What Does Sic Semper Tyrannis Mean

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What Does Sic Semper Tyrannis Mean

“Sic semper tyrannis” is a Latin phrase. The phrase translates literally into “thus always to tyrants.” It’s been used several times during iconic moments in history, but its origin is unknown. The idea behind the phrase is that a tyrant, or a cruel and oppressive ruler, will always meet a grim end. According to the phrase, this dismal fate is justified and should be expected. 

“Sic semper tyrannis” has been historically used as a rallying cry by people against dictators and despots. The first reported use of the phrase allegedly occurred after the assassination of Julius Caesar, when it was yelled by Marcus Junius Brutus. However, it is debated whether this is true or not. According to Plutarch, Brutus didn’t even have a chance to say anything. If he did, no one heard what he said. 

One use of the phrase that definitely happened, though, was when John Wilkes Booth shouted “sic semper tyrannis” after assassinating Abraham Lincoln. After shooting the 16th president of the United States point blank in the head, Booth yelled the historic phrase, then jumped off a balcony and fled. This is, by far, the most famous use of the phrase in history. 

While the phrase’s association with President Lincoln’s murder might make you think that “sic semper tyrannis” has a negative connotation, the phrase actually preaches the opposite. The objective of “sic semper tyrannis” is to encourage individuality, fairness, and freedom among the people.

Here at Printed Kicks, we strive to educate ourselves on the history of America and remember the values and sentiments of our forefathers. It is important to protect the traditions and cultural rituals of our nation, from all regions and all sides of life, and the sense of necessary rebellion and commitment to freedom that this phrase implies is absolutely necessary. 

Origin

The phrase “Sic semper tyrannis” is sometimes mistranslated as "death to tyrants" or "down with the tyrant.” These translations come from a misreading of the full quotation, “Sic semper evello mortem tyrannis.” The full version translates literally into “Thus always I eradicate tyrants’ lives.”

In Europe, as well as other parts of the world, the phrase has been used as a rallying cry against abuses of power. Nobody has ever formally claimed to have created the expression or been the first one to use it. Over the years, its use has decreased dramatically. 

John Wilkes Booth

Because of the phrase’s strong attachment to John Wilkes Booth, it is worthwhile to analyze President Lincoln’s assassination and see what was conspiring in Booth’s mind. In many ways, his motive was fueled by the phrase, “sic semper tyrannis.” If you were to ask Booth, there was no bigger tyrant that deserved defeat than President Lincoln. He believed that Lincoln was playing fast and loose with the Constitution, that he was making up his own rules and ignoring the historical precedence that was outlined for him by our great forefathers.

Booth first started plotting against President Lincoln with the intent to kidnap him. Though he stayed in the North, Booth was sympathetic to the Confederates and resented Lincoln for dividing the country. His initial plan was to capture Lincoln and bring him to Richmond, Virginia, the Confederate capital. 

The day of the planned kidnapping was March 20th, 1865. That day, Booth gathered six other conspirators to assist him and set out to catch Lincoln. However, the president never showed up to the spot that he was supposed to be in. Booth and his partners were forced to create a new plan. 

Just two weeks later, the Union successfully took over Richmond, which was a huge loss to the South. At this point, the Confederate forces were weakening and near collapse. In Booth’s mind, he was the only remaining hope to save the Confederacy. Quickly, he hatched a new, even more devious plan, a plan to assassinate the president. 

On April 14th, upon learning that Lincoln would be in attendance at Ford’s Theater, Booth decided to make his move. He sent members of his team to murder Vice President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William H. Seward as well. By killing the president and two of his potential successors, Booth hoped to rejuvenate the Confederacy and swing the tide of the war. 

The Death of Lincoln

That evening, Lewis T. Powell broke into the home of Secretary of State Seward and critically wounded him and three others. George A. Atzerodt, who was supposed to kill Vice President Johnson, backed out of the mission and fled. Meanwhile, Booth had entered Lincoln’s private theater box in Ford’s Theater without being noticed. They were on the second floor of the theater. 

With no hesitation, Booth let off a single shot to the back of the president’s head, then jumped off the balcony, onto the stage. As he jumped, he shouted the phrase, “Sic semper tyrannis! The South is avenged.” In Booth’s eyes, Lincoln had destroyed the country with the start of the Civil War. This triumphant cry represented the Southern plea for freedom. 

Booth broke his left leg from the jump, but was able to escape on horseback. He quickly left Washington and went on the run for nearly two weeks. Lincoln died the morning after the shooting. 

However, Booth doesn’t define the use of this term. It still stands strong as a rallying cry for all those who love their country and for anyone who doesn’t want to see it come to harm. We cannot tolerate tyrants, and thus, “sic semper tyrannis” lives on in the minds and hearts of the truly patriotic.

Virginia State Motto

In 1776, the expression “sic semper tyrannis” was made the official state motto of Virginia, which still remains today. It was suggested by George Mason at the Virginia Convention in 1776. The phrase also appears on Virginia’s state seal, as well as the state flag. The quote is literally written into law and can be found in the Code of Virginia, Title 7.1, Chapter 4, Section 7.1-26. 

This statute determines the makeup of the Virginia state seal. The statute reads that above the group, and within the border, the word "Virginia" will be placed. In the space below, on a curved line, the motto, "Sic Semper Tyrannis," will be written. 

On the other side of the seal, Libertas, the Roman goddess of liberty, holding a wand and pileus in her right hand will be placed. On her right, Aeternitas, the Roman goddess of eternity, will be placed with a globe and phoenix in her right hand. 

On the left of Libertas, Ceres, the Roman goddess of agriculture, will be placed with a cornucopia in her left hand and an ear of wheat in her right. Over this scene, in a curved line, the word "Perseverando” will be placed. 

This seal represents the values of the great state of Virginia. They believe in justice, liberty, and an enduring state that perseveres, even in the face of a tyrant. If you ask Virginians, those tyrants will always get their just desserts, as represented by “sic semper tyrannis.

Conclusion

The phrase “Sic semper tyrannis” remains a powerful message in 2021. There are still abuses of power in this world, and there are still tyrants that need to be conquered. Here at Printed Kicks, we believe in each individual’s right to freedom. For this reason, we aim to keep this phrase alive and continue to spread its message for years to come. 

When it comes down to it, the phrase “sic semper tyrannis” is a defense mechanism against abuses of power—something that the people of this great nation will never stand for. 

Ultimately, “Sic semper tyrannis” is a fighting cry by the people against the higher-ups in power who don’t act the way they should. This expression takes a firm stance against power-hungry tyrants and predicts their impending downfall. 

 

Sources

John Wilkes Booth Shoots Abraham Lincoln | HISTORY 

Virginia State Motto: Sic Semper Tyrannis | E Reference Desk 

John Wilkes Booth | HISTORY


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