A “scalawag” is a pejorative term for a white southerner who supported Reconstruction efforts in the south in the late 1800s. They are often associated with carpetbaggers, who were their northern counterparts.
The term was used by southern Democrats who were not in favor of Reconstruction policies. The term originally was used to refer to a useless farm animal, so being called a scalawag was equal to being called a useless person. They were viewed as even lower than carpetbaggers, because they were seen as traitors to the culture they grew up in.
A scalawag could have supported Reconstruction for many reasons. Some believed in giving rights to Black people. Others were poor and saw the advantages of added labor to revitalize the economy. Others were just Republicans who supported the sought to fix the reputation of the South. However, the connotation of the word implies that scalawags only supported the policy for personal gain.
History: “Scalawags had diverse backgrounds and motives, but all of them shared the belief that they could achieve greater advancement in a Republican South than they could by opposing Reconstruction. Taken together, scalawags made up roughly 20 percent of the white electorate and wielded a considerable influence. Many also had political experience from before the war, either as members of Congress or as judges or local officials.”