sell down the river, to

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sell down the river

Betray, as in They kept the merger a secret until the last minute, so the employees who were laid off felt they'd been sold down the river . This expression, dating from the mid-1800s, alludes to slaves being sold down the Mississippi River to work as laborers on cotton plantations. Its figurative use dates from the late 1800s.
See also: down, river, sell
The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer. Copyright © 2003, 1997 by The Christine Ammer 1992 Trust. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

sell down the river

Informal
To betray the trust or faith of.
See also: down, river, sell
American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. Copyright © 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

sell down the river, to

To betray. This term arose in the mid-nineteenth-century United States and referred to selling slaves down the Mississippi River, where they would almost certainly be worked to death in the cotton fields. The term was used in its literal sense by Harriet Beecher Stowe in her best-selling novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, but by the late nineteenth century it was being used figuratively. P. G. Wodehouse used it in Small Bachelor (1927): “When Sigisbee Waddington married for the second time, he to all intents and purposes sold himself down the river.”
See also: down, sell
The Dictionary of Clichés by Christine Ammer Copyright © 2013 by Christine Ammer
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References in periodicals archive ?
Tony Blair is so obsessed at Britain becoming a favoured province of Europe he seems determined to sell down the river Britain's loyal allies across the globe.