1860 : Austin Blair Selected as Republican Candidate for Governor

June 7, 2024 all-day

On June 7, 1860, the only Michigan Governor with a statue in front of the Capitol was selected by the Republican Party to be their offical candidate for Governor.

Mr. Blair, born in New York in 1818 and coming to Michigan in 1837, was a lawyer who served in the Michigan House and then the Michigan Senate before being nominated and then elected governor in 1860. He played a critical role in the creation of the Republican Party, when in 1856 it met to organize in Jackson (his hometown).

He was also something of a radical on abolition of slavery. In the House in 1846 he moved to strike the reference to “white” men in Michigan’s Constitution. He actually was disappointed that Abraham Lincoln was the GOP nominee in 1860, in part because he thought Lincoln not strong enough on abolishing slavery.

During the Civil War, he was relentless in his efforts to raise and finance troops for the war. Eventually, more than 10 percent of Michigan’s population served in the union forces. He also travelled extensively to visit Michigan soldiers in campgrounds and hospitals, a difficult financial feat.

His salary as governor was $1,000 annually, not much money even then, and he had no expense account. Because of his travels, he was left a little short of funds when he left office in 1865, and he spoke at the dedication of the Capitol in 1879 and urged the state to pay their governors at least half as well as dry-goods store clerks were paid.

He stayed in the public eye when he left the executive office. He was elected in 1866 to the first of three terms in Congress. He tried and failed to win the U.S. Senate seat (which was a post chosen by the Legislature at the time, obviously having short memories is not a new phenomenon), then ran for governor again as a Liberal Republican being backed by Democrats in 1872 but lost in a four-candidate race. He split with Republicans by the 1876 election, but patched things up and tried (and failed) as a Republican to be elected to the Supreme Court in 1887.

Source : John Lindstrom, “Here’s To The Civil War Governor”, Gongwer Blog, June 6, 2013.

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