The Republicans Bloody Shirt
Thomas Wentworth Higginson was a Unitarian minister in Massachusetts who identified with disunion and militant abolitionism during the 1840s and 1850s. He was deeply involved with the funding and arming of John Brown, was jubilant when Lincoln invaded the South, and became colonel of a black regiment of slaves taken from Southern plantations overrun and burned by Northern troops. In the postwar, Higginson came to realize what his prewar revolutionary zeal had unleashed, and to the chagrin of the Radical Republicans whose power then depended primarily on the freedmen’s ballot.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com
The Republicans Bloody Shirt
“During the  Massachusetts campaign Republicans frequently denounced the [Southern] Bourbons. [Senator George F.] Hoar stressed that his party was the true friends of the South. Republicans had sponsored bills to educate the section’s illiterates, had passed tariffs to protect its infant industries, and had adopted the war amendments to free all Southerners from the shackles of slavery . . . In a like tone Henry Cabot Lodge argued that the highest Republican duty was to preserve “the freedom and purity of the ballot box.”
In an open letter on “The Suppressed Negro Vote,” Higginson explained that he and other abolitionists . . . had studied “the Southern question apart from the bias of politics” and had come to the conclusion that colored men neither needed nor desired Northern aid.
After having corresponded with and talked to many of the South Carolina, Georgia and Florida Negroes who had served in his Civil War regiment . . . most of them admitted that they did not vote simply because they were uninformed and not interested in politics.
Higginson even condoned the enactment of complicated Southern election laws designed to confuse illiterate Negroes, such as the Eight-Box act requiring separate ballots and receptacles for each office being voted upon. Since only educated men could comprehend involved methods, these measure amounted to a literacy test and achieved what many Northern States decreed directly.
“The Massachusetts way,” Higginson went on, “is more honorable, no doubt; but suppose an attempt were made to import our system into South Carolina, it would at once be denounced as an outrage almost worthy of Mississippi.”
To Republicans, this reasoning was detestable. Former Governor John D. Long of Massachusetts had little use for “Col. Higginson and the Boston Advertiser [who] say “education should be on top.”
Asked why it so vigorously opposed the use of the war issues [to denounce the South], the New York Evening Post answered it was because Northern politicians had “never discoursed upon the suppression of the suffrage at the South, except as an argument for keeping themselves in power, and as a reason why the country should not be disgusted by the gross abuses in administration which the Republican party practiced, permitted and connived at.”
In the 1870’s [Republican party] Stalwarts had employed the theme “to reconcile us to the whiskey thieves and the knavish Cabinet officers of the Grant administration, and to the general corruption of the party in power.”
Under [Rutherford B.] Hayes, they had invoked it “to reconcile us next . . . to the abandonment by that statesman of even the slightest attempt to reform the civil service with which he began his Administration.”
Though last not least, [John] Blaine had stressed sectionalism during his 1884 campaign. “In short,” the Post announced, “during a period of fully fifteen years, whenever the Republican party was called to account for any shortcoming,” its sole answer was the bloody shirt.”
(Farewell to the Bloody Shirt: Northern Republicans and the Southern Negro, 1877-1912, Stanley P. Hirschson, Indiana University Press, 1962, excerpts pp. 132-134)