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Vocabulary in The Bill of Rights

Vocabulary Examples in The Bill of Rights:

The Ten Original Amendments to the Constitution of the United States

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"capital, or otherwise infamous crime..."   (The Ten Original Amendments to the Constitution of the United States)

The category of “capital, or otherwise infamous, crimes[s]” referred to here are crimes punishable by death. The etymology of “capital” reveals the reasoning. The word comes from the Latin caput, meaning head. The most extreme offenses are “capital,” or of the head, because capital offenders were traditionally sentenced to beheading.

"redress..."   (The Ten Original Amendments to the Constitution of the United States)

The noun “redress” refers to the reparation or compensation for any wrongs committed or losses caused. The First Amendment allows for the American people to “petition the Government for a redress of grievances,” an act which is central to the process of democratic governance. In contrast to autocratic regimes, democracies depend on the ability of their citizens to contribute to the political process, which includes petitioning unfavorable measures made by the government.

"peaceably..."   (The Ten Original Amendments to the Constitution of the United States)

This amendment makes a provision for the people to assemble “peaceably.” The founders understood that a crucial piece of any democratic government is the free exchange of ideas, including dissent and disagreement. Thus, it is important for people to be able to assemble to express a viewpoint or push for a change. The word “peaceably” draws a line between the peaceful expression of ideas and violent rioting, which remains illegal and punishable.

"press..."   (The Ten Original Amendments to the Constitution of the United States)

The noun “press” refers to the news media and the products of writers and journalists. The word comes from the “printing press,” the physical machine which creates printed documents, newspapers, and books. Thus, “the press” came to refer to the content produced by the actual press. This clause in the First Amendment, which provides “freedom of speech” and “of the press,” has proved critical in shaping American society and culture. The essence of the clause is that, as individuals and organizations, Americans can express their ideas without fear of incrimination.

"respecting..."   (The Ten Original Amendments to the Constitution of the United States)

In this case, the verb “respect” refers to the act of favoring, valuing, or preferring something. Therefore, when the first clause claims to make no laws “respecting an establishment of religion,” it means the federal government will not officially favor one religion over any other. This does not mean the government disrespects any religion, either; in fact, the amendment goes on to allow for the “free exercise” of religion. It is this section of the First Amendment which delineates the important principle of the “separation of church and state,” a phrase which Thomas Jefferson coined in an 1802 letter. Religion has no control over politics, just as politics have no control over religion.

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