Waving the bloody shirt

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Puck cartoon ridiculing Republican Senator John Sherman for his use of "bloody shirt" memories of the Civil War.

In the American election campaigns in the 19th century, "waving the bloody shirt" was a phrase used to ridicule opposing politicians who made emotional calls to avenge the blood of political martyrs. The pejorative was most used against Republicans, who were accused of using the memory of the Civil War to their political advantage.

The phrase gained popularity with a fictitious incident in which Benjamin Franklin Butler of Massachusetts, when making a speech on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, allegedly held up a shirt stained with the blood of a carpetbagger whipped by the Ku Klux Klan during the Reconstruction Era.[1] While Butler did give a speech condemning the Klan, he never waved anyone's bloody shirt.[2] White Southerners mocked Butler, using the fiction of his having "waved the bloody shirt" to dismiss Klan thuggery and other atrocities committed against freed slaves and Republicans.[3]


  1. ^ Budiansky, Stephen (2008). The Bloody Shirt: Terror After Appomattox. New York: Viking. pp. 1–5. ISBN 0-670-01840-6. OCLC 173350931. Retrieved 16 November 2011. 
  2. ^ Budiansky, at 4.
  3. ^ Budiansky, at 5.