Affect on Reconstruction
The carpetbaggers played a very significant, though not always positive, role in the Reconstruction of the South after the Civil War. The collective group made their most impact politically. Due to Congress' action of banning former Confederate leaders and military personnel from both voting and holding political office in the South, a large number of carpetbaggers were able to win political offices, mainly through support from blacks (Encarta 1). In fact, carpetbaggers were able to hold the following offices in the Southern states during the period of Reconstruction:
Hundreds served as constitutional convention delegates, judges, sheriffs, other local and state officials
45 served in the US House of Representatives
17 served in the US Senate
10 served as state governors
These carpetbaggers teamed up with blacks and some Southern whites--known as scalawags--to form the Republican Party in the South (Roller 182-183). The carpetbaggers were the fewest in number, but by far exerted the most political power (Roller 183).
Their power and influence were used both for the betterment and the detriment of the governments and societies of the South. The carpetbaggers managed to funnel more money into the staggering economies of the South (Roller 183). They were able to help the civil aspects as well by improving education of blacks, restoring the roads and infrastructures of Southern cities, and expanding black voting ability (Encarta 1). In contrast, the term "carpetbaggers" was used in a derogatory sense. This occurred because many "ran governments of the southern states, looting their financial resources, passing high taxes, denying whites a role in government, and spreading terror throughout the region" (Wilson 658). According to Charles Wilson, of the University of Mississippi, almost all carpetbaggers were out for an increase in their political status, an increase in their fortunes, or an increase in their civil and social accomplishments (Wilson 658).
Fiscally, the carpetbag governments during Reconstruction were attributed with large amounts of debt and poor management. Some state records actually show that the carpetbag governments wasted a lot of property and tax revenues (Carpet-bagger 1-2).
Politically, many members of the Republican Party began to be considered as Radical Republicans. These Radicals were more devoted to racial justice and even racial equality, due in large part to the influence of the carpetbaggers (Wilson 1193). However, there was a distinct backlash against the Radical Republicans, mainly from the white Southern Democrats. In fact, secret groups such as the Ku Klux Klan "were formed to terrorize the blacks and drive the carpetbaggers out" (Encarta 2). White Southerners despised radicalism; thus, they didn't like Republican beliefs. They were then pushed toward the Democratic Party. But, in doing so, they created a color line between the two parties for many years. In fact, the entire South was predominantly Democratic until well into the next century (Wilson 1194).
This page was created by Joey Coleman
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This page was last updated on 04/18/2000
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