Though hardly a household name, the subject of this biography is the name on a famous house; namely, the Blair House across...

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FRANCIS PRESTON BLAIR

Though hardly a household name, the subject of this biography is the name on a famous house; namely, the Blair House across the street from the White House which serves as a stopping-place for foreign dignitaries, presidents-elect, and, occasionally, presidents. Blair was a 19th-century political wheeler-dealer, and the family is still big in Maryland politics. Smith, a University of Maryland historian, competently follows Blair from his beginnings as a circuit court clerk in Kentucky to the editorship of a pro-Jackson newspaper, the Globe, where he tirelessly attacked the United States Bank and found entry into Jackson's notorious kitchen. Counselor Blair became Jackson's patronage man, establishing himself as a Washington power and persistently trying to get rich on various investment schemes. But when Blair publicly opposed the annexation of Texas, the Globe went out of business as a party publication--leaving Blair with a strong urge for revenge against his southern enemies which ultimately led him to the Republicans. Meanwhile, his sons were rising too: one, Montgomery, was Dred Scott's attorney, and another, Frank, was elected to the House. Preston's patronage experience didn't hurt them, either, as he convinced Lincoln to appoint Montgomery to his cabinet as Postmaster General, the most notorious of patronage positions. Smith's story branches off to follow all the Blairs through the rest of the century in a kind of archetypal American-political-family saga; the Blairs are, arguably, a smaller-scale Kennedy clan. The intrigue gets somewhat tedious, but the historical slant is fresh and interesting.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1980

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Free Press/Macmillan

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1980