Government and Politics


What were scalawags?

Scalawags was a derogatory term used by white Southerners to refer to those white Southerners who supported or were sympathetic to the goals of the Republican lawmakers during Reconstruction (1865–77), the years of rebuilding that followed the American Civil War (1861–65). The Republican Party was the object of much contempt in the American South during the mid-to late 1860s: Congress was dominated by radical Republicans who were able to overturn presidential vetoes to achieve their goals. While President Andrew Johnson (1808–1875) supported a lenient policy toward the Southern “rebel” states, Congress favored a more gradual approach to reunification. In order to prevent another resurgence in the South, Congress delayed the readmission of former Confederate states until Republican governments could be established in them. Congress was also determined to enact legislation and sponsor constitutional amendments that would extend the rights of citizenship to freed slaves. After four years of brutal combat during the war, many Southerners saw fit to “side” with the Union and with the Republican lawmakers who were determining Reconstruction policy. President Andrew Johnson had proved himself an ineffectual leader, and Congress had mustered enough votes to repeatedly override him; in fact, they impeached him in 1868. Some whites in the South, contemptuously called scalawags, joined with Northern businessmen and politicians (derisively called carpetbaggers) as well as the freed slaves to forge a new South.


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