Waving the bloody shirt

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In the history of the United States, "waving the bloody shirt" refers to the practice of politicians making reference to the blood of martyrs or heroes to criticize opponents.


In American history, 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.[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.