Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Footloose

Posted by Elyse Bruce on July 22, 2011

The simple expression footloose does not address an individual’s marital status.  Yes, married or single, divorced or partnered, an individual can be footloose, meaning that he or she has minimal responsibilities in life and is free to do as he or she pleases.

On September 6, 1999 the Daily News from Middlesboro, Kentucky published a brief article on actor, Kevin Bacon, that touched upon his decision to focus on supporting roles rather than leading man roles.  The end result was a string of memorable parts in movies such as “Apollo 13” and “JFK” and “A Few Good Men” among others.  The article was aptly entitled:

Bacon Being Footloose With Career Plan

About 20 years before that article, the Montreal Gazette published an article on January 16, 1979 that addressed the stereotype of bachelors versus married couples as it impacted on population trends.  It quoted a 5-year study conducted by Statistics Canada that yielded surprising results.  The newspaper hinted at it in the news story headline:

Couples Move More Often: Footloose Bachelor Is A Myth

And about 30 years before the Montreal Gazette article, the Spokane Daily Chronicle published a story on September 23, 1949 entitled, “Britain’s Economic Stress Seems Hopeless Situation.”  The story read in part:

Despite the measured optimism of Sir Stafford Cripps, the broad measures of the labor government for the workers’ welfare and the solace of official American concern, the intelligent British worker will soon face a number of inescapable facts.  Those facts are so serious that, if he is a fairly young man and reasonably footloose, he should, if he can find a way, migrate to a country where he can find some hope for the future.  For it is hard to see how he can find hope for his future and that of his children in the United Kingdom.

On September 26, 1918 the Montreal Gazette ran a news story about Henry Ford and the American election.  He stated at the Democratic State Convention that he would not be bound by any political party.  He supported then-President Woodrow Wilson’s war measures and made it clear that he hadn’t spent a penny, nor did he intent to spend a penny, to be elected.  The article was entitled:

Ford Is Footloose: Will Not Be Bound To Any Political Party

On June 22, 1883 the Baltimore Sun newspaper reported on the Democratic City Convention which was composed of 180 delegates who had been elected at the late primary.  General George S. Brown won the vote and an Executive Committee was appointed.  The article was entitled, “The City Convention” and read in part:

Two of the prominent leaders are said to have declined to follow that policy. They said that the time had come when some people in politics must consider themselves footloose from such alliances. 

In 1839, American lawyer, minister, educator and humourist, Augustus Baldwin Longstreet (1790 – 1870) wrote about leaving his hometown of Augusta, Georgia where he had returned to live a decade earlier upon returning from Greensboro.  In a private letter, he wrote:

The first year of my ministry, the yellow fever made its appearance in Augusta, and my home was soon filled with fugitives from the city, who boarded me out of everything I had to eat, so that I had nothing to sell at the end of the year but my dwelling and land. These I disposed of at their full value. I was now foot-loose for the Methodist itinerancy. While administering to the sick, the dying and the dead for five dreary months, expecting every day to become a victim to the disease. O, how my soul rejoiced as it found me serving God instead of serving clients!

What many people don’t realize is that there is a naval influence to the term footloose that dates back quite a few generations!

The term refers to the mooring lines, called foot lines, on the bottom of the sails of 17th and 18th century ships. When the foot lines were loosened, it allowed the sails to flap freely and came to be known as being footloose

And in documents dating back to the 1680s and 1690s, the term referred to an individual who was free to move his feet and who was “unshackled.”  The expression unshackled meant one who was not tied to politics or banks and who was free to act as a man of honour and principle.

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