Stories from the NFCCA Newsletter, the “Northwood News”

Northwood News ♦ October 2020

History Corner(s)

The Republican Meeting at Burnt Mills and 1860 Politics

By Ken Hawkins

In October 1860, an outdoor political meeting took place on the grounds of Burnt Mills in Montgomery County, Maryland, where the Colesville Turnpike crossed the Northwest Branch.  The meeting was called by Montgomery Blair, a lawyer and political operative in the fledgling Republican Party, to drum up support for the party’s presidential candidate, Abraham Lincoln.

Montgomery Blair, about a year after he led the Republican meeting at Burnt Mills.  At the time of this photo, Blair served in President Lincoln’s cabinet as Postmaster.

Blair and his father, Francis Preston Blair, founder of Silver Spring, had recently helped nominate Lincoln at the party’s national convention in Chicago in May 1860.1  Both Blairs were strong Unionists and opposed secession.  Their criticism of slavery, however, had more to do with keeping it out of the western territories so white men could acquire public lands and opportunity than support for Black civil and political rights.  In fact, the Blairs argued in favor of the removal of free Blacks and, ultimately, slaves from the U.S. to colonies in Central America and Africa (which Blair carried into the White House and Lincoln supported a few years later).2

The meeting at Burnt Mills is the earliest reference yet found to it being used for a non-commercial use.  Attending were Republican politicians from Washington City, including at least one member of the House of Representatives, along with local residents who, as white males, had exclusive rights to the ballot box.  George N. Beale, who with his mother and siblings owned much of the Four Corners north of the Bladensburg Road, acted as secretary to the meeting.  Watching the proceedings quietly was Francis Preston Blair, a fixture of Washington presidential politics since the Jackson administration (who at this time owned slaves at Silver Spring).  The speakers emphasized the so-called “free soil” doctrine of the early Republican Party, that would leave decisions about allowing slavery in new territories up to local voters, a position held in common with their northern Democratic opponents.

Detail from Martenet’s 1865 map of Montgomery County, showing the Burnt Mills/Four Corners vicinity (Colesville Road runs north to the top of the map) and nearby residences of Francis P. Blair and Montgomery Blair, along Georgia Avenue near Sligo, later renamed Silver Spring.

As a border state, Maryland had plenty of voters that supported slavery and who suspected the Republicans of being abolitionists.  Despite the best efforts of Blair and others to highlight the party’s racism to win those votes, Lincoln finished last in the 1860 presidential election in Maryland.  Strong support for the Union changed that in 1864, but it was the last time Maryland voted for a Republican for the next forty years.

Original Evening Star Story

The Republican Meeting at the Burnt Mills, in Montgomery County, Md., about ten miles north of Washington, D.C., came off agreeably to public notice, last Saturday evening [Oct. 13, 1860].  Mr. Frederick Iddins, on whose land it was held,3 was, on motion of Montgomery Blair, Esq., called to the chair, and George N. Beale appointed secretary.

Mr. Iddins opened the meeting by stating his object, and excused himself from making a speech, he being unaccustomed to public speaking.  He then introduced Hon. Judge Kilgore, representative from Indiana, who proceeded to state the principles and purposes of the republican party, who, he said, had been much misrepresented in that section.4  In the course of his remarks, he stated that the republicans desired to deprive no man of his rights in the Territories — that he could carry his slaves there, subject to the “municipal regulations” therein.

Montgomery Blair, Esq., followed, and after complimenting Judge Kilgore, who had left him little to say in explanation of republican principles, he reviewed the course of the democratic party; referred to the declination of Major Breckinridge to answer Mr. Lamb’s Norfolk questions5 and while admitting Mr. B. to be a Union man, declared him to be afraid of the loss of the secession vote of the South if he avowed his true sentiments.  Mr. Blair highly complimented Major Breckinridge as a high-minded, chivalrous gentleman, and he was proud to claim him as a personal friend and kinsman.  Mr. B. denounced the Bell and Everett and Douglas men as “milk and water” politicians, and advised all who wouldn’t vote for Lincoln to vote for Breckinridge.6  Every man should decide for slavery extension or against it.  Both speakers contrasted the favorable condition of the North with that of the South, and claimed the advantage to the North on account of the prevalence of free-soil doctrines.

The meeting was claimed by Mr. Blair as the first open-air campaign and public meeting ever held in the State of Maryland; hoped there was a good time coming when they would carry the State, and claimed that the republicans would carry Baltimore for Lincoln, and at the end of four years would carry the State.7

Both speakers thanked the audience for their respectful attention.

The meeting was closed by the address of Mr. Jos. Fletcher, of the vicinity, who made some appropriate remarks in behalf of the republican cause.

Mr. Iddins adjourned the meeting, and announced another meeting to be held at Sandy Spring next Saturday [Oct. 20, 1860].

Not the slightest interruption to the meeting occurred, and about thirty republicans were present, the rest being made up of Bell, Douglas, and Breckinridge men.  Washington city was represented in the persons of Messrs. Farnharm, Darling, Kellogg, Jas. Bowen, Moore, and Dodge, of Minnesota.  Francis P. Blair, Esq., of Silver Spring, Montgomery County, was present, but a silent spectator.


1 Evening Star (Washington), Oct. 15, 1860, p 4; the story was picked up by other papers, including San Francisco’s Daily Alta California, Nov. 2, 1860, p 1, to which it had been relayed by the Pony Express.
2 For the political background on the Blairs and early Republicans, see Grace N. Taylor, “The Blair Family in the Civil War,” Register of Kentucky State Historical Society (1940-41), 280-94, 47-57, 138-56.
3 Frederick Iddins had acquired the mill property just two years earlier from Isaac R. Means.  Montgomery County, Md., deeds, JGH 7 f 157, Nov. 19, 1858, $3500.00 for 58 acres in Goodwill, Hard Struggle, and Friendship Enlarged, on both sides of the Northwest Branch adjacent to the lands of James L. Bond, Wesley Beans, and H.C. McCeney.
4 David Kilgore, served as a Republican House member from Indiana in the 35th and 36th Congresses (1857-61).
5 Blair refers to the question put recently to candidates John C. Breckinridge and Stephen Douglas at Norfolk, Virginia, whether secession was a right implicit to states under the Constitution.  Evening Star, Nov. 5, 1860, p 3.
6 John Bell of Tennessee and Edward Everett of Massachusetts, former Whigs, were nominated for President and Vice-President, respectively, on May 9, 1860, by the Constitutional Union Convention in Baltimore.  The Democratic Party split and wings of it nominated both Stephen Douglas of Illinois and John Breckinridge of Kentucky, while Abraham Lincoln secured the Republican Party’s first nomination for President, in May 1860 at Chicago.
7 Lincoln came in last in Maryland’s vote for President in 1860, including Baltimore county where he won just 35 votes.  In 1864, he carried the state — especially Baltimore — which was the last time a Republican for president did so until 1896.  The Sun (Baltimore), Nov. 8, 1860, p 2; ibid., Nov. 10, 1864, p 1.

[Hawkins holds a Ph.D. in history and lives in Northwood Park.]   ■

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