Question: I’ve come across the term “carpetbagger” in reference to Idaho’s territorial politicians, but as I understand it, the term was applied by Southerners to post-Civil War Northerners who began arriving down south in order to fill the governmental vacuum, as the defeated secessionists were exiled from their previous posts. The south viewed the foreign infiltration as a loss of representation and thus as a loss of freedom and sovereignty. So how does the term make it into a westerners lexicon?
Answer: Good question! The Idaho Territory began taking shape amidst the Civil War, but it had yet to gain statehood. That meant that the President had the advantage of placing territorial governors into positions of power, even as they had no direct ties to the territory, or to the folks who resided in them. When Lincoln began placing his fellow Republicans into power over a largely democratic population, the term became quite useful in expressing popular opinion about the practice.
Until Idaho was able to achieve statehood in 1890 there was a constant struggle between the presidentially appointed government and the agitated populace. Ronald H. Limbaugh says that “many territorial residents did what they could to make life miserable for nonresident officeholders in the hope of hastening the arrival of home rule in one form or another.” Limbaugh is blatant in his assertion that “the carpetbag image was an overworked stereotype in Idaho” explaining that it was a term made popular by the politics of the day, but used in a vagueness of manner to express any and every other kind of socio-political conflict .
In reality, Idaho’s representatives were by and large residents of the Pacific Northwest.
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[1.] Rocky Mountain Carpetbaggers: Idaho’s Territorial Governors 1863-1890, by Ronald H. Limbaugh (University Press of Idaho, 1982) p. 11