Monday, April 4, 2011

Carpetbaggers And Scalawags...?

Have you ever wondered where the terms "carpetbaggers and scalawags" came from? I have!

I figured I would look it up and thanks to History, I found the answer! I thought I'd share it with you, just in case you might want to call someone one of these names sometimes. Never hurts to have the meaning of a tag you are going to hang on someone, right?

Anyway, these two nicknames have a colorful history, so that makes the origins that much more interesting!


In general, the term "carpetbagger" refers to a traveler who arrives in a new region with only a satchel (or carpetbag) of possessions, and who attempts to profit from or gain control over his new surroundings, often against the will or consent of the original inhabitants. After 1865, a number of northerners moved to the South to purchase land, lease plantations or partner with down-and-out planters in the hopes of making money from cotton. At first they were welcomed, as southerners saw the need for northern capital and investment to get the devastated region back on its feet. They later became an object of much scorn, as many southerners saw them as low-class and opportunistic newcomers seeking to get rich on their misfortune.

In reality, most Reconstruction-era carpetbaggers were well-educated members of the middle class; they worked as teachers, merchants, journalists or other types of businessmen, or at the Freedman's Bureau, an organization created by Congress to provide aid for newly liberated black Americans. Many were former Union soldiers. In addition to economic motives, a good number of carpetbaggers saw themselves as reformers and wanted to shape the postwar South in the image of the North, which they considered to be a more advanced society. Though some carpetbaggers undoubtedly lived up to their reputation as corrupt opportunists, many were motivated by a genuine desire for reform and concern for the civil and political rights of freed blacks.


White southern Republicans, known to their enemies as "scalawags," made up the biggest group of delegates to the Radical Reconstruction-era legislatures. Some scalawags were established planters (mostly in the Deep South) who thought that whites should recognize blacks' civil and political rights while still retaining control of political and economic life. Many were former Whigs (conservatives) who saw the Republicans as the successors to their old party. The majority of the scalawags were non-slaveholding small farmers as well as merchants, artisans and other professionals who had remained loyal to the Union during the Civil War. Many lived in the northern states of the region, and a number had either served in the Union Army or been imprisoned for Union sympathies. Though they differed in their views on race—many had strong anti-black attitudes—these men wanted to keep the hated "rebels" from regaining power in the postwar South; they also sought to develop the region's economy and ensure the survival of its debt-ridden small farms.

The term scalawag was originally used as far back as the 1840s to describe a farm animal of little value; it later came to refer to a worthless person. For opponents of Reconstruction, scalawags were even lower on the scale of humanity than carpetbaggers, as they were viewed as traitors to the South. Scalawags had diverse backgrounds and motives, but all of them shared the belief that they could achieve greater advancement in a Republican South than they could by opposing Reconstruction. Taken together, scalawags made up roughly 20 percent of the white electorate and wielded a considerable influence. Many also had political experience from before the war, either as members of Congress or as judges or local officials.

Always fun to discover just where some of these old names and titles come from, especially if the names are derogatory in nature! So, if you decide to use either of these names at least now you will have a better idea of what they really mean!

Now, let's get some fresh coffee and sit in the kitchen for a bit. Looks like rain, but probably won't! You know how that goes, right?


Spud said...

Plenty of both here in Floriduh...

Momlady said...

Knew what carpetbagger meant but not scalawag. Thanks for the info. We have a number of them here, mostly from Michigan and Florida.

Bob from Athens said...

Lucky for us that the carpet baggers that were willing to work hard for an honest dollar stayed around and became valuable parts of the community. The ones that thought that cotton and corn and etc., produced dollar bills and all they had to do was sit and drink mint julips while the rebel trash picked them, soon moved on hunting gold & silver.

Michael Ultra said...

Stop on by and we'll have a cup.

Dizzy-Dick said...

Like Momlady, I knew what carpet baggers were. Interesting post, as always. Now I know what my Grandma meant when she shoo'd us out of her kitchen saying "get out side you little scalaywags".

JoJo said...

Good Morning My Special One,
I didn't know what scalawag was either. See you just are such a good teacher to your blogger followers.
Coffee in your kitchen is always a wonderful way to start the day.

HermitJim said...

Hey Spud...
I'm thinking that all states have their fair share of these two names! Certainly know of a few here in Houston!

Thanks so much for the visit today!

Hey Momlady...
Almost seems like the term "scalawag" fits right in there in Georgia!

Present company accepted, of course!

I do appreciate you coming by today!

Hey Bob...
It's always fascinated me that there was such a shift in the population after the Civil War!

Probably a good thing because of the number of folks killed during that conflict! Let's hope it never happens again!

Thanks for the visit today!

Hey Michael...
Thanks for the invite! I'll just do that! I never turn down a free cup of coffee!

I appreciate you coming by...and welcome!

Hey Dizzy...
I knew how much you like the origins of words, so I figured you would like this one!

Older folks used this term a LOT, I think!

Thanks, buddy, for coming by today!

Hey JoJo...'re just saying that 'cause it's true!

Seriously, I found it interesting so figured ya'll would as well!

Thanks, sweetie, for coming by today!

Mechanic in Illinois said...

Thanks for the neat lesson. Things I didn't know about. Have a great Monday. said...

I always called Big A. a carpetbaggar but scalawag would have fit much better, huh?!!
Love ya.

Anonymous said...

Some of the people weren't technically carpetbaggers, but due to fortuitous circumstances, were 'at the right place at the right time'.

Such was John McAllen, a Scottish immigrant who due to his citizenship (not yet an Confederate American citizen, was spared having his captial wiped out, unlike like of his fellow South Texans. So he had a leg up on his competitors, moreso when he married a Spanish daughter of a wealthy businessman. Because wealth is often transferred to the male head of household, he became richer upon the FIL's demise.