By mid-1863, after critical Union victories at Vicksburg and Gettysburg, Northerners believed that the war would soon be over and the South would again be under Union control. While the war would last for two more years, Northerners were planning for the end of the war in 1863. In preparing for war’s end, one key topic of conversation concerned how the reconstruction of the south should proceed. Reconstruction was a topic of much debate, particularly between the radical and conservative Republicans. Radical Republicans believed that once the war ended, the Southern states had no right to rejoin the Union in their pre-war status; the South was a region of traitorous conspirators who had, in effect committed “state suicide.” This term suggested that, in succeeding from the Union, the southern states had effectively killed themselves in a suicidal pact, meaning that they no longer existed in either governmental or territorial terms. With this understanding of state suicide, the United States would have full constitutional authority to occupy the former states’ territories and could do with those territories as it pleased.(1)
Conservative Republicans, by contrast, generally believed that the insurrection of the southern states was mounted by a few powerful and wealthy politicians and plantation owners who coerced the majority of the southern population—loyal Union citizens—into joining the rebellion. The states as a whole should not be punished for the acts of the insurrection’s leaders; conservative Republicans believed that those leaders would be punished in due time and that the southern states should be readmitted into the Union as soon as possible.(2)
Postmaster General Blair’s belief’s regarding reconstruction were more in line with that of the conservatives; Blair stated that, “Treason was committed not by any states, but by the individuals who made use of the forms of the state Government and attempted to dismember the National Government.”(3) He agreed with other conservative Republicans that the majority of the southern state populations were loyal Union citizens. Blair’s reconstruction politics set him apart from many of the other cabinet members, causing many disagreements and ultimately putting Blair’s cabinet position in jeopardy.