Robert William Blair

Robert W. Blair (1873–1924)

Robert W. Blair was one of the few Republicans who served in the Convention of 1901–1902, opposing the new constitution's strict restrictions on voting rights for African Americans and lower-income whites. Blair began his legal career working with his father, Francis S. Blair, a former attorney general of Virginia. He soon became the chairman of Wythe County's Republican Party. He ran for the locality's seat in the convention, winning by twenty-three votes. Blair and the eleven other members of his party had little influence as the new state government was formed by the overwhelming Democratic majority. The Republicans nominated Blair for lieutenant governor in 1901, but he withdrew his candidacy since he was too young to hold the position. About five years later his work took him out of state, and he settled in the Detroit area and drowned in the Detroit River in 1924. MORE...

 

Robert William Blair was born on January 22, 1873, in Wytheville, the fourth of five sons and fourth of six children of Francis S. Blair and Sallie K. Pierce Blair. His father was a prominent attorney who later became attorney general of Virginia and a leader of the Republican Party. Blair attended the University of Virginia and graduated from its law school in 1895. He returned to Wytheville, joined his father's law practice, and soon became chairman of the Wythe County Republican Party.

On April 8, 1901, the Republicans nominated Blair for the county's seat in that year's constitutional convention and adopted forceful resolutions opposing most of the stated reasons for holding the convention, specifically proposals to disfranchise black Virginians. In the May 23 election Blair narrowly defeated the Democratic candidate, county judge John Hall Fulton, 1,492 to 1,469. Blair was one of only a dozen Republicans in the hundred-member convention, and one of the youngest members as well. He therefore had scant opportunity to influence the outcome. Though Blair seldom spoke except on the most important issues, he made a strong speech on February 13, 1902, condemning most of the work of the convention, and he argued for several hours on April 4 against the restrictive suffrage provisions that the convention adopted later that day. He voted against adoption of the constitution on June 6, 1902. Blair's most prominent moment occurred on September 19, 1901, when, on behalf of the Republican members, he eulogized William McKinley during the convention's memorial service for the assassinated president.

In the meantime the Republican state convention meeting in Roanoke had nominated Blair for lieutenant governor of Virginia on August 21, 1901. He was under the thirty-year age limit for the office, and after enduring tongue-in-cheek Democratic remarks that he would indeed be of an age to serve before a Republican could ever be elected, Blair withdrew on September 3. In about 1907 Blair took a job with the United States Bureau of Internal Revenue and moved to Richmond, where he lived for a year and joined the Richmond Light Infantry Blues. He was then transferred to Cincinnati, where he continued to participate in the National Guard. During World War I (1914–1918) he served as a captain in the 85th Division's motor transportation corps.

Following his discharge in 1919, Blair moved to Detroit, Michigan, where he resumed the practice of law and continued to serve in the army reserves, reaching the rank of lieutenant colonel. Early in the 1920s he and his wife, Eva Blair, bought a house in Windsor, Ontario. While boarding a yacht that was to take him to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Blair fell into the Detroit River and drowned on June 8, 1924. His body was recovered two days later and buried in East End Cemetery in Wytheville.

Time Line

  • January 22, 1873 - Robert W. Blair is born in Wytheville, the son of Francis S. Blair and Sallie K. Pierce Blair.
  • 1895 - Robert W. Blair graduates from the University of Virginia. He returns to Wytheville to join his father's law practice.
  • April 8, 1901 - The Wythe County Republican Party nominates Robert W. Blair to represent the county in that year's constitutional convention.
  • May 23, 1901 - Robert W. Blair, a Republican, narrowly defeats the Democratic candidate, county judge John Hall Fulton, to represent Wythe County at the state constitutional convention.
  • August 21, 1901 - The Republican state convention nominates Robert W. Blair for lieutenant governor.
  • September 3, 1901 - Robert W. Blair, a Republican, withdraws from the race for lieutenant governor because he is too young to serve.
  • September 19, 1901 - Robert W. Blair, a Republican delegate from Wythe County, eulogizes President William McKinley on behalf of his fellow Republicans at the state constitutional convention.
  • February 13, 1902 - Robert W. Blair, a Republican delegate from Wythe County, makes a strong speech at the constitutional convention condemning much of the convention's work to disfranchise African American voters.
  • April 4, 1902 - Robert W. Blair, a Republican delegate from Wythe County, argues for several hours against the proposed constitution's restrictive suffrage provisions.
  • June 6, 1902 - Robert W. Blair, a Republican delegate from Wythe County, votes against adoption of the new constitution, which features restrictive suffrage provisions.
  • ca. 1907 - Robert W. Blair takes a job with the U.S. Bureau of Internal Revenue and moves to Richmond, where he lives for a year and joins the Richmond Light Infantry Blues.
  • 1917–1919 - Robert W. Blair serves as a captain in the 85th Division's motor transportation corps.
  • 1919 - Robert W. Blair moves to Detroit, Michigan, where he resumes the practice of law and continues to serve in the army reserves, reaching the rank of lieutenant colonel.
  • Early 1920s - Robert W. Blair and his wife, Eva Blair, buy a house in Windsor, Ontario.
  • June 8, 1924 - While boarding a yacht that is to take him to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Robert W. Blair falls into the Detroit River and drowns. His body is recovered two days later and buries in East End Cemetery in Wytheville.

References

Further Reading
Holt, Wythe W. Virginia's Constitutional Convention of 1902. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1990.
Tarter, Brent. "Blair, Robert William." In the Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Vol. 1, edited by John T. Kneebone, et al., 551–552. Richmond: Library of Virginia, 1998.
Cite This Entry
  • APA Citation:

    Tarter, B., & the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. Robert W. Blair (1873–1924). (2015, November 2). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Blair_Robert_William_1873-1924.

  • MLA Citation:

    Tarter, Brent and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. "Robert W. Blair (1873–1924)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 2 Nov. 2015. Web. READ_DATE.

First published: May 29, 2013 | Last modified: November 2, 2015


Contributed by Brent Tarter and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. Brent Tarter is founding editor of the Dictionary of Virginia Biography