A jackboot is a military boot such as the cavalry jackboot or the hobnailed jackboot. The hobnailed jackboot has a different design and function from the first type. It is a combat boot that is designed for marching. It rises to mid-calf or higher with no laces and usually has a leather sole with hobnails. Jackboots have been associated with totalitarianism, as they were worn by German military and paramilitary forces during the Second World War.
The term originally denoted tall winged leather cavalry boots, which were reinforced against sword blows by use of mail sewn into the lining of the leather. The wings on these high boots particularly protected a rider's knee-joint from a sword blow. These boots are still worn and still so termed by the Household Cavalry regiment of the British Army, founded in the 17th century. The term originates from the French word jaque meaning "coat of mail". These boots were made very heavy by the mail reinforcement and are slightly less so today from the use of modern materials as stiffeners. There are few manufacturers of cavalry jackboots extant in the 21st century, the most famous being Schnieder Boots of Mayfair, London, the official supplier to Her Majesty the Queen's Household Cavalry.
The second meaning of the term is derived from the first, with reference to their toughness, but is unrelated in design and function, being a combat boot designed for marching, rising to at least mid-calf, with no laces, typically a leather sole with hobnails, and heel irons. The Germans call this boot Marschstiefel, meaning "marching boot". This is the classic boot used by the German infantry in World War I, though the stormtroopers dispensed with them in favor of laced boots then used by Austro-Hungarian mountain troops. An etymological source not derived from the cavalry jackboot has been suggested as from the word jack, jacket or jerkin, as a common garment worn by the peasantry.
The boots are connected to fascism, particularly Nazism, as they were worn by the Sturmabteilung and later the field forces of the Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS as part of the World War II German uniform before Germany encountered leather shortages. When goose-stepping on pavement, the large columns of German soldiers in Marschstiefel ("marching boots") created a distinct rock-crushing sound which came to symbolize German conquest and occupation. A similar style of boot had been in use with German armies in World War I, the Franco-Prussian War, and before.
Jackboots were also associated with the armies of the former USSR (called sapogi) and East Germany. Jackboots are still a part of the modern parade and service attire of the army of Russia and several other former Soviet states.
The word is commonly used in English as a synonym for totalitarianism, particularly fascism, although jackboots and similar types of footwear have been worn by various British regiments since the 18th century (see Wellington boot, origins). Following the 1982 invasion of the Falkland Islands, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher declared that the democratic rights of the Falkland Islanders had been assaulted, and would not surrender the islands to the Argentine "jackboot".
In the United States in October 1993, the National Rifle Association (NRA) ran a four-page ad in the center of its American Rifleman magazine, the first page of which showed goose-stepping, jackbooted legs under the question, "What's the First Step to a Police State?" Two years later, the NRA's executive vice-president, Wayne LaPierre, sparked controversy when he referred to federal agents as "jackbooted government thugs" in an NRA fund-raising letter. The term had been coined by United States Representative John Dingell, Democrat of Michigan, in 1981. Such statements prompted former U.S. president George H. W. Bush to resign his membership in the organization soon after.