Austin Blair, a member of Union’s Class of 1839, was elected Michigan’s 13th governor in January of 1861.
While new to the position, Blair called for Michigan’s full military support of President Abraham Lincoln and the upholding of the Constitution even though, just a year earlier, Blair openly criticized then-presidential candidate Lincoln, backing Lincoln’s opponent, William H. Seward, Class of 1820.
Blair, an ardent abolitionist, thought Lincoln was too soft on slavery, but when he learned that Lincoln had secured the Republican nomination, Blair backed Lincoln 100 percent.
Blair was the first governor to respond to President Lincoln’s call for troops following the attack on Fort Sumter in April of 1861. He proposed to raise 10 Michigan regiments and helped raise over $100,000 to help fund these new regiments.
Lincoln was greatly pleased by the speed Blair and the state of Michigan exhibited in raising these regiments, commenting, “Thank God for Michigan.”
After raising four regiments, Blair was informed by the Secretary of War that no more regiments from Michigan would be accepted into the Army.
Ignoring the request and following his motto, “To know the right is to do it,” Blair raised three more regiments, which were all quickly deployed. One of the regiments formed was the famous 1st Michigan Colored Volunteer Infantry.
By the end of the war, Blair helped enlist 90,000 of the 110,000 able-bodied men who fought for the Union.
Unfortunately, Blair left office in 1864 almost penniless due to his major personal contributions to the war effort.
Following his efforts as governor, Blair was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. While in the House, Blair was a champion for women’s and African American’s rights to vote.
In 1894, at the age of 76, Blair passed away. He is buried in Jackson, Mich., in Evergreen Cemetery.
A year after his death, Michigan legislation appropriated $10,000 for a statue to honor Blair’s life and legacy.