Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Red Tape

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 23, 2010

This phrase was first noted in historical records in the 16th century, when Henry VIII sent Pope Clement VII approximately 80 petitions regarding his request for the annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon.  Keeping with the custom of the day, each one was sealed and bound with the obligatory red tape.

The tradition continued through to the 18th century.   The binding of documents and official papers with red tape was popularized in the writings of Thomas Carlyle who protested against official inertia.

In the U.S., all American Civil War veterans’ records were bound in red tape, and the difficulty in accessing them led to the current negative use of the term.

In 1996, Congress passed the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act referred to as the Red Tape Reduction Act.  In 1998, the province of Ontario saw the Red Tape Reduction Act receive Royal Assent on December 18, 1998.  Other provinces in Canada have followed suit with their own Red Tape Reduction Acts being enacted.

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