03263 - Montgomery Blair; United States Postmaster General 1861-1864 [LC-DIG-cwpbh-03263]
Like Lincoln, Montgomery Blair was born in Kentucky. His father was a prominent Democrat and strong supporter of Andrew Jackson. Graduating from West Point in 1835 he only spent a short time in the army during the Seminole War. Moving to St. Louis to study law he began a practice and became a district attorney in 1839 and a judge in a few years later. With a move to Maryland in 1852 he began practicing law at the U.S. Supreme Court and was an associate counsel for the Dred Scott decision.
By the late 1850’s the Blair’s had abandoned the Democratic Party, which had strongly favored slavery, to help found the Republican Party. Blair campaigned strongly on behalf of Lincoln in 1860 and was rewarded with a cabinet position as Postmaster General. While it may seem odd to move from a legal background to the post office, Blair did well. He established several improvements, some of which continue to this day. Prior to the Civil War mail was not delivered to the house. You had to collect your mail at the post office (similar to having a P.O. Box today) or pay an additional fee to have the mail delivered. During Blair’s administration free home delivery was instituted for most major cities, this gradually expanded to the rest of the country. The ability to purchase a money order at the post office was also introduced along with the use of railway mail cars to transport and sort the mail.
Blair left office in 1864 and campaigned again for Lincoln’s re-election. Concerns over Reconstruction policy caused him to return the Democratic Party in 1868. His brother received the Vice Presidential nomination that year, but failed to win the election. Blair died in 1883 at the age of 70. He was the great-grandfather of actor Montgomery Clift (1920-1966).