make a martyr of (one)

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make a martyr of (one)

To make one on the opposing side of an issue suffer for their position, only for that suffering to cause other people to sympathize with the victim, thus strengthening their cause. The British government's biggest mistake in dealing with the Irish revolutionaries was to execute the leaders of the 1916 uprising. By making martyrs of them, the government unified the Irish people in a position of revolt.
See also: make, martyr, of
References in classic literature ?
At the appointed hour Elder William Hitch rose, and, in an irritated voice, as if he had already been contradicted, said, "I tell you that Joe Smith is a martyr, that his brother Hiram is a martyr, and that the persecutions of the United States Government against the prophets will also make a martyr of Brigham Young.