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Carpetbaggers and the New Social South

Updated on December 16, 2017
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Rebecca Graf is a seasoned writer with nearly a decade of experience and degrees in accounting, history, and creative writing.

Many things changed in the South after the American Civil War. Nothing was the same. The war totally turned the South upside down.

The social aspect was also a major change in the South. The black community had suddenly become part of a society above that of the status of slave. It would take quite a bit of adjustment for both the blacks and the whites. It was also an aspect that carpetbaggers could take advantage of as well as give a large amount of aid.


Social Changes

The entire social spectrum was wrapped around that of the political and economic areas of the Southern reconstruction plan. The black community had been slaves for over a hundred years. They were the foundation of the labor source. Now, they were part of society which meant the rules had to change for society and how the two races interacted. Carpetbaggers would play a huge role in this.

In that time, social status had a lot to do with a person’s economic position in society though their background added to that status as well. After the war, Southerners feared how far up the social ladder the blacks might try to climb. The result they feared would be “social mixing between races and intermarriage†which was a fearful thought to most Southerners. The white population feared the blacks moving into their circles, and the blacks had no idea how to move in the new society. It was perfect for the carpetbaggers to come in and help them out.


Partnered with Scalawags

Carpetbaggers aligned with the scalawags to help exploit the black man and even many of the disadvantaged white man. The scalawags were the men and women of the South who worked to help exploit their own either through their own means or in alliance with the carpetbaggers.

Most evidence shows that "white southerners feared and detested scalawags more than carpetbaggers" as it was their own kind turning on them when they were down and kicking them hard. Yet it was the black community that found it under the thumb of the carpetbaggers as they gained political power and position.


Not the Origin of the KKK

Carpetbaggers were not the creators of the Klu Klux Klan though their presence and actions in the South opened the door for the more violent and most infamous acts of the KKK. The situation in the South that beckoned the not so pure carpetbaggers was the one situation that gave rise to the Klan.

It began as a group to help those in need, but soon ended up as a violent group thinking it was protecting the South from the Negro and the Yankee. The Klan grew quickly "fueled by a wide-spread fear among many Southern Whites of an insurrection by former slaves†and by the anger felt toward the carpetbaggers who “had invaded the South with both quickly becoming “favorite targets for intimidation†by the Klan “backed up by violent night-time raids that could in death.â€


The Good of Carpetbaggers

At this point, someone might wonder what good a carpetbagger brought to the South. Most anything can have a positive side to it though it might be slight. There were many who were not out to rape the people. They were there to help. They wanted to give the newly freed slaves hope and direction.

Damage Done by Carpetbaggers

They did much more damage than good. They took advantage of the freed slaves and helped push them into new forms of slavery that were looked upon as more acceptable. Carpetbaggers became a word to describe someone sneeky and untrustworthy. Today they are still only in the negative light.


Bergeron, Paul H.. Andrew Johnson’s Civil War and Reconstruction. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2011.

“Carpetbagger.” Merriam-Webster.

“Carpetbaggers and Scalawags.” Boundless.

“Free Labor to Slave Labor, America’s Reconstruction: People and Politics After the Civil War.” Digital History. reconstruction/section3/section3_intro.html.

Hume, Richard L. and Jerry B. Gough. Blacks, Carpetbaggers, and Scalawags: the Constitutional Conventions of Radical Reconstruction. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University, 2008.

“Reconstruction,” University of West Georgia,

“Reconstruction in the South: Carpetbaggers and Scalawags.” Texas Digital Library.

"The Ku Klux Klan, 1868". EyeWitness to History. (2006).

Tunnell, Ted. “Creating the Propaganda of History: Southern Editors and the Origins of “Carpetbagger” and Scalawag..”. Journal of Southern History 72. no. 4. November 2006.


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