For twenty years after Reconstruction, James Blount represented the Sixth District of Georgia (Macon and middle Georgia) in the U.S. House of Representatives. Serving from 1873 to 1893, he was among the southern Democrats known as the Redeemers. Unlike some southern congressmen who separated themselves from national issues, Blount gained the respect of national Democrats and served as chair of both the Post Office Committee and the Committee on Foreign Affairs. In foreign affairs, he opposed imperialist expansion in the late 1880s and early 1890s. Immediately upon his retirement from Congress in 1893, U.S. president Grover Cleveland appointed him special commissioner with “paramount authority” to investigate the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom by American residents of the islands. The report that he submitted to Cleveland stands as his most notable achievement.
Born in Jones County in 1837, James Henderson Blount graduated from the University of Georgia in 1858, studied law, and was admitted to the Georgia bar in Macon before the Civil War. In 1861 he married Eugenia Wiley. During the war he served in the Confederate army as a private in Floyd Rifles until he was injured; shortly before the war’s end he organized and served as a lieutenant colonel in Blount’s Cavalry. He was a member of the Georgia constitutional convention of 1865. During Reconstruction Blount maintained his law practice and also became a leading planter in middle Georgia before his election to the U.S. Congress.
Blount’s primary claim to national distinction came in his investigation of the Hawaiian Revolution of 1893. Blount and his wife arrived in Honolulu, Hawaii, in late March and stayed until early August. He conducted extensive interviews, mainly in private, with a wide range of the local population, including native Hawaiians as well as American and European planters. He interviewed those who favored and those who opposed annexation to the United States.
Blount then wrote a report highly critical of the overthrow of Queen Lili`uokalani. He said that the majority of native Hawaiians did not want annexation to the United States. He also found that American naval and diplomatic representatives in Honolulu provided the crucial support needed by local revolutionaries to depose the queen. He recommended against annexation and instead suggested that President Cleveland ask the revolutionary government to resign and restore the queen to the throne. Though the revolutionary government did not comply with the president’s request to resign, any further moves toward annexation were stopped for the rest of Cleveland’s administration. Some historians believe that Blount’s Reconstruction experience in Georgia shaped his opposition to annexing Hawaii by force.
After his 1893 report Blount retired from public life and managed his extensive plantation lands outside Macon until his death in 1903. Although he is not now a well-known figure in Georgia history, his name and the Blount Report are prominent in all modern histories of Hawaii. A memoir by Blount’s daughter, Eugenia Dorothy “Dolly” Blount Lamar, chronicles his career as a voice for the disenfranchised South in Congress.