Austin Blair, Governor of Michigan from Jan. 2, 1861 to Jan. 4, 1965, and known as the War Governor, is an illustration of the beneficent influence of republican institutions, having inherited neither fortune or fame. He was born in a log cabin at Caroline, Tompkins Co. N.Y., Feb. 8, 1818. His ancestors came from Scotland in the time of George I, and for many generations followed the pursuit of agriculture. His father, George Blair, settled in Tompkins County in 1809, and felled the trees and erected the first cabin in the county. The last 60 of the fourscore and four years of his life were spent on that spot. He married Rhoda Blackman, who now sleeps with him in the soil of the old homestead. The first 17 years of his life were spent there, rending his father what aid he could upon the farm. He then spent a year and a half in Cazenovia Seminary preparing for college; entered Hamilton College, in Clinton, prosecuted his studies until the middle of the junior year, when, attracted by the fame of Dr. Nott, he changed to Union College, from which he graduated in the class of 1839. Upon leaving college Austin Blair read law two years in the office of Sweet & Davis,Oswego, N.Y., and was admitted to the practice in 1841, and the same year moved to Michigan, locating in Jackson. During a temporary residence in Eaton Rapids, in 1842, he was elected Clerk of Eaton County. At the close of the official term he returned to Jackson, and as a Whig, zealously espoused the cause of Henry Clay in the campaign of 1844. He was chosen Representative to the Legislature in 1845, at which session, as a member of the Judiciary Committee, he rendered valuable service in the revision of the general statutes; also made an able report in favor of abolishing the color distinction in relation to the elective franchise, and at the same session was active in securing the abolition of capital punishment. In 1848 Mr. Blair refused longer to affiliate with the Whig party, because of its refusal to endorse in convention any anti-slavery sentiment. He joined the Free-soil movement, and was a delegate to their convention which nominated Van Buren for President that year. Upon the birth of the Republican party at Jackson, in 1854, by the coalition of the Whig and Free-soil elements, Austin Blair was in full sympathy with the movement, and acted as a member of the Committee on Platform. He was elected Prosecuting Attorney of Jackson County in 1852; was chosen State Senator two years later; taking his seat with the incoming Republican administration of 1855, and holding the position, of parliamentary leader in the Senate. He was a delegate to the National Convention which nominated Abraham Lincoln in 1860, and reelected in 1862, faithfully and honorably discharging to arduous duties of the office during that most momentous an stormy period of the Nation’s life. Governor Blair possessed a clear comprehension of the perilous situation from the inception of the Rebellion, and his inaugural address foreshadowed the prompt executive policy and the administrative ability which characterized his gubernatorial career.
Never perhaps in the history of a nation has a brighter example been laid down, or a greater sacrifice been made, theron that which distinguished Michigan during the civil war. All, from the “War Governor,: down to the poorest citizen of the State, were animated with a patriotic ardor at once magnificently sublime and wisely directed.
Very early in 1861 the coming struggle cast its shadow over the Nation. Governor Blair, in his message to the Legislature in January of that year, dwelt very forcibly upon the sad prospects of civil war and as forcibly pledged the State to support the principles of the Republic. After a review of the conditions of the State he passed on to a consideration of the relations between the free and slave States of the Republic, saying: “While we are citizens of the State of Michigan, and as such deeply devoted to her interests and honor; we have a still prouder title. We are also citizens of the United States of America. By this title we are known among the nations of the earth. In remote quarters of the globe, were the names of the States are unknown, the flag of the great Republic, the banner of the stars and stripes, honor and protect her citizens. In whatever concerns the honor, the prosperity and the perpetuity of this great Government, we are deeply interested. The people of Michigan are loyal to that Government – faithful to its constitution and its laws. Under it they have had peace and prosperity; and under it them mean to abide to the end. Feeling a just pride in the glorious history of the past, they will not renounce the equally glorious hopes of the future. But they will rally around the standards of the Nation and defend its integrity and its constitution, with fidelity.” The final paragraph being:
“I recommend you at an early day to make manifest to the gentlemen who represent the State in the two Houses of Congress, and to the country, that Michigan is loyal to the Union, the Constitution, and the laws and will defend them to the uttermost; and to proffer to the President of the United States, the whole military power of the State for that purpose. Oh, for the firm, steady hand of a Washington, or a Jackson, to guide the ship of State in this perilous storm! Let us hope that we will find him on the 4th of March. Meantime, let us abide in the faith of our fathers – ‘Liberty and Union, one and inseparable, now and forever.’”
Now this stirring appeal was responded to by the people of Michigan will be seen by the statement that the State furnished 88,111 men during the war. Money, men, clothing and food were freely and abundantly supplied by this State during all these years of darkness and blood shed. No State won a brighter record for her devotion to our country that the Peninsula State, and to Governor Blair, more than to any other individual is due the credit for its untiring zeal and labors in the Nation’s behalf, and for the heroism manifested in its defense.
Governor Blair was elected Representative to the Fortieth Congress, and twice re-elected, to the Forty-first and Forty-second Congress, from the Third District of Michigan. While a member of that body he was a strong supporter of reconstruction measures, and sternly opposed every form of repudiation. His speech upon the national finances, delivered on the floor of the House March 21, 1868, was a clear and convincing argument. Since his retirement from Congress, Mr. Blair has been busily occupied with his extensive law practice. Mr. Blair married Sarah L. Ford of Seneca County N.Y., in February 1849. Their family consists of 4 sons – George H., a postal clerk in the railway mail service; Charles A., partner with his father; Fred. J. and Austin T. at home. Governor Blair’s religion is of the broad type, and centers in the “Golden Rule.” In 1883, Gov. Blair was nominated for Justice of the Supreme Court of the State by the Republican part, but was defeated.
Source: Chapman Brothers. Portrait and biographical record of Genesee, Lapeer and Tuscola counties, Michigan. Chicago: Chapman brothers, 1892.