Austin Blair (February 8, 1818 - August 6, 1894), also known as the Civil War Governor, was a politician from the U.S. state of Michigan. He was a known as a strong opponent of slavery and secession and also championed human rights by leading the effort to ban capital punishment and supporting efforts to give women and black citizens the right to vote.
Blair was born in Caroline, New York, in a log cabin built by his father George Blair. It was reportedly the first cabin in Tompkins County, New York and Blair lived there until age 17, helping his father farm the land. He attended the common schools, Cazenovia Seminary and Hamilton College, before transferring to Union College in the middle of his junior year, graduating in 1839. Blair studied law in Oswego, New York and was admitted to the bar in Tioga County, New York in 1841. He moved to Michigan in that year, residing first in Jackson before moving to Eaton Rapids.
He began his political career in Eaton Rapids, where he was elected the clerk of Eaton County in 1842. He moved back to Jackson in 1844 and was a Whig member of the Michigan State House of Representatives from Jackson County from 1846 to 1849. He served on the Judiciary Committee and was the leading proponent of the successful 1846 effort to abolish capital punishment in Michigan. He also introduced legislation to allow black citizens the right to vote. He left the Whig Party because they did not take a strong anti-slavery stance, and was a delegate to the Free Soil Party National Convention in Buffalo, New York in 1848 which nominated Martin Van Buren.
He was elected Jackson County prosecutor in 1852 and participated in organizing the Republican Party in 1854. He was chairman of the committee that drafted the Republican platform "under the oaks" in Jackson on July 6. He served in the state senate from 1855 to 1856.
In 1860, Blair was a delegate from Michigan to the Republican National Convention, which nominated Abraham Lincoln. He was also elected Governor of Michigan in that year and reelected in 1862, serving from 1861 to 1864.
In his first inaugural address in January 1861, Blair recommended that the state offer its entire military resources to Lincoln for maintaining the supremacy of the U.S. Constitution. Within days of the outbreak of the American Civil War in April, Blair responded by calling for ten companies of volunteers. The legislature later retroactively authorized the Governor's quick actions, authorized a war loan of $1,000,000, and passed the Soldiers' Relief Law, requiring counties to provide relief to the families of soldiers. By mid-May, the first regiment of Michigan soldiers, under the command of Colonel O. B. Wilcox had left to engage in the field of combat, and was the first western force to arrive at the seat of combat. The second regiment, under the command of Colonel Israel B. Richardson, soon followed.
While the third and fourth regiments were being raised, Blair received directions from the Secretary of War, limiting the number of regiments that would be accepted from Michigan to four and asked Blair not to raise more than that number. Blair decided to disregard these instructions and continued to establish the fifth, sixth, and seventh regiments, all of which had been deployed by mid-September. Under Blair's guidance, Michigan continued to supply troops for the Union forces throughout the war. One notable unit was a colored unit, known as the 102nd United States Colored Troops, which included two sons of Sojourner Truth and Josiah Henson (the man Harriet Beecher Stowe used as the model for Uncle Tom). At the outset of the war, Michigan had a total population of approximately 800,000 and an estimated 110,000 able-bodied men capable of bearing arms. By the end of the war, more than 90,000 Michigan men had volunteered to fight.
Blair personally helped to raise about $100,000 to organize and equip the initial muster of troops. When Blair left office in 1864, he was almost destitute, having expended much of his personal wealth in support of the war effort. During this time of conflict, Governor Blair ran the state government from his hometown of Jackson, making that community a hub the Michigan's war effort.
Blair ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate, challenging the politically well-entrenched Zachariah Chandler, who although a fellow Republican was seen by Blair as representing wealthy, Detroit interests rather than "outstate" interests.
He was a Republican U.S. Representative from 1867 to 1873, serving in the 40th, 41st and 42nd Congresses. He was not a candidate for re-election in 1872, but unsuccessfully ran as the Liberal Republican candidate for Governor. He returned to Jackson to resume a private law practice. He was a member of the University of Michigan board of regents from 1881 to 1889.
He died in Jackson and is interred at Mt. Evergreen Cemetery there.
In 1895, the Michigan legislature appropriated $10,000 for a statue in Blair's memory. It was to be placed on Capitol Square, the first, and only time that an actual person has been honored with a statue on the Capitol's grounds.