Download This Paper Open PDF in Browser

A Concise Guide to Using Dictionaries from the Founding Era to Determine the Original Meaning of the Constitution

37 Pages Posted: 7 May 2014  

Gregory E. Maggs

George Washington University Law School

Date Written: 2014

Abstract

This Article explains how dictionaries published in the Founding Era may provide evidence of the original meaning of the Constitution. In addition, the Article identifies and discusses six potential problems with relying on definitions from these dictionaries, and cautions that these potential problems must be considered when using Founding Era dictionaries either to make claims about the Constitution’s original meaning or to evaluate claims about original meaning made by others. Finally, the Article includes an Appendix describing nine English language dictionaries and four legal dictionaries from the Founding Era that the Supreme Court has cited in constitutional cases, and indicates where free versions of these dictionaries can be found online.

Keywords: dictionary, originalism, original meaning, original intent, original understanding

JEL Classification: K19, K30

Suggested Citation

Maggs, Gregory E., A Concise Guide to Using Dictionaries from the Founding Era to Determine the Original Meaning of the Constitution (2014). 82 Geo. Wash. L. Rev. 358-93 ; GWU Law School Public Law Research Paper No. 2014-17; GWU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2014-17. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2433244 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2433244

Gregory E. Maggs (Contact Author)

George Washington University Law School ( email )

2000 H Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20052
United States

Paper statistics

Downloads
134
rank
188,194
Abstract Views
518
PlumX