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Henry W. Blair's Campaign to Reform America

Henry W. Blair's Campaign to Reform America: From the Civil War to the U.S. Senate

Gordon B. McKinney
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 246
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt2jcd9z
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  • Book Info
    Henry W. Blair's Campaign to Reform America
    Book Description:

    In the years immediately following the Civil War, the nation's leaders called desperately for reform as they struggled to rebuild a society scarred by death and mass destruction. Recognizing America's need for enlightened leadership, Republican senator Henry Blair (1834--1920) of New Hampshire embarked on an ambitious crusade to enact dramatic progressive changes.

    Henry W. Blair's Campaign to Reform America follows Blair's remarkable political career. At the heart of his efforts was a push to improve the nation's system of public education, but his reform programs addressed a wide range of issues, including legal rights, economic rights, women's suffrage, and racial equality. He consistently supported black voting rights, introduced an antilynching bill in 1894, and worked as a lobbyist with the NAACP at the age of eighty.

    In this long-overdue biography, Gordon B. McKinney sheds light on the brilliant career of a man who maintained a strong commitment to reform, liberty, and equality through a formative period in the nation's history. McKinney deftly demonstrates that, despite the social and economic challenges of the time, Senator Blair defended moral reform in a hostile climate and affirmed that the federal government had an important and active role to play in improving American society.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4089-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    “The fate of that noble party to which they all belonged, and which had a record that could never be forgotten, depended on their letting principle alone. Their principle must be want of principle.”¹ Henry Adams’s bitter assessment of the Republican Party’s commitment to reform in the Gilded Age was one shared by many contemporaries and later observers. The party that had freed the slaves seemed to have abandoned them to embrace business interests and work solely for base political objectives. By the late nineteenth century, many Americans associated politics with despoiled state and national treasuries, unfit officeholders, purchased votes,...

  5. Chapter 1 Early Years
    (pp. 7-16)

    The Beech Hill farm was a frenzy of activity. Richard and Sarah Bartlett were expecting a very important guest. William Miller and his followers had selected the next day—October 22, 1844—as the time that Jesus would return to Earth in his glory.¹ The Bartletts were not sure that the Millerites were correct, but they were taking no chances that the advent would catch them unprepared. At the same time, they wanted all their worldly affairs in order when the new era began. Richard directed their foster child, Henry Blair, to round up the livestock from the lower pastures...

  6. Chapter 2 Colonel
    (pp. 17-30)

    Blair was one of many Americans whose lives dramatically changed during the Civil War. The election of 1860 was a crucial event that threatened his safety and the stability of the country. Like more than 60 percent of the voters living above the forty-first parallel, Blair cast his vote for the Republican candidate, Abraham Lincoln. Despite receiving few votes in the states that allowed human enslavement, Lincoln was clearly and legally elected.¹ The southern slave states—correctly perceiving a significant shift in the balance of national political power—reacted with fury and began taking precipitous steps to negate this perceived...

  7. Chapter 3 Apprentice Lawyer and Politician
    (pp. 31-52)

    Even in a physically weakened condition, Henry Blair still possessed potent political influence. Captain Chester Pike appointed him the federal provost marshal for the Third Congressional District. Pike himself was from the district and had previously recommended Blair for Grafton County solicitor, suggesting that the two men were close political allies. By his own admission, Blair performed few duties and remained quite weak until the war and his job ended simultaneously. But this episode demonstrated both his continuing interest in politics and his willingness to try to make a contribution to the cause while greatly weakened.¹

    New Hampshire political traditions...

  8. Chapter 4 Congressman
    (pp. 53-76)

    For New Hampshire politicians, election to the House of Representatives was an honor often barren of accomplishment or power. The rotation system ensured that, except in the most unusual cases, a person could serve no more than two terms. That meant that New Hampshire congressmen never had the opportunity to chair committees or form the type of personal alliances necessary to influence the flow of legislation. Instead, House membership was usually viewed as an intermediate step toward securing a Senate seat. Although Henry Blair’s congressional career followed this general pattern, he demonstrated an unwavering commitment to reform issues. In addition,...

