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The other Blairs

Modern newspapers are, or have been, full of Tony Blair. However, the US Blairs are more notable, particularly Montgomery Blair.

A US lawyer, from Kentucky, he represented Dred Scott in Scott v Sandford [1857].

Dred Scott was a black slave, married to Harriet and each owned by Major Emerson of the US Army (in the case of Dred, since 1832). Major Emerson had consented to the marriage of Dred and Harriet and had taken them to Illinois and the Wisconsin Territory. In each of these places slavery was prohibited. In 1837 Major Emerson married Eliza Sanford. The Emersons and the Scotts moved in accordance with Major Emerson’s army assignments and the Scotts were in Missouri when Major Emerson died, his wife inheriting his estate, including Dred Scott.

Dred Scott offered to buy his freedom from Mrs. Emerson but she refused and in 1846 Dred Scott sued her, claiming he was entitled to his freedom. He ultimately lost in the Missouri Supreme Court, it finding that he should have made his claim while he was in the free territories of Illinois and the Wisconsin Territory.

Dred tried again, in 1853, in Federal court. The defendant was the then executor of Major Emerson’s estate, John Sanford. Ultimately, represented by Montgomery Blair, Dred Scott lost again in the US Supreme Court, (the court mis-spelling Sanford’s name as “Sandford”). The majority on the court denied that Dred Scott was a citizen of the US and therefore the US Supreme court lacked jurisdiction over his claims. It found that the applicable law was that of Missouri, in which Dred Scott was a slave.

The consequences of the decision were very far-reaching. There was an immediate financial upheaval; the possibility that the Southern states could expand slavery into the territories disrupted a political balance between the North and the South and led to the US Civil War.

During the war Montgomery Blair served in the Lincoln cabinet, retiring in 1864 as part of a deal to stall a Fremont candidacy for President, leaving  the way open for Lincoln to seek a second term. Prior to that, Blair advocated the freeing of black slaves to undermine the power of the secessionists, a course followed by Lincoln in due course.

Like many lawyers, Mr. Blair’s representation of his client, Dred Scott, was not for money but from conviction.

As for Eliza Sanford, she learned there are some offers you should not refuse, even if you can. (She had gone to live in Massachusetts before the Supreme court decision and slavery was not permitted there. Massachusetts was a Union state in the war.)