A Concise Guide to Using Dictionaries from the Founding Era to Determine the Original Meaning of the Constitution
37 Pages Posted: 7 May 2014
Date Written: 2014
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: Suggested Citation