Sic semper tyrannis
The phrase is sometimes said to have originated with Marcus Junius Brutus during the assassination of Julius Caesar on 15 March 44 BC, but according to Plutarch, Brutus either did not have a chance to say anything, or if he did, no one heard what was said:
Caesar thus done to death, the senators, although Brutus came forward as if to say something about what had been done, would not wait to hear him, but burst out of doors and fled, thus filling the people with confusion and helpless fear.
The phrase has been invoked historically in Europe and other parts of the world as an epithet or rallying cry against abuse of power.
Usage in the US
John Wilkes Booth wrote in his diary that he shouted "Sic semper tyrannis" after shooting U.S. President Abraham Lincoln on April 14, 1865, in part because of the association with the assassination of Caesar. The phrase was also in the pro-Confederate Civil War song Maryland, My Maryland, which was popular at the time with Southern sympathizers in Maryland, such as Booth. The song, containing the phrase, is now the official state song of Maryland.
Motto of Virginia
The phrase was recommended by George Mason to the Virginia Convention in 1776, as part of the commonwealth'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. A joke referencing the image on the seal that dates as far back as the Civil War, is that "Sic semper tyrannis" actually means "Get your foot off my neck."
"Happy While United" was the slogan on a medal coined by the State of Virginia in 1780. First envisioned by Thomas Jefferson, the medal was minted and designed to be given to Indian signatories to the treaties Jefferson planned with the First Peoples of Virginia. The medal portrays a Virginia colonial sitting enjoying a peace pipe with a Native American. The obverse portrays a variation of the Virginia state seal of the state symbol standing triumphant over a slain enemy with the legend: "Rebellion to Tyrants Is Obedience to God".
The English version of the phrase is alluded to in The Big Lebowski by the character Wu, who snarks, "Ever thus to deadbeats" as he micturates upon the Dude's rug.
Great Seal of Virginia with the commonwealth's motto.
- Mitgang, Herbert (12 April 1992). "Booth Speech Reveals a Killer's Mind". The New York Times. Retrieved 23 November 2015.
- Mulvihill, Amy (13 April 2015). "The Fault in His Stars". Baltimore Magazine. Retrieved 23 November 2015.
- Plutarch, "Caesar", Plutarch's Lives, with an English Translation by Bernadotte Perrin. Cambridge, MA. Harvard University Press. London. William Heinemann Ltd. 1919. ch. 67. On Line text.
- "From Classroom to White House". google.co.uk.
- "Diary Entry of John Wilkes Booth". umkc.edu.
- "TimesMachine April 15, 1865 - New York Times". The New York Times.
- "Ford's Theater Historic Site Visit". fords.org.
- Kilzer, Lou; Flynn, Kevin (1997-12-19). "Did McVeigh Plan to get Caught, or was he Sloppy?". Denver Rocky Mountain News.
- Rowland, Kate Mason (1892). The Life of George Mason, 1725-1792. G.P. Putnam's Sons. pp. 264–265.
- 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. 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.
- Webster entry - audio pronunciation