yankees magazine

The Yankee Carpet Bagger

A magazine cartoon from 1872 expresses white Southern hostility to “carpetbagging” politicians from the North.
Bettmann/Corbis

The term carpetbagger was a pejorative term referring to the carpet bags (a fashionable form of luggage at the time) which many of these newcomers carried. The term came to be associated with opportunism and exploitation by outsiders. The term is still used today to refer to an outsider perceived as using manipulation or fraud to obtain an objective.

Together with Republicans, carpetbaggers were said to have politically manipulated and controlled former Confederate states for varying periods for their own financial and power gains. In sum, carpetbaggers were seen as insidious Northern outsiders with questionable objectives meddling in local politics, buying up plantations at fire-sale prices and taking advantage of Southerners.

The term carpetbaggers was also used to describe the Republican political appointees who came South, arriving with their travel carpet bags. Southerners considered them ready to loot and plunder the defeated South