Carpetbag Judges

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Colloquial term used to describe northern judges during the post-Civil War era who traveled to the South to serve on southern courts, typically for personal gain. "Carpetbag" refers to the judges's practice of carrying their possessions with them in carpetbags.

During the mid-1800s, judges were elected, and impeachment proceedings were at that time an increasingly popular method for their removal. After the Civil War and the Reconstruction period, many judges—both black and white—served on the judiciary in the South. A large number of these judges were known as "carpetbagging" judges because they were northerners who had relocated to the South for personal gain, carrying all their possessions in a carpetbag. They were reputed to be dishonest and incompetent.

Threatened with impeachment, many of these judges left the bench. Not all the charges against the carpetbag judges were accurate, however, and a good number were not any worse than the judges who lived in the area. Several earned prominence, such as Moses Walker—a transient from Ohio—who contributed to the prestige of the Texas Supreme Court. Albion W. Tourgee, another carpetbagger, wrote several books about his years in the South. His most popular book was A Fool's Errand, published in 1879. Tourgee was highly regarded for his presentation of liberal opinions concerning interrelationships between blacks and whites.

further readings

"Carpetbaggers." Handbook of Texas Online. Available online at <> (accessed June 14, 2003).

Carrington, Paul D. 1999. "Lawyers Amid the Redemption of the South." Roger Williams University Law Review 41.


Elections; Impeachment; Reconstruction.