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Constitutional Glossary

The Constitution was written in the English of its day. Given that English, unlike Latin, is a living language, the meaning of many words has evolved in the intervening 225 plus years. Accordingly, in order to understand to original intent of the Framers, one must appreciate the words as they meant at the time of their use. Our Constitutional Glossary provides a collection of words used in the Constitution and their definitions as compiled in Noah Webster's 1828 American Dictionary of the American Language (New York: Published by S. Converse and printed by Hezekiah Howe - New Haven)

Webster's 1828 dictionary is the closest contemprary dictionary to the time of the writing of the Constitution and, therefore, provides us the most accurate representation available of the Constitution's words and their meaning.

Note: This is not a 100% complete listing but rather an arbitrary selection of what we believe to be significant words. Additionally, it is a work in progress and will be expanded as time permits.

Go to the Constitutional Glossary


Notable Quotes

If one regards oneself as a skeptic, it is well from time to time to be skeptical about one's skepticism.

Freud, New Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis, XXX

Founder's Quotes

Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people, who have a right, from the frame of their nature, to knowledge, as their great Creator, who does nothing in vain, has given them understandings, and a desire to know; but besides this, they have a right, an indisputable, unalienable, indefeasible, divine right to that most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge; I mean, of the characters and conduct of their rulers.

John Adams, Dissertation on Canon and Feudal Law, 1765

Did You Know?

The copy of the Declaration of Independence that is housed at the National Archives is not the draft that was approved by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776. Instead it is a formal copy that the Continental Congress hired someone to make for them after the text was approved. This formal copy was probably made by Timothy Matlack, an assistant to the Secretary of Congress. This copy was signed on August 2, 1776.

A Government of Laws...

Article V - Amendment Process - United States Constitution

The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress; Provided that no Amendment which may be made prior to the Year One thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any Manner affect the first and fourth Clauses in the Ninth Section of the first Article; and that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.

Term Limit Congress
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A Book You Should Read

The Bill of Rights: Original Meaning and Current Understanding, Eugene W. Hickock, Jr. (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1991)