LINCOLN, Abraham (1809-1865), President. Autograph letter signed ("A. Lincoln") as President, to Secretary of War [Edwin M. Stanton], Washington, D.C., 23 April 1864. 1 full page, 4to, on Executive Mansion stationery, strongly penned in very dark ink, text with one correction by Lincoln. Fine condition.
LINCOLN ORDERS FRANK P. BLAIR, FOUNDER OF THE FREE-SOIL PARTY, TO BE RETURNED TO A FIELD COMMAND
A very unusual letter directing the Secretary of War to reinstate Major General Frank P. Blair, a trusted Republican supporter and Congressman from Missouri. Lincoln writes "According to our understanding with Major General Frank P. Blair, at the time he took his seat in Congress last winter, he now asks to withdraw his resignation as Major General then tendered, and be sent to the field. Let this be done. Let the order sending him to the field be such as shown me today by the Adjutant General, only dropping from it the names of Maguire and Thompkins...."
The "understanding " Lincoln refers to, was a highly unorthodox agreement between Blair and the President. Francis Preston Blair, Jr. (1821-1875), brother of Postmaster General Montgomery Blair (1813-1883), was from an eminent Kentucky family. He attended Princeton, fought in the Mexican war as a lowly private and then practiced law in St. Louis. An ardent abolitionist, in 1848 Blair organized the Free-Soil party in Missouri, opposing the state's strong pro-slavery elements. He led the seizure of the key St. Louis arsenal by pro-Union forces, preventing its capture by secessionists. While serving as Missouri Congressman in (1856-1858 and 1860-62 and 1863-1864) Blair proved a valuable asset to the President in Congress. But he was he was powerfully drawn to the military and, by his own efforts raised seven regiments, serving as Colonel, Brigadier General and finally Major General. During Grant's Vicksburg campaign, Blair served under Sherman as a brigade commander on the Yazoo expedition.
Clearly, Blair was powerfully pulled in two directions: should he remain at the head of his brigade in the field, or return to Washington and take up his post in an increasingly divided Congress? In this dilemma, he sought the President's candid advice. Lincoln responded in a letter to his brother, Montgomery Blair. Because General Blair had wished "to be guided by my wishes as to whether he will occupy his seat in Congress or remain in the field," Lincoln strongly urged him to return to Washington. He made Blair a most unusual proposition. On his return, Blair should "put his military commission in my hands, take his seat, go into caucus with our friends, abide the nominations, help elect the nominees, and thus aid to organize a House of Representatives, which will really support the government in the war. If the result shall be the election of himself as speaker, let him serve in that position. If not let him retake his commission and return to the army." (Lincoln to M. Blair, 2 November 1863, Basler 6:544-555).
Frank Blair agreed. He returned to the capital and took his seat in the 38th Congress. There, on several occasions, he made fiery addresses in support of Lincoln, denouncing the policies of the Radical Republicans, even criticizing Secretary of the Treasury Salmon Chase. Blair was not chosen Speaker, and, frustrated with the contentious and partisan tone of Congress, in late April asked Lincoln to restore him to a field command. Here, the Commander-in-Chief fulfills his bargain. Blair rejoined the army and commanded the XVII Corps under Sherman in the Atlanta and Carolinas campaigns. After the war, he continued to oppose Radical Reconstruction and the spirit of revenge that threatened the Union for which he had fough both in Congress and on the battlefield. Published in Basler 7:312.