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03 - The Declaration of Independence - (As adopted) - A Glossary

Eighteenth century English, as written in the thirteen colonies differs in some respects to contemporary American English. Accordingly, readers may be unfamiliar with certain words Thomas Jefferson used in the Declaration of Independence. The following version offers a glossary of terms contained within the document. By placing your mouse cursor over an italicized word, the definition of that word will be presented in a tool-tip. The definitions are those contained in Noah Webster's 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language. This dictionary was chosen on order to provide definitions as contemporary as possible to the Declaration itself.


In Congress, July 4, 1776 The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolveTo disunite; to break; to separate. Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness? 2 Peter 3.; To loose the ties or bonds of any thing; to destroy an connected system; as, to dissolve a government; to dissolve a corporation. the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equalHaving the same value; as two commodities of equal price or worth. stationRank; condition of life. He can be contented with a humble station. to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impelTo drive or urge forward; to press on; to excite to action or to move forward, by the application of physical force, or moral suasion or necessity. A ball is impelled by the force of powder; a ship is impelled by wind; a man may be impelled by hunger or a regard to his safety; motives of policy or of safety impel nations to confederate. them to the separation.--We hold these truths to be self-evidentEvident without proof or reasoning; that produces certainty or clear conviction upon a bare presentation to the mind; as a self-evident propostion or truth. That two and three make five, is self-evident.{end-tooltip, that all men are created {tooltip}equal{end-texte}Having the same qualities or condition; as two men of equal rank or excellence; two bodies of equal hardness or softness., that they are endowedENDOW'ED, Furnished with a portion of estate;having dower settled on; supplied with a permanent fund; indued; to enrich with any excellence. by their Creator with certain unalienableUNA'LIENABLE, a.  Not alienable; that cannot be alienated; that may not be transferred; as unalienable rights. Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of HappinessThe agreeable sensations which spring from the enjoyment of good; that state of a being in which his desires are gratified, by the enjoyment of pleasure without pain; felicity; but happiness usually expresses less than felicity, and felicity less than bliss.  Happiness is comparative.  To a person distressed with pain, relief from that pain affords happiness; in other cases we give the name happiness to positive pleasure or an excitement of agreeable sensations.  Happiness therefore admits of indefinite degrees of increase in enjoyment, or gratification of desires.  Perfect happiness, or pleasure unalloyed with pain, is not attainable in this life..--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,--That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. PrudencePRU'DENCE, n. [L. prudentia.] Wisdom applied to practice. Prudence implies caution in deliberating and consulting on the most suitable means to accomplish valuable purposes, and the exercise of sagacity in discerning and selecting them. Prudence differs from wisdom in this, that prudence implies more caution and reserve than wisdom, or is exercised more in foreseeing and avoiding evil, than in devising and executing that which is good. It is sometimes mere caution or circumspection., indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transientPassing; not stationary; hence, of short duration; not permanent; not lasting or durable. How transient are the pleasures of this life! causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpationsSeizing or occupying the power or property of another without right., pursuing invariablyConstantly; uniformly; without alteration or change. the same Object evincesTending to prove; having the power to demonstrate.a design to reduce them under absolute DespotismAbsolute power; authority unlimited and uncontrolled by men, constitution or laws, and depending alone on the will of the prince; as the despotism of a Turkish sultan., it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.--Such has been the patient sufferanceSUF'FERANCE, n. The bearing of pain; endurance; pain endured; misery. of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absoluteUnlimited by extraneous power or control, as an absolute government or prince. TyrannyArbitrary or despotic exercise of power; the exercise of power over subjects and others with a rigor not authorized by law or justice, or not requisite for the purposes of government. Hence tyranny is often synonymous with cruelty and oppression; Cruel government or discipline; as the tyranny of a master.over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

--He has refused his AssentConsent; agreement to a proposal, respecting some right or interest; as, the bill before the house has the assent of a great majority of the members.The distinction between assent and consent seems to be this: assent is the agreement to an abstract proposition. We assent to a statement, but we do not consent to it. Consent is an agreement to some proposal or measure which affects the rights or interest of the consenter. We consent to a proposal of marriage. This distinction however is not always observed. to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

--He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspendedHung up; made to depend on; caused to cease for a time;delayed; held undermined; prevented from executing an office or enjoying a right. in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

--He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquishTo give up; to renounce a claim to; as, to relinquish a debt. To relinquish back, or to, to give up; to release; to surrender; as, to relinquish a claim to another. the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimableToo valuable or excellent to be rated; being above all price; as inestimable rights. The privileges of American citizens, civil and religious, are inestimable. to them and formidable to tyrantsA king or ruler who exercises his power in an oppressive, unjust, or cruel manner; a despot. only.

--He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depositoryA place where any thing is lodged for safe-keeping. A warehouse is a depository for goods; a clerks office, for records. of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

--He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manlyManlike; becoming a man; firm; brave; undaunted. Dignified; noble; stately. firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

--He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of AnnihilationThe act of reducing to nothing or non-existence; or the act of destroying the form or combination of parts under which a thing exists, so that the name can no longer be applied to it, as the annihilation of a corporation.The state of being reduced to nothing., have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

--He has endeavouredLabored to a certain purpose. Essayed; attempted. to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for NaturalizationThe act of investing an alien with the rights and privileges of a native subject or citizen. of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migration hither, and raising the conditions of new AppropriationsThe act of sequestering, or assigning to a particular use or person, in exclusion of all others; application to a special use or purpose; as, of a piece of ground for a park; of a right, to one's self; or of words, to ideas. of Lands.

--He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.

--He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

--He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.

--He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies, without the Consent of our legislatures.

--He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.

