a usu with from: To take second place to, give in to. [From backwater backwash; the literal sense is still evident in quots 1872 (with a pun on backwater floodwater) and 1887.]
1872 Boston Post (MA) 23 Aug /2 (newspaperarchive.com), [Cellars] were flooded in some instances three or four feet in depth. . . On the opposite side of the street the state of affairs was similar, with one exception, that of the office of the Clyde line of steamers, the Boston agency of which don’t take back water if it can help it. [1886 Outing 9.159, The St. John, the regular Long Branch steamer, had the bad taste to sail right across the Galatea’s bow, treating her to all her backwater.] 1887 Springfield Daily Republican (MA) 25 May 6/2, The Springfield canoe club intend to be heard from this year, for they have as fine a float of canoes as could be desired and they take back-water from none,—except on rare occasions. 1905 Wasson Green Shay 249 ME, Deacon Canthook is chock full of business quick ’s ever there ’s a vessel ashore anywheres ’round here. . . It ’s seldom ever he cal’lates to take back-water from the best of ’em ’round here them times. 1921 Hagedorn Roosevelt Bad Lands 233 ND, He was direct, he was fearless; he was a good talker, sure of his ground, and, in the language of the Bad Lands, “he didn’t take back water from any one.” 1935 Lowell Sun (MA) 2 Aug 10/7, I believe that insofar as cleanliness of streets is concerned, Lowell does not have to take backwater from any city its size in New England. 1954 Baytown Sun (TX) 20 Oct 4/1, When you’re representing the people of Texas, you don’t have to take backwater from anybody, even the governor.
b To back down. [Prob from 1a above through association with back water v phr or the phr take water (at water n B1).]
1848 Pittsfield Sun (MA) 5 Oct /2, The St. Louis Union Says: . . Before the meeting came off, news arrived that the Albany dough-faces had taken ‘back-water.’ Thereupon the Charleston Taylorites backed out. 1872 NY Herald (NY) 8 Oct 7/4, He is now engaged in making the papers take backwater. 1902 Harben Abner Daniel 136 GA, I didn’t honestly think there was a man in Georgia that could give me any tips about investments, but I had to take back water, and for a woman. 1909 DN 3.379 eAL, wGA, Take backwater. . . To retreat ignominiously, back down. 1939 AmSp 14.92 cTN, He took back water on what he said about the preacher. Ibid 262 IN, A quiet, easygoing man . . , when threatened with a fight, ‘crawfishes’ or ‘takes backwater.’ 1965–70 DARE (Qu. II31, . . “He saw that he was wrong, so he started to _____.”) 17 Infs, chiefly NEast, S Midl, Take backwater; (Qu. JJ40, When you admit that you did something wrong and are willing to take the consequences . . “It was my fault and I’m willing to _____.”) Inf GA72, Take backwater. 1993 Times Tribune (Corbin KY) 6 Dec 4/2, “If we’re putting it out that we’re positioning ourselves to be more partisan, I’ll take back water on that because that’s not what we intended to do,” Rogers said.