What Is A Carpetbagger?

1860s Carpet Bag (from the Metropolitan Museum of Art)

A carpet bagger was a term originally applied by people of the post-Civil war South to apply to opportunistic Northerners who arrived in their towns to exploit them for financial or political gain. Typically these individuals from the North promoted policies of the Republican party. This period after the war was called the Reconstruction Era.

In 1867, Andrew J. Fletcher (Tennessee Secretary of State) exclaimed

“For the adventurer and the office-seeker who comes among us with one dirty shirt and a pair of dirty socks, in an old rusty carpet bag, and before his washing is done becomes a candidate for office, I have no welcome.”

Carpet Bags were travel bags made of carpet, typically an oriental rug or Brussels carpet. It was a popular form of luggage in the 19th century.

These days, “carpetbagger” typically refers to a politician who moves to a state where they previously had no ties, with the intention of running for office. For example, Dr. Mehmet Oz, who ran for the Pennsylvania Senate in 2022, has been called a carpetbagger – having lived in New Jersey for many years. Hillary Clinton was also accused of carpetbagging, when she ran for Senator in New York, despite having lived in Arkansas for some time.

More Reading: History.com

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