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Henry W. Blair's Campaign to Reform America

From the Civil War to the U.S. Senate

Gordon B. McKinney

Publication Year: 2013

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.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

Front cover

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Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

Seeking information in a small New Hampshire town inevitably leads the researcher to the clerk of the township. A brief visit to the office of Campton clerk Sterle A. Cheney revealed that he was working at home. A short ride...

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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...

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1. Early Years

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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...

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2. Colonel

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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...

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3. Apprentice Lawyer and Politician

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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...

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4. Congressman

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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...

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5. Origin of the Education Bill

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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...

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6. A Sense of Place

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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...

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7. Debate and Defeat of the Education Bill

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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...

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8. General Reformer

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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...

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9. Foreign Policy

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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...

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10. New Hampshire Politics

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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...

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11. Later Years

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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...


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pp. 201-236


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pp. 237-246

E-ISBN-13: 9780813140896
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813140872

Page Count: 246
Publication Year: 2013

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Blair, Henry W. (Henry William), 1834-1920.
  • Legislators -- United States.
  • United States. Congress. Senate -- Biography.
  • New Hampshire -- Politics and government -- 1865-1950.
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