Carpetbaggers in Reconstruction: Definition & Explanation

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  • 0:04 Who Were Carpetbaggers?
  • 1:05 Motives of the Carpetbaggers
  • 1:56 A Mixed View
  • 2:21 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Brian Muhammad
Carpetbaggers were northerners who moved to the South for political and business opportunities during the Reconstruction period. In this lesson, you'll learn more about the definition and history of this term.

Who Were Carpetbaggers?

Carpetbagger is a term that Southerners called a person who moved from the North to the South during the Reconstruction period, which spanned 1865 to 1877. During this time, people were traveling in large numbers. There was demand for cheap luggage, so thousands of carpetbags, which were made from old carpets, were manufactured. The carpetbaggers placed all of their worldly belongings in the carpetbags for the big move.

Carpetbaggers moved to the South because the region was poor and in need of help, and there were many opportunities for both people of wealth and those with little money. There was a lack of buildings in the South, like schools and hospitals, and morale was at an all-time low. For example, you could purchase a farm if you simply paid the past due taxes, which might cost as little as $25. After the Civil War, the South had disgust for Northerners; Southerners believed carpetbaggers were looking to make a fast buck and were seeking to control Southern states for their own financial gains.

Motives of the Carpetbaggers

Many carpetbaggers were Union Army veterans from middle-class origins. Some were well educated and held prominent positions, and many went South seeking positions as mayors, congressmen, and city councilmen. In their previous communities, carpetbaggers were lawyers, businessmen, and newspaper editors. Carpetbaggers often invested their savings in leasing or purchasing plantations and became large landowners. Many were lured southwards by press reports that fortunes could be made from raising cotton.

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