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Scalawags and Carpetbaggers

A temporary political vacuum existed in the postwar South. Confederate military and political leaders were temporarily prohibited from participating in the political process. Republican governments filled the void and were able to retain control by depending upon the votes of the newly enfranchised blacks. Blacks were vital to the process, but that did not mean that they ran affairs. Two groups actually pulled the strings of government:

  • Scalawags — a derogatory term (originally describing worthless livestock) applied to native white Southerners who supported the federal reconstruction plan and cooperated with the blacks in order to achieve their ends. Some of the scalawags were entirely above board, having opposed the Confederacyin earlier times and later wanted a new South to emerge from the rubble. Others cooperated with or served in the Republican governments in order to avail themselves of money-making opportunities.
  • Carpetbaggers—also a term of derision, but applied to Northerners who went South during Reconstruction, motivated by either profit or idealism. The name referred to the cloth bags many of them used for transporting their possessions, but today is applied to any recently arrived opportunist. Despite the negative connotation of the name, many carpetbaggers were sincerely interested in aiding the freedom and education of the former slaves.
In 1867, white Southerners generally stayed away from the elections to their constitutional conventions, preferring military rule to letting blacks vote in a democratic election. In their absence, control passed to the carpetbaggers and scalawags, who maintained control as long as the Republican party was in power in the South. Carpetbaggers used their influence during the writing of new state constitutions to incorporate some progressive concepts from their places of origin. For instance, Robert K. Scott used his dominance of the South Carolina convention to model that state's new constitution on that of his home state of Ohio. However, after being elected the Republican governor of South Carolina, he engaged n some interesting practices such as providing the legislature with its own saloon. For the most part, it was the carpetbaggers who were the dominant factor in the Deep South, where the black vote would have outnumbered the white, while the scalawags were influential in the Upper South. Both the scalawags and the carpetbaggers were resented by many Southerners and became the targets of the Ku Klux Klan.