[ kahr-pit-bag-er ]
/ ˈkɑr pɪtˌbæg ər /
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U.S. History. a Northerner who went to the South after the Civil War and became active in Republican politics, especially so as to profiteer from the unsettled social and political conditions of the area during Reconstruction.
a politician who takes up residence in a place and runs for office without having strong ties to the area.
any opportunistic or exploitive outsider: Our bus company has served this town for years, but now the new one run by carpetbaggers from the city is stealing our business.
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Origin of carpetbagger

1865–70, Americanism;carpetbag + -er1; so called because they came South carrying their belongings in carpetbags

OTHER WORDS FROM carpetbagger

car·pet·bag·ger·y, noun
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What is a carpetbagger?

A carpetbagger is a demeaning term for a politician who runs for office in an area they have no actual ties to.

Carpetbagger is always a negative word, implying or accusing someone of exploiting a situation for personal gain.

During the U.S.’s Reconstruction period, which followed the American Civil War, carpetbagger referred to white Northerners who moved to the South to easily win political offices. Most experienced Southern politicians were either dead or would have no chance of being elected by new Republican Black voters and Northern sympathizers. White Southerners saw these candidates as trespassing opportunists.

Carpetbagger is used more generally to mean any politician seeking office in a geographic area they have no connection to, as in The native Texan running for office in California was criticized by many locals as being a carpetbagger.

Carpetbagger is also used more generally to mean any opportunistic outsider, as in The foreign celebrity was called a carpetbagger on social media after he took selfies with local disaster victims and left without helping anyone.

Example: Because the candidate had just moved to Minnesota, he was accused of being a carpetbagger and using Minnesota to get a political position. 

Where does carpetbagger come from?

The first records of the term carpetbagger come from around 1865. It is Americanism that combines carpetbag, meaning “a bag made for traveling, especially one made of carpeting,” and -er, a suffix used to designate a person from a special circumstance or characteristic. Carpetbagger refers to the fact that some Northerners brought their belongings in a carpetbag when they went to run for political office in the South.

The implication of a carpetbagger is that they don’t actually care about the place and the people they would represent, while a candidate from the area would care deeply.

During Reconstruction, the American South was socially and politically unstable, and some white Northerners did go South to run for office under the Republican Party. While the Republicans did end up winning most of the Southern elections held during Reconstruction, local Southerners did regain political offices throughout most of the South.

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What are some other forms related to carpetbagger?

  • carpetbaggery (noun)

What are some synonyms for carpetbagger?

What are some words that share a root or word element with carpetbagger?

What are some words that often get used in discussing carpetbagger?

How is carpetbagger used in real life?

Carpetbagger is a serious accusation when made against a politician.

Try using carpetbagger!

True or False?

Carpetbagger describes a politician who runs for office in an area that they were born in.

How to use carpetbagger in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for carpetbagger

/ (ˈkɑːpɪtˌbæɡə) /

a politician who seeks public office in a locality where he has no real connections
British a person who makes a short-term investment in a mutual savings or life-assurance organization in order to benefit from free shares issued following the organization's conversion to a public limited company
US a Northern White who went to the South after the Civil War to profit from Reconstruction
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012