Sic semper tyrannis

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Great Seal of Virginia with the state motto.

Sic semper tyrannis is a Latin phrase meaning "thus always to tyrants." It is sometimes mistranslated as "death to tyrants" or "down with the tyrant." The phrase is said to have originated with Marcus Junius Brutus during the assassination of Julius Caesar.

The phrase has been invoked historically in Europe and other parts of the world as an epithet or rallying cry against abuse of power. In the U.S. it has particular infamy as the words shouted by John Wilkes Booth during his assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. It is also the official motto of the Commonwealth of Virginia and the city of Allentown, PA.

Contents

History

The phrase is attributed to Marcus Junius Brutus, the most famous figure in the assassination of Julius Caesar on March 15, 44 BC. In American history, John Wilkes Booth shouted the phrase after shooting President Abraham Lincoln on April 14, 1865, in part because of the association with the assassination of Caesar.[1][2] Timothy McVeigh was wearing a T-shirt with this phrase and a picture of Lincoln on it when he was arrested on April 19, 1995, the day of the Oklahoma City bombing.[3]

Motto

The phrase was recommended by George Mason to the Virginia Convention in 1776, as part of the state's seal. The Seal of the Commonwealth of Virginia shows Virtue, spear in hand, with her foot on the prostrate form of Tyranny, whose crown lies nearby. The Seal was planned by Mason and designed by George Wythe, who signed the United States Declaration of Independence and taught law to Thomas Jefferson.[4] A common joke in Virginia, referencing the image on the state seal and dating at least as far back as the Civil War, is that "Sic semper tyrannis" actually means "Get your foot off my neck."[5]

The phrase is also the motto of the United States Navy attack submarine named for the state, the USS Virginia. It is also the motto of the U.S. city Allentown, the third largest city in Pennsylvania, and is referenced in the official state song of Maryland.

See also

References

  1. ^ Diary Entry of John Wilkes Booth
  2. ^ "TimesMachine April 15, 1865 - New York Times". The New York Times. http://timesmachine.nytimes.com/browser/1865/04/15/P1. 
  3. ^ Kilzer, Lou; Flynn, Kevin (1997-12-19). "Did McVeigh Plan to get Caught, or was he Sloppy?". Denver Rocky Mountain News. 
  4. ^ Rowland, Kate Mason (1892). The Life of George Mason, 1725-1792. G.P. Putnam's Sons. pp. 264–265. http://books.google.com/books?id=jbiCAAAAIAAJ&pg=PA265. 
  5. ^ von Borcke, Heros (April 1866). "Memoirs of the Confederate War for Independence". Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine. American edition, vol. 62 (New York: Leonard Scott & Co.) 99 (606): 462. http://books.google.com/books?id=HqrZODfwUIIC&dq=sic%20semper%20tyrannis&pg=PA462#v=onepage&q&f=false. Retrieved 21 August 2010. "...the coat of arms of the state of Virginia, bearing the motto, Sic semper tyrannis, which the soldiers translated, "Take your foot off my neck", from the action of the principal figure ... representing Liberty, who, with a lance in her right hand, is standing over the conquered and prostrate tyrant, and apparently trampling on him with her heel." 

External links