Carpetbaggers and Scalawags
During and right after the Civil War which ended in 1865, many northerners headed south for various reasons. Some wanted to make money from the south's situation. Some wanted to help the freed slaves. These people were called carpetbaggers by southerners. The term refers to a stranger who travels to a new region for personal gain. He carries just a carpetbag or satchel. Most often residents don't welcome him.
These carpetbaggers supported the Republican Party in power at that time in the federal government. They became a part of those setting up new governments in the South during the period called Reconstruction. The South had been badly damaged during the Civil War. In many areas crops and homes had been destroyed. The South had to be rebuilt or reconstructed. Of course, freed b lacks also supported the Republicans who had helped to abolish slavery. Some southern whites chose to back the Republican Party too, seeing an advantage of some kind for themselves. These southern whites were called scalawags.
After 1865, many northerners or carpetbaggers went to the South to buy land cheaply, or to partner with poor farmers who had lost almost everything. They wanted to make money from growing cotton. At first, the southerners thought that this was a good thing because they needed money flowing into the South. Later, the southerners realized that many were just there for their own gain and to get rich.
However, not all the carpetbaggers were out for their own gain. Many were teachers, businessmen, merchants, or journalists. Some worked with the Freedmen's Bureau. This was a government institution set up to help freed slaves get on their feet. Some carpetbaggers were even former Union soldiers. Even if they managed to gain by their travel to the South, some also wanted to bring about reforms and make the South more like the North which they believed was more advanced than the South in many areas. They were also interested in making life better for the former slaves.
Beginning with the Reconstruction Acts of 1867, the South was divided into five military districts. The Acts also set down rules about forming new governments in the southern states. This period of the next ten years was called the Radical Reconstruction Period. New state governments had to support the right to vote for all males. The state legislatures in the South consisted mostly of African-Americans, who made up most voters, and carpetbaggers and scalawags.
Scalawags were the majority in these new state legislatures. Some were planters who felt it was fine to give rights to African-Americans but wanted to retain political and financial control of the states themselves. Many scalawags were lower-income farmers who had never owned slaves, or merchants or other business people who had supported the North during the Civil War. Many had lived in the most northern states of the South and had even served in the Union army. They all wanted to prevent the former southern Confederates from regaining power.
Prior to the Civil War, the term 'scalawag' referred to an animal which wasn't worth much. Then it was applied to what people thought was a worthless person. Those who opposed Reconstruction considered scalawags as traitors to the South. They were even lower than carpetbaggers in their minds. Scalawags, however, thought they could gain great profit in the South if it was ruled by Republicans.
More than 20% of the whites in the South were scalawags and became very powerful. Many already had political experience before the war as elected officials or Congressmen.
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