Does anyone know the origin of the phrase barnburner for referring to a very close sporting event?
Lewis Joplin II
Barn burner/the Barnburners - "According to an old story, there was once a Dutchman who was so bothered by the rats in his barn that he burned down the barn to get rid of them. Thus a 'barn burner' became one who destroyed all in order to get rid of a nuisance. In the 1840s and 1850s there was a faction of the Democratic party in New York State opposed to the extension of slavery in the territories, and the name Barnburners was given them by their opponents. Most of the Barnburners later became Free-Soilers." From "Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins" by William and Mary Morris (HarperCollins, New York, 1977, 1988).

A second source defines "barnburners" as "persons demonstrating uncompromising determination, even at risk of total loss; practitioners of the art of the impossible. The word originally designated the antislavery wing of the Democratic party in New York State in the 1840s led by Martin Van Buren and his son, John. The name was devised by the 'Hunkers,' a Democratic opposition faction, to ridicule Van Buren's radical approach 'in the manner of the Dutch farmer who burned his barn to destroy rats...'" From "Safire's New Political Dictionary" by William Safire (Random House, New York, 1993).

In reference to an exciting event, I would imagine "barnburner" did originate with the crowd gathering when somebody's barn burns:

BARNBURNER - "Barnburners were members of a faction of the Democratic Party in New York State from about 1830-50, so-called because they were so zealous for reform in the party that they would burn the barn (the Democratic Party) to get ride of the (pro-slavery) rats... 'Barnburner' is used by wildcat oil men for a big well, a gusher, a strike that lights up the sky..." From "Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins" by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1997).

"Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang, Volume 1, A-G" by J.E. Lighter, Random House, New York, 1994, has the first meaning: 1. Pol. a radical member of the Democratic party of New York State...1841, 1845, and, 2. an exciting or excellent thing, person, or time; a humdinger; (specifically) a strong hand in the game of bridge.""

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