The Original Meaning of ‘Emoluments’ in the Constitution

55 Pages Posted: 6 Feb 2017 Last revised: 25 Mar 2018

Date Written: March 21, 2018


This Article explores the original meaning of the word “Emolument(s)” in the Constitution. It identifies four common definitions in founding-era political discourse. It places the constitutional use within its context as part of a larger reform movement in Britain and America and as driven by other historical events. The Article examines how the word was employed in contemporaneous reform measures, in official congressional and state documents, in the constitutional debates, and in the constitutional text.

The author concludes that the three appearances of “emoluments” in the Constitution had a common meaning, which was “compensation with financial value, received by reason of public employment.”

Keywords: Constitution, Emoluments Clause, Original Meaning, Original Understanding, Original Intent

JEL Classification: K1, K19, K29, K39

Suggested Citation

Natelson, Robert G., The Original Meaning of ‘Emoluments’ in the Constitution (March 21, 2018). Georgia Law Review, Vol. 52, No. 1, 2017, Available at SSRN: or

Robert G. Natelson (Contact Author)

Independence Institute ( email )

727 E. 16th Ave.
Denver, CO 80203
United States
303-279-6536 (Phone)

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