Q From Brian Walker: have the right to you please tell me anything about the origin of the phrase going to hell in a handbasket?

A This is a weird one, which has puzzled and confused numerous writers. The an interpretation is clear enough, the some instance is getting rapidly the end of hand and also is going downhill fast. That defines hell, as the ultimate bad destination, however why a handbasket, of every things?

A pair of comparable expressions give a clue. Very early one was going to heaven in a wheelbarrow, i beg your pardon paradoxically intended “going come hell”. This might relate to a famed stained-glass home window in St Mary’s Church in Fairford in Gloucestershire, which reflects a scolding mam being taken far in a wheelbarrow by the devil. The saying is obliquely described in a sermon by an English clergyman:

Oh, this oppressor must needs go to heaven! what chandelier hinder him? however it will be, together the byword is, in a wheelbarrow: the fiends, and not the angels, will certainly take host on him.

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God’s Bounty, by thomas Adams, c1618.

Another version was head in a handbasket:

A committee brought in something about Piscataqua. Govr claimed he would offer his head in a Handbasket as quickly as he would certainly pass it.

Diary, by The Reverend Samuel Sewell, 23 Mar. 1714.

This 2nd expression is rare. Ns can find only one later example, which looks really much like a straight reference:

When Murray very first refused the certificate of election to Cannon, the Mormon delegate, there to be an nearly universal howl, specifically from republican papers, and also the governor’s head was demanded in a hand basket.

The day-to-day Ledger-Standard (New Albany, Indiana), 28 Mar. 1881.

Some writers have actually read right into this variation that it refers to execution by the guillotine, in i beg your pardon the photo — as in the terror associated with the French transformation — is the the executed person’s head dropping into a basket. Guillotines absolutely predate both the French change and grandfather Sewell’s time (a famed sixteenth-century one is connected with the Yorkshire city the Halifax) yet to make this link would seem come stretch the imagination.

The version you’re asking around is a reasonably common American one. Until newly it was assumed to have appeared in the early twentieth century however the digitising of historical records has actually showed the it dates from in ~ least half a century earlier. The first known instance is linked to a renowned conspiracy throughout the American Civil war by the stimulate of the boy of Liberty come release detainees from ft Douglas and also burn down Chicago. Judge Buckner Morris to be a principal agitator and also is reported to have actually made a speech in the fall of 1864:

He described the suspension the the habeas corpus, and also said numerous of our ideal men were at that moment “rotting in Lincoln’s bastilles;” ... That countless our best men were detainees in Camp Douglas, and also if as soon as at liberty would “send abolitionists come hell in a hand basket”.

The an excellent North-Western Conspiracy in all its frighten Details, by i Winslow Ayer, 1865.

We might guess the the phrase was currently well recognized by this time. It wasn’t long prior to variations started to appear:

“Thou shalt no kill; she shalt not kill!” yelled a young man, one Irishman, who rushed up to us, stop in his hands a Douay Bible. Climate he dashed the book upon a table, and also filled the hall through the most fearful oaths and imprecations, closing through the declaration: “We’re every going to hell in a castiron hand basket!”

Corydon Republican (Corydon, Indiana), 2 Jul. 1877.

It has also often to be shortened:

Politics never ever interested me. I know people who spend fifty percent their lives worrying about how everything’s going come hell in a basket — and it every goes come hell in a basket anyway.

Blood Risk, through Dean Koontz, 1974.

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So why handbasket? I deserve to only assume the the alliteration has had a lot to execute with that is success, and also that handbasket suggests something easily and speedily done.