  9. Chapter 5 Origin of the Education Bill
    (pp. 77-100)

    Blair returned to Washington after four years in Congress ready to assume his new senatorial duties. He quickly replaced Charles Bell and took his seat after being sworn in on June 20, 1879.¹ Before he could become directly involved in the session, he was prostrated by the physical and emotional fatigue created by the caucus battle. His inability to withstand the summer heat in Washington aggravated his condition.² As a result, he made no substantial contribution to the debates of the first session of the Forty-sixth Congress. Like many other freshmen senators, he may also have been somewhat intimidated by...

  10. Chapter 6 A Sense of Place
    (pp. 101-112)

    As Blair sought to remedy the imperfections of American society, he became more conscious of the heritage shared by the mountain sections of the eastern United States. His reform work led to the discovery of a mountain region in the upland South quite similar to the mountains of New England. Keenly aware of the significant role played by sectional rivalries during the Civil War era, he and many of his compatriots came to appreciate the strong influence of region on patterns of behavior.

    Blair’s recognition of desirable features in the land and people of the White Mountains and New Hampshire...

  11. Chapter 7 Debate and Defeat of the Education Bill
    (pp. 113-130)

    After winning reelection to the Senate in 1885, Blair eagerly sought passage of his education legislation. More and more reform groups sought his assistance with their crusades, making him one of the national symbols of political reform. His strategy continued to be one of educating the public through enormous outpourings of information. Once again, he described his reform proposals as a way of preserving republican government in the American Protestant middle-class tradition.

    Although Blair expected that public pressure would be sufficient to allow his politically acceptable measures to pass through the reluctant Congress, he was operating in an increasingly hostile...

  12. Chapter 8 General Reformer
    (pp. 131-150)

    Although the education bill was his major reform effort, Blair supported numerous social improvement and environmental programs. His reputation for leading reform movements prompted many activists to enlist his support. Some of these movements contributed to the impression that he was a visionary crackpot. For example, he reportedly sponsored legislation to melt the polar ice cap as a project to divert the Gulf Stream.¹

    Blair can best be described as a pragmatic reformer. Throughout his twelve years in the Senate, he sought ways to bring peace between capital and labor, improve the lot of southern blacks, end the abuse of...

  13. Chapter 9 Foreign Policy
    (pp. 151-164)

    Like many senators who were elected to office because of their skill in domestic politics, Blair was a novice in the field of foreign policy. He was far more knowledgeable about tariffs, education, and voting rights than about foreign policy issues. The result was that he did not have the guiding principles or specific knowledge to play an important role in the debates on America’s external affairs. His ignorance in this area led to his involvement in two of the most embarrassing episodes of his public career. The first was a possible conflict of interest involving a private claim in...

  14. Chapter 10 New Hampshire Politics
    (pp. 165-188)

    Despite his national reputation, Henry Blair depended on political developments in New Hampshire to maintain himself in a position of power. Throughout the 1880s, economic developments in the state and Republican factionalism threatened to unseat him. He escaped defeat in 1885 but was overwhelmed by a strong opponent and changed conditions in 1891. After a brief return to Congress in an unexpected 1892 triumph, his electoral career was over. In the remaining twenty-five years of his life, he continued to advocate for political reform. He often worked as a lobbyist, maintaining contacts with such diverse individuals and groups as Booker...

  15. Chapter 11 Later Years
    (pp. 189-200)

    Blair’s last twenty-five years were a time of continued activity and interest in public life. Incomplete manuscript sources prevent a total reconstruction of this period, but it is possible to trace the broad outlines of these later years. While he had no major impact on national or state policies, Blair continued to take part in political events that were of interest to him. At the same time, he opened a law office in Washington, where he used his many personal contacts to become a successful lobbyist. As a former senator, he found that he had ready access to the Congress...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 201-236)
  17. Index
    (pp. 237-246)