Carpetbagger – Origin & Meaning

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

The word carpetbagger is an American expression that rose in popularity after the Civil War. Let’s examine the complete definition and origin of the compound word carpetbagger. I also share some examples of its use in a sentence.

Carpetbagger Meaning

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Carpetbagger is a noun that means a Northerner who went to the South and became active in Republican politics. A conservative carpetbagger is usually a profiteer from the current conditions after the Civil War and during the Reconstruction.

The noun can also refer to a non-resident who wants private gain from an area by meddling in its business. It can be any opportunistic or exploitative outsider. For example:

  • This private school used to offer high-quality education until the country carpetbaggers started running it.

It is a compound word for carpet and bagger. We do not use a space or hyphen to link the two words.

Origin of Carpetbagger

Carpetbagger Ngram
Carpetbagger usage trend.

The American history of carpetbagger can be traced to the late 1860s to 1870s when many Northern opportunists moved to the South carrying bags made of carpets. They gained land, money, and power over Southerners.

Some people believe these carpetbaggers were also part of the marginalized sector that simply wanted to start new lives. Others think they are power-hungry individuals who aimed to make Southerners poorer.

Today, it is an insult to call someone a carpetbagger.

Synonyms for Carpetbagger

  • Bounder
  • Go-getter
  • Time-server
  • Ingrate
  • Trimmer

Examples of the Term Carpetbagger in a Sentence

A carpetbagger is always a negative word because it accuses a person of exploiting political and economic situations for personal gain. While it’s not necessarily a slur, many people consider it derogatory and should be avoided.

Nevertheless, here are some excerpts from articles that use carpetbagger.

  • “At the end of the day, this is more of a political problem than a legal one in all likelihood, … where Walker can be painted as a carpetbagger. It does call into question whether Walker’s change of residency was made in good faith,” said Kreis. (CNN)
  • It’s time for our legislature to pass the Dr. Oz Carpetbagger Act (DOCA) to prevent future candidates from rolling out a campaign in a state where they don’t belong. (Centre Daily)
  • ​​Do voters really still punish carpetbaggers and reward candidates with deep ties to their districts? (The Conversation)
  • The carpetbaggers are seizing power. Well, they’re at least making inroads. Not everyone will agree, but I tend to think a balance is good for the community. (The Newport Daily News)

Summari​​zing Carpetbaggers Definition

I hope this short guide answered your question, “What is a carpetbagger?” It’s a derogatory term coined in the Reconstruction period for a Northerner who relocated to the South for power and money.

Today, a carpetbagger could be anyone who moves to a new place and meddles with the location’s politics and business. Remember to use this word carefully, as it can be offensive!