Secession and Civil War

Start Free Trial

Please explain the impact of the carpetbaggers and scalawags.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

"Carpetbaggers" and "scalawags" were insulting terms used by Southerners during Reconstruction. "Carpetbaggers" were Northerners who moved to the region after the war, and the name implied that they came with so few belongings that they could be fit into a cheap luggage bag made from carpet scraps. "Scalawags" were Southerners who supported the Republican Party or that supported rights for African Americans.

Carpetbaggers encompassed a very large group of people. Some were opportunists who came to the region from the North seeking to make a living in the South as it was rebuilt. Others were teachers, judges, and government officials with organizations like the Freedmen's Bureau who came to the region to open schools, help former slaves negotiate labor contracts, and administer justice. Still others were Union Army veterans who stayed in the region after the war. Many so-called "scalawags" were businessmen who sought to attract investment to the region by accepting the modernizing policies of the Republican Party. They were deeply resented by Southerners, who were especially angered because they formed a political coalition with African-American people.

Overall, these people were instrumental in implementing Reconstruction. As mentioned above, they formed the political coalition that allowed the Republicans to take control of most state legislatures. They served as sheriffs, postmasters, tax collectors, and other political posts. Some, like North Carolina governor William Holden, a "scalawag," rose to the highest political positions in their states. In fact, this was really why these people were so reviled. They helped many formerly enslaved people build new lives through education. In short, they did much to upset the old social order in the South, even many of the gains they made were overturned.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team