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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

The Constitution of the United States is a law for rulers and people, equally in war and peace, and covers with the shield of its protection all classes of men, at all times, and under all circumstances. No doctrine involving more pernicious consequences was ever invented by the wit of man than that any of its provisions can be suspended during any of the great exigencies of government. Such a doctrine leads directly to anarchy or despotism….

David Davis (1815-1886), U.S. Supreme Court justice.

Founder's Quotes

And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever.

Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, Query 18, 1781

Did You Know?

Chief Justice John Marshall admitted, in the Barron v. Baltimore decision, that the Bill of Rights did not affect the powers of the States, but only those of the federal government.

A Government of Laws...

In the government of this Commonwealth, the legislative department shall never exercise the executive and judicial powers, or either of them; the executive shall never exercise the legislative or judicial powers, or either of them; the judicial shall never exercise the legislative and executive powers, or either of them; to the end that it may be a government of laws and not of men.

Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, A.D. 1780

Term Limit Congress
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A Book You Should Read

From Parchment to Power: How James Madison Used the Bill of Rights to Save the Constitution, Robert A. Goldwin (Washington: American Enterprise Institute, 1997)