phrases, sayings, idioms and expressions at

Bloody shirt

Posted by ESC on April 03, 2004

In Reply to: Bloody shirt posted by - on April 03, 2004

: defines "bloody shirt" as "something intended to stir up or revive partisan animosity." Does anyone know what the etymology of this term is?

: Thanks for any replies.

It has a long history.

BLOODY SHIRT -- "waved or shaken rhetorically for nearly three decades after the Civil War; an appeal to old wartime emotions to equate Democrats with the Confederacy, and the south with war mongering. Even before the war, the political antecedents of radical Republicans used the bloody shirt, both literally and in oratory, as a call for retribution. Abolitionist James Baird Weaver recounted how in the 1850s he acquired the stained and shredded linen of a preacher who had been flogged for inflaming slaves. 'I waved it before the crowds,' said Weaver,' and bellowed: 'under this bloody shirt we propose to march to victory. The term came into wide use in the 1860s and 1870s..." This reference takes the concept back even further. "The association of an 'ensanguined garment' with vengance and a debt of blood is ancient. In Shakespeare's 'Julius Caesar,' Mark Antony whipped up the fury of his fellow Romans by waving his murdered leader's toga..." From "Safire's New Political Dictionary" by William Safire (Random House, New York, 1993).