Who Were the Carpetbaggers?


Quick Answer

"Carpetbaggers" were people who went to the South after the Civil War for economic profit in the midst of upheaval. According to tradition, carpetbaggers received their name because they showed up with only a carpetbag.

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Full Answer

Carpetbaggers were northerners who went south during the Reconstruction to buy up land and make money. Many of the carpetbaggers partnered with bankrupt southerners to re-establish cotton plantations. Other carpetbaggers were teachers, businessmen and journalists. Some were part of an official government organization called the Freedmen's Bureau sent with the mission to reform the South and help the newly liberated slaves.

Although carpetbaggers were often viewed with suspicion by the southerners and seen as opportunists, many worked to help the region economically. Some carpetbaggers, however, took advantage of the South for their own profit.

"Scalawags" were white southern Republicans who chose to help with the Reconstruction. These southerners were typically small farmers or other professionals who wanted to wrest power from the rebels who had brought the South into the Civil War. Together with the carpetbaggers and the freed slaves, they made up the majority of the Republican Party in the South. Eventually the three groups of people formed a coalition and gained control of many state legislatures.

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