The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 93, July 1989 - April, 1990

Review Article
Those Terrible Carpetbaggers: A Reinterpretation. By Richard Nelson Cur-
rent. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988. Pp. xii+475. Fore-
word, illustrations, acknowledgments, notes, index. $24.95-)
In an article appearing in the Journal of Southern History in 1944, histo-
rian David Donald asked, Who were the scalawags? Answering his own
question, Donald asserted that former Whigs comprised this much-
maligned group.' Though challenged by several scholars who claimed
that the scalawags were largely white up-country farmers, not former
Whigs, Donald's thesis continues to hold (though not monopolize) his-
torical favor.2 Now, more than four decades later, one of Donald's con-
temporaries, Richard Nelson Current, attempts to settle definitively the
natural corollary to Donald's query: Who were the carpetbaggers?
For some three or four generations of Americans, the carpetbaggers
were those Northern snakes who slithered southward after the Civil
War "to take advantage of the Negro vote, gain election to office, and
get rich by plundering the Southern people."3 They were poor, greedy,
and unscrupulous cowards who waited for Union arms to subdue the
South and then "followed at a safe distance, like jackals in the track of a
lion."4 Supported by blacks and scalawags, the carpetbaggers misgov-
erned the South for nearly a decade. Their corrupt regimes amassed
*Matthew Taylor is a Ph.D. candidate in history at Rice University and a 1989-1990 Fellow of
the Office of Air Force History in Washington, D.C. He is currently preparing a dissertation
concerning the strategic policy and war plans of the Eisenhower presidency.
1Richard O. Curry, "The Civil War and Reconstruction, 1861-1877: A Critical Overview of
Recent Trends and Interpretations," Civil War History, XX (Sept., 1974), 215-238; David H.
Donald, "The Scalawag in Mississippi Reconstruction," Journal of Southern Hstory, X (Nov.,
1944), 447-460.
3Richard Nelson Current, Those Terrible Carpetbaggers (Oxford: Oxford University Press,
1988), xi.

Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 93, July 1989 - April, 1990. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. Accessed May 26, 2016.

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