Waving the bloody shirt

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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 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] Puck, a Democratic magazine, ridiculing Republican Senator  John Sherman waving a bloody shirt in 1887.

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.