Carpetbaggers & Scalawags of the Reconstruction Era

Following the Civil War, Americans from both the north and the south decided to move to the opposite region to satisfy their own economic and political interests. These two groups of individuals earned themselves the nicknames of carpetbaggers and scalawags, names which were meant to offend people instead of compliment them.

carpetbagger reconstruction

A carpetbagger was the name given to a poorer Northerner who moved down to a Confederate state. The name meant to suggest that the Northern individual was so poor, he or she could fit all of their belongings in a meager carpet bag. It was also assumed the carpetbaggers had a low level education, though this has proven to be a rumor. Typically, they were known for moving down South so that they could take advantage of how weak the southern political and industrial climate was; they knew they could make money if they made the right moves and used their influence in the correct way.


Many others, however, moved down South with good intentions. A lot of them were teachers, journalists, and other types of business individuals who were looking to come to the aid of the newly-freed African Americans. The carpetbaggers also backed the Republican Party, the party of President Lincoln. A handful of carpetbaggers tasked themselves with teaching newly freed African Americans how to read.

Scalawags were white Southerners who cooperated politically with black freedmen and Northern newcomers. Many of them wanted to keep the Republican party in political power in the South and vied for the development of the region’s economy, which had taken a major hit during the Civil War. Since scalawags supported the efforts of the Republican party, they were seen as traitors by their other Southern counterparts, who did not support the abolition efforts or the reunification of the Confederacy with the Union States.

It was common for scalawags to join up with black freedmen to run for local political office so that they could fill governmental seats with people who shared their opinions. Like the carpetbaggers, scalawags were rumored to be corrupt.

Unfortunately, both groups were targets of the violent extremist group the Ku Klux Klan, who threatened them due to their pro-Reconstruction stance.