Skip to main content

Continue to Wave the Bloody Shirt: An Address Delivered in Chicago, Illinois, on June 19, 1888



Chicago Daily , 20 June 1888. Other texts in Chicago , 20 June 1888;
Washington , 20 June 1888; Douglass, , 619-21; Speech File,
reel 12, frame 474, reel 13, frame 15, FD Papers, DLC.

Douglass attended the Republican National Convention of 1888 in Chicago as
a spectator rather than a delegate. On the gathering’s first day, 19 June 1888,
Douglass appeared on the back of the convention platform at Armory Hall and
the audience called loudly for him to speak. The temporary chairman of the
convention, John M. Thurston of Nebraska, introduced Douglass as “a man
who needs no introduction—our old friend, Fred Douglass.” In , Douglass later reminisced that when he addressed the convention: “It
would have been easy on such an occasion to make a speech composed of
glittering generalities; but the cause of my outraged people was on my heart,
and I spoke out of its fullness; and the response that came back to me showed
that the great audience to which I spoke was in sympathy with my senti-
ments.” Douglass’s short address received national attention and criticism
from those who disliked his forthright defense of “bloody shirt" campaign
rhetoric. Douglass supported the selection of Senator John Sherman of Ohio
for president but accepted the convention’s choice of Benjamin Harrison of
Indiana and campaigned vigorously for the Republican national ticket. New
York , 14, 20 June 1888; Chicago , 20 June 1888; New York , 22 June 1888; Subject File, reel 10, frames 361, 376, FD
Papers, DLC.

Mr. President,1The temporary chairman and presiding officer of the Republican National Convention on 19 June 1888 was John Mellen Thurston (1847-1916) of Nebraska. Born in Montpelier, Vermont, Thurston moved with his parents to Beaver Dam, Dodge County, Wisconsin, where he later attended the short-lived Wayland University. He began a law practice in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1869 and held several city offices and served a term in the state legislature. From 1877 to 1888, Thurston worked as a lawyer for the Union Pacific railroad, eventually becoming the solicitor general for that firm. A renowned orator and an active Republican, he was a delegate to that party's 1884, 1888, 1896, and 1900 national conventions and presided over the last one. In 1895 Thurston won a seat in the U.S. Senate but did not seek reelection at the end of his six-year term. He subsequently practiced law in Washington, D.C. , 1715; , 6: 109; , 5: 105. I had the misfortune last night to speak to a vast audience in
the armory a little below here or above here,2On the evening of 18 June 1888, Douglass addressed a reception for black delegates to the Republican National Convention. Over 2,000 people attended this gathering at the Cavalry Armory in Chicago. According to the Chicago , “Douglass was received with cheers, every one rising and throwing hats and handkerchiefs in the air." Chicago Daily , 19 June 1888. and broke my voice so that I
feel wholly unable to address you any more than to express my thanks to
you for the cordial welcome, the earnest call you have given me to this


platform. I have only one word to say, and it is this: that I hope this
convention will make such a record in its proceedings as to put it entirely
out of the power of the leaders of the Democratic party and the leaders of
the mugwump party3The term mugwump was a common nickname used to describe those Republicans who had bolted their party because of its nomination of James G. Blaine for president in 1884 and instead supported Democrat Grover Cleveland. Mathews, , 2: 1098. (laughter) to say that they see no difference between
the Republican party in respect to the class I represent and the Democratic
party. (Applause.) I have great respect for a certain quality that I have seen
distinguished in the Democratic party. It is its fidelity to its friends (laugh-
ter), its faithfulness to those whom it has acknowledged as its masters for
the last forty years. (Laughter and applause.) They were faithful—I mean
the Democrats were faithful—to the slave-holding class during the exis-
tence of slavery. They were faithful before the war. They were faithful
during the war. They gave them all the encouragement that they possibly
could without drawing their own necks into the halter. (Laughter and
applause.) They were faithful during the period of reconstruction; they
have been faithful ever since. They are faithful today to the Solid South. I
believe that the Republican party will prove itself equally faithful to its
friends (cries of “Good! Good!”), and those friends during the war were
men with black faces. (Cries of “That’s right.”) They were eyes to your
blind; they were shelter to your shelterless sons when they escaped from the
line of the Rebels; they are faithful today; and when this great Republic
was at its extremest need; when its fate seemed to tremble in the balance
and the crowned heads and the enemies of republican institutions were
saying in Europe, “Aha, aha! This great Republican bubble is about to
burst”; when armies were melting away before the fire and pestilence of
rebellion, you called upon your friends, your black friends; when your Star
Spangled banner, now glorious, was trailing in the dust, heavy with patriot
blood, you called upon the negro—yes, Abraham Lincoln called upon the
negro (great applause)—to reach forth his iron arm and clutch with his
steel fingers your faltering banner; and they came—they came 200,000
strong. (Loud cheers.) Let us remember those black men in the platform
that you are about to promulgate, and let us remember these black men are
stripped of their constitutional right to vote (cheers) for the grand standard-
bearer whom you will present to the country. Leave these men no longer to
wade to the ballot-box through blood, but extend over them the arm of this


Republic and make their pathway to the ballot-box as straight and as
smooth and as safe as any other citizen’s. (Cheers.) Be not deterred from
duty by the cry of “bloody shirt.”4Often derisively used by Democratic commentators, the term bloody shirt was used since the 1870s to describe Republican oratory aimed at reviving the anti-southern passion of Civil War days. Mathews, , 1: 137. (Cheers.) Let that shirt be waved so long
as blood shall be found upon it. (Cheers.) A Government that can give
liberty in its Constitution ought to have power to protect liberty in its
administration. (Cheers.) I will not take up your time. I have got my
thoughts before you. I speak in behalf of the millions who are disfranchised
today. (Cheers and cries of “Go on.” “Douglass, Douglass.”)


Douglass, Frederick, 1818-1895


June 19, 1888


Yale University Press 1992



Publication Status