 2016). Donald Trump and Chris Christie are reportedly planning to purge the civil service. Vox. Retrieved November 26, 2021.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 Henry William Blair | American politician. Britannica. Retrieved November 26, 2021.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 6.6 6.7 6.8 Wilder, Bert (October 10, 1891). “Blair, the White Elephant of the Administration”. HarpWeek. Retrieved November 26, 2021.
  7. NH District 3 Race - Mar 09, 1875. Our Campaigns. Retrieved November 26, 2021.
  8. NH District 3 Race - Mar 13, 1877. Our Campaigns. Retrieved Novemebr 26, 2021.
  9. NH US Senate - Appointment Race - Jun 16, 1879. Our Campaigns. Retrieved November 26, 2021.
  10. Henry W. Blair's Campaign to Reform America, p. 143.
  11. TO PASS S. 133. GovTrack.us. Retrieved November 26, 2021.
  12. Henry W. Blair's Campaign to Reform America, p. 178–79.
  13. 13.0 13.1 March 10, 1885. THE RIGHT TO APPOINT A SENATOR. The New York Times. Retrieved November 26, 2021.
  14. May 22, 1885. BLAIR AND CHANDLER. The New York Times. Retrieved November 26, 2021.
  15. June 21, 1885. SENATOR BLAIR'S GREAT SCHEME. The New York Times. Retrieved November 26, 2021.
  16. TO PASS H.R. 5804. (P. 3412). GovTrack.us. Retrieved November 26, 2021.

External links