--He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

--For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

--For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

--For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

--For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

--For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:

--For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

--For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an ArbitraryDepending on will or discretion; not governed by any fixed rules; as, an arbitrary decision; an arbitrary punishment. Arbitrary power is most easily established on the ruins of liberty abused to licentiousness. Despotic; absolute in power; having no external control; as, an arbitrary prince or government. government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:

--For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

--For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

--He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

--He has plunderedPillaged; robbed. our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

--He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolationThe act of desolating destruction or expulsion of inhabitants; destruction; ruin; waste. and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & PerfidyThe act of violating faith, a promise, vow or allegiance; treachery; the violation of a trust reposed. Perfidy is not applied to violations of contracts in ordinary pecuniary transactions, but to violations of faith or trust in friendship, in agency and office, in allegiance, in connubial engagements, and in the transactions of kings. scarcely paralleled in the most barbarousUncivilized; savage; unlettered; untutored; ignorant; unacquainted with arts; stranger to civility of manners. ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

--He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethernplural of brother. It is used almost exclusively in solemn and scriptural language,in the place of brothers., or to fall themselves by their Hands.

--He has excited domestic insurrectionsA rising against civil or political authority; the open and active opposition of a number of persons to the execution of a law in a city or state. It is equivalent to sedition, except that sedition expresses a less extensive rising of citizens. It differs from rebellion, for the latter expresses a revolt, or an attempt to overthrow the government, to establish a different one or to place the country under another jurisdiction. It differs from mutiny, as it respects the civil or political government; whereas a mutiny is an open opposition to law in the army or navy. Insurrection is however used with such latitude as to comprehend either sedition or rebellion. amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for RedressTo remedy; to repair; to relieve from, and sometimes to indemnify for; as, to redress wrongs; to redress injuries; to redress grievances. Sovereigns are bound to protect their subjects, and redress their grievances. in the most humble terms: Our repeated PetitionsA formal request or supplication, verbal or written; particularly, a written supplication from an inferior to a superior, either to a single person clothed with power, or to a legislative or other body, soliciting some favor, grant, right or mercy. have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimityGreatness of mind; that elevation or dignity of soul, which encounters danger and trouble with tranquillity and firmness, which raises the possessor above revenge, and makes him delight in acts of benevolence, which makes him disdain injustice and meanness, and prompts him to sacrifice personal ease, interest and safety for the accomplishment of useful and noble objects., and we have conjuredBound by an oath. them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinityThe relation of persons by blood; the relation or connection of persons descended from the same stock or common ancestor, in distinction from affinity or relation by marriage. It is lineal or collateral.. We must, therefore, acquiesceTo rest satisfied, or apparently satisfied, or to rest without opposition and discontent; usually implying previous opposition, uneasiness, or dislike, but ultimate compliance, or submission; as, to acquiesce in the dispensations of providence. in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.--

We, Therefore, the Representatives of the UNITED States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitudeIn morality, rightness of principle or practice; uprightness of mind; exact conformity to truth, or to the rules prescribed for moral conduct, either by divine or human laws. Rectitude of mind is the disposition to act in conformity to any known standard of right, truth or justice; rectitude of conduct is the actual conformity to such standard. Perfect rectitude belongs only to the Supreme Being. The more nearly the rectitude of men approaches to the standard of the divine law, the more exalted and dignified is their character. Want of rectitude is not only sinful, but debasing. of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are AbsolvedReleased; acquitted; remitted; declared innocent. from all AllegianceThe tie or obligation of a subject to his Prince or government; the duty of fidelity to a king, government or state. Every native or citizen owes allegiance to the government under which he is born. This is called natural or implied allegiance, which arises from the connection of a person with the society in which he is born, and his duty to be a faithful subject, independent of any express promise. Express allegiance, is that obligation which proceeds from an express promise, or oath of fidelity. to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do.--And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of DivinePertaining to the true God; as the divine nature; divine perfections. ProvidenceThe care and superintendence which God exercises over his creatures. He that acknowledges a creation and denies a providence, involves himself in a palpable contradiction; for the same power which caused a thing to exist is necessary to continue its existence. Some persons admit a general providence,but deny a particular providence, not considering that a general providence consists of particulars. A belief in divine providence, is a source of great consolation to good men. By divine providence is often understood God himself., we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

[New Hampshire]
Josiah Bartlett
Wm. Whipple
Matthew Thornton

[Massachusett Bay]
Saml. Adams
John Adams
Robt. Treat Paine
Elbridge Gerry

[Rhode Island]
Step. Hopkins
William Ellery

Roger Sherman
Sam'el Huntington
Wm. Williams
Oliver Wolcott

[New York]
Wm. Floyd
Phil. Livingston
Frans. Lewis
Lewis Morris

[New Jersey]
Richd. Stockton
Jno. Witherspoon
Fras. Hopkinson
John Hart
Abra. Clark

Robt. Morris
Benjamin Rush
Benja. Franklin
John Morton
Geo. Clymer
Jas. Smith
Geo. Taylor
James Wilson
Geo. Ross
John Hancock

Caesar Rodney
Geo. Read
Tho. M'Kean

Samuel Chase
Wm. Paca
Thos. Stone
Charles Carroll
of Carrollton

George Wythe
Richard Henry Lee
Th. Jefferson
Benja. Harrison
Ths. Nelson, Jr.
Francis Lightfoot Lee
Carter Braxton

[North Carolina]
Wm. Hooper
Joseph Hewes
John Penn

[South Carolina]
Edward Rutledge
Thos. Heyward, Junr.
Thomas Lynch, Junr.
Arthur Middleton

Button Gwinnett
Lyman Hall
Geo. Walton

Source: Documents Illustrative of the Formation of the Union of the American States. Edited by Charles C. Tansill. 69th Cong., 1st sess. House Doc. No. 398. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1927, pages 22-25.