American usage

In the United States, the term carpetbagger was used to refer to a Northerner (Yankee) who traveled to the South after the American Civil War during Reconstruction (1865-1877). Such individuals went south when the former Confederate States (see: Confederate States of America, U.S. Southern states) were placed under martial law. Although early 20th Century historians tended to view carpetbaggers unfavorably due to an underlying assumption that they were of poor moral character, the truth is more complex. Many were former abolitionists who sought to continue the struggle for racial equality. Others were interested in economic development. And, since many white Southern business and political leaders had been ousted from their positions as a result of the war, there was much personal gain to be found, so many Northern migrants became mayors, governors, and business leaders.

Carpetbaggers were so named for the purported practice of carrying their belongings in carpet bags. Carpet-bagging was commonly perceived by white Southerners as a threat to the status quo; whites feared that carpetbaggers would bring racial equality and "black rule."

Arguably most carpetbaggers were U.S. Army veterans who had stayed in the South when the Civil War ended. Some worked for the Freedmen's Bureau. Many were relatively affluent and brought capital. Carpetbaggers have historically had a negative reputation that tends to overshadow their positive contributions.

Carpetbaggers are not to be confused with scalawags, who were native white Republicans. However, both groups shared a vision for a new South, one that would overthrow the crippled plantation regime and replace it with industrial capitalism. Other goals were to improve education, infrastructure, and roads, thus "reconstructing" the South.

Well-known carpetbaggers include Albion W. Tourgee, formerly of Ohio, who later wrote A Fool's Errand, a largely autobiographical novel about an idealistic carpetbagger who is persecuted by the Ku Klux Klan. Adelbert Ames, a native of Massachusetts, became the Republican governor of Mississippi and tried unsuccessfully to reconstruct that state along the lines of racial equality. Charles Stearns, also from Massachusetts, wrote an account of his own carpetbagging: The Black Man of the South, and the Rebels: the Characteristics of the Former and the Recent Outrages of the Latter. Albert T. Morgan, the carpetbagging Republican sheriff of Yazoo, Mississippi received a brief flurry of national attention when insurgent whites took over the county government and forced him to leave. He later wrote Yazoo; Or, on the Picket Line of Freedom in the South.

White, male carpetbaggers have received the most attention from historians. The only relatively well-known African-American carpetbagger remains Carrie Highgate, the wife of Albert T. Morgan. Nevertheless, dozens, perhaps hundreds, of women moved South after the Civil War, many to teach newly freed African-American children.

Today, the term carpetbagger is used to describe "an outsider who moves someplace to exploit the natives and enrich himself at their expense," or "a politician who moves to another state for political reasons, such as ease of election."

American Republican Alan Keyes accused Democrat Hillary Clinton of being a carpetbagger when she moved to New York to run for the United States Senate in 2000. The accusation ended up coming back to bite Keyes when he ran for a Senate seat from Illinois, having previously lived in Maryland. He lost the election to Barack Obama.

See also: parachute candidate

UK usage

Carpetbagging was also used in the United Kingdom in the 1990s during the wave of flotations of building societies (mutuals), the term indicating the advocates of these conversions. Investors in these mutuals would receive shares in the new public companies, usually distributed at a flat rate, thus equally benefiting small and large investors, and providing a broad incentive for members to vote for conversion-advocating (carpetbagging) leadership candidates. The word was first used in this context by the chief executive of one of the building societies under threat, who introduced rules removing new savers' entitlement to potential windfalls and stated in a press release, "I have no qualms about disenfranchising carpetbaggers."

Major building societies which converted included Northern Rock, Halifax, Bradford and Bingley and Woolwich.

In the 2005 general election, Respect MP George Galloway was accused of being a carpet-bagger by Labour's Constitutional Affairs Minister David Lammy during an interview with Jeremy Paxman. Galloway, who hails from Scotland, ran for office in London's Bethnal Green and Bow consitutency on an anti-war platform. It was suggested that he targeted this constituency because of its largely Muslim population, pushing the issue of war in Iraq for his own gain while ignoring the basic concerns facing this area, one of the UK's poorest constituencies. His response was that his old constituency had been dissolved and that it is perfectly reasonable for a new party to stand its best known candidate in the area it has the strongest support.

For the Harold Robbins novel, see The Carpetbaggers. Here, the word has the generic meaning of a presumptuous newcomer who enters a new territory seeking success. In this case, the territory is the movie industry, and the newcomer is a wealthy heir to an industrial fortune who, like Howard Hughes, simultaneously pursued aviation and moviemaking


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