Carpetbagger is a term that was applied by native citizens of the South to those persons who came from other parts of the country during the War and Reconstruction periods for the purpose of exploiting the States and the people, taking advantage of the disturbed economic, social, and political conditions to gratify their own ambition for political preferment, especially for the holding of lucrative offices.
Montgomery Advertiser credited with using the term first
The first use of the term to characterize these unencumbered visitors to the South has been variously credited; to the Montgomery Advertiser, among others. It is not certain who first used the term to apply to northern men temporarily resident in the South; but it is known that it originated before the War, and was applied to the promoters of wildcat banking schemes in the Western States.
In the South the expression frequently was somewhat loosely used, often being applied to all the northern people who came South during the 10 years following the War. When used with discrimination it signified only those persons formerly resident in the Northern States, who came to southern neighborhoods for purposes of exploitation or spoliation.
Traits of the Carpetbagger
There was quite a large number of such undesirable accessions to the State’s population during the latter part of the War and the first few years after its close, although it is not likely that Alabama suffered more in this respect than other Southern States.
“Adopting the readiest and the most certain means to that end, he appealed to race prejudice, using the ignorance and gullibility of the freedmen to obtain an influence over them which could be made to count in politics. Having no interests in common with the native whites, he frequently went to extreme lengths in cultivating blacks friendships in the effort to secure political power and financial gain.”
They increased friction between the races
The activities of these adventurers, most of them discredited and without standing in the communities from which they came, increased the friction between the races, whose relations were already tending to become somewhat strained.
The southern people resented the interference of these interlopers, and regarded them with growing suspicion and dislike.
There was only one other class of persons held in such contempt —the scalawag, or native renegade, who, to serve his private ends, or to obtain revenge for fancied slights or wrongs, sided with the carpetbaggers and blacks.
As a result of the disfranchisement of large numbers of the native citizens of Alabama, especially the more influential men, most of whom had been in some way identified with the Confederacy, the carpetbaggers found it easy to secure political power and install themselves in office.
Likewise a majority of the members of the legislature in 1868 were carpetbaggers, scalawags and blacks. It was this legislature which proved so friendly to the internal improvement schemes out of which grew the notorious railroad bond-endorsement frauds. During the next four years, the carpetbagger politicians, with their allies the blacks, by their wasteful policy and extravagant expenditures, cost the State of Alabama many millions of dollars. However, in this respect Alabama probably suffered less than some of the other Southern States, notably South Carolina.
One of the ways in which the disturbing influence of these alien politicians was most keenly felt by the native whites, was in the administration of the judicial system. Carpetbaggers obtained many places on the Alabama bench as well as appointments to Federal judgeships in the State. In these positions they had peculiar opportunities to make themselves obnoxious to the whites, in the adjudication of the numerous petty suits.
Both United States Senators in 1868 were residents of the North
One of the carpetbagger members of the Federal bench who attained considerable prominence in Alabama was Judge Richard M. Busteed. Others also attained conspicuous positions.
For example, both the United States Senators elected in 1868, had formerly been residents of the North. Senator Willard Warner was a native of Ohio, from whence he came to Alabama in 1867. Just before leaving Ohio he had served as a State senator.
Senator George E. Spencer was born in New York, coming to Alabama in 1867 to serve as register in bankruptcy. Both these men were called carpetbaggers.
Eight Representatives not Alabama natives
Of the 18 terms as Representative in Congress from Alabama, 1868 to 1873, 8 were filled by men who not only were not natives of the State, but had come into its borders since the close of the War. These eight terms were served by six representatives.
- Charles W. Buckley having been twice reelected. He was a native of New York, coming to Alabama in 1868 as state superintendent of education for the Freedmen’s Bureau. In 1867 ho was one of the delegates selected under military supervision for the constitutional convention, and was afterward elected by the Republicans as Representative in Congress.
- F. W. Kellogg, who served as Representative in the Fortieth Congress, was a native of Massachusetts. He had held office in Michigan before coming to Alabama, as collector of internal revenue in 1866, and was elected to Congress by the Republicans in 1867.
- Benjamin W. Norris was a native of the State of Maine, where he had held several offices before enlisting as paymaster in the Union Army. After the War he became a planter in Alabama, was one of the delegates to the constitutional convention of 1867, and was elected as a Republican Congressman in the same year.
- Charles W. Pierce was a native of New York, later moving to Illinois, where he enlisted in the Volunteer Infantry. He remained in Alabama at the close of the War, and held various public offices, among others that of Representative to the Fortieth Congress, to which he was elected as a Democrat.
- John B. Callis also was a native of New York, from whence he moved to Tennessee and later to Wisconsin. There he entered the Union Army. After the War he took up his residence in Huntsville, and was elected as a Republican to the Fortieth Congress. At the expiration of his term he returned to Wisconsin, and served there as a member of the State assembly, but later returned to Huntsville where he died.
- Alfred E. Buck was a native of the State of Maine. He served during part of the War as a lieutenant colonel of colored troops. After being mustered out of service at Baton Rouge in 1866, he came to Alabama and was one of the delegates to the constitutional convention of 1867, subsequently being elected as a Republican Representative in the Forty-first Congress. He also held several other Federal offices, and served as minister to Japan by appointment of President McKinley.
- Transcribed from History of Alabama and Dictionary of Alabama Biography. By Thomas McAdory Owen, Marie (Bankhead) Owen. Published by the S. J. Clarke publishing company, 1921, pages 727-728 – The above is transcribed excerpts from History of Alabama and Dictionary of Alabama Biography. By Thomas McAdory Owen, Marie (Bankhead) Owen. Published by the S. J. Clarke publishing company, 1921, pages 727-72
Stories include; The Yazoo land fraud; daily life as an Alabama pioneer; the capture and arrest of Vice-president Aaron Burr; the early life of William Barrett Travis, hero of the Alamo; Description of Native Americans of early Alabama including the visit by Tecumseh; Treaties and building the first roads in Alabama.