Sic semper tyrannis
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.
The phrase is attributed to Marcus Junius Brutus, the most famous figure in the assassination of Julius Caesar on March 15, 44 BC; however, it is more probably a later dramatic invention, as Roman historians of the period did not record it. 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. 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.
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. 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.”
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.