Academic journal article South Carolina Historical Magazine

The Scalawags: Southern Dissenters in the Civil War and Reconstruction

Academic journal article South Carolina Historical Magazine

The Scalawags: Southern Dissenters in the Civil War and Reconstruction

Article excerpt

The Scalawags: Southern Dissenters in the Civil War and Reconstruction. By James Alex Baggett. (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2003. Pp. xvi, 323; $55.00, cloth.)

The mythology of pernicious northern "carpetbaggers" and their equally or even more perfidious, indigenous southern counterparts who supported Congressional Reconstruction and the Republican Party, the "scalawags," has been successfully debunked now for more than forty years. From the 1960s on, a growing, rich literature has discredited simple stereotypes and depicted the complexities and diversity of the two groups during the post-Civil War era. One of the continuing historiographic debates: who actually were the scalawags? Most of the studies which address this question focus on individual southern states or regions. This is the first attempt to analyze the scalawags over the entire former Confederacy.

Baggett, a retired professor and dean at Union University in Tennessee, undertook an ambitious effort, one that he has worked on for more than thirty years. Employing a collective biography approach, he identified and profiled 742 scalawag-Republicans and a comparative control group of 666 redeemer-Democrats. The author employs the term scalawag as a type-indigenous southern politician who supported the goals of Republican Reconstruction. The term does not have the negative connotations of the time or in much of later literature. Baggett collected information on each individual's birthplace, vocation, estate, slaveholding status, education, political antecedents, experience, stand on secession, Republican Party involvement, war record, and postwar political activities. Not surprisingly, the scalawags identified were those who held the highest and most prestigious offices because information about them was the most readily available. Those who held lower-level positions were much more difficult to profile.

Scalawags served as governors, congressmen, judges, state executive department heads, federal officials such as customs and internal revenue collectors, United States judges, attorneys, and marshals. The number of scalawags versus carpetbaggers or blacks holding high positions varied greatly depending upon the state and how long Republican rule lasted in the state. For example, Virginia spent only a few months under Radical Reconstruction rule, but the reign continued for almost a decade in South Carolina, Florida, Mississippi, and Louisiana.

Although Baggett draws comparisons and finds significant differences between the three regions into which he breaks the South-the Upper South, Lower South, and Southwest-one of his primary assessments is that the scalawags exhibited great similarities across the entire region. Other conclusions include that, with notable exceptions, scalawags tended to be less economically well-off than redeemers. Scalawags had less formal education than redeemers, but they were far more educated than most southerners. Forty percent had attended college, and many were teachers or lawyers. Scalawags had less political office-holding experience than the redeemers, but this was in large partbecause many had been minority-party Whigs or members of the small southern unionist faction of the Democratic Party. …

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