The practice asks questions on understanding of historic American documents. The suggested answers are not comprehensive; they are ideas that could be of use in creative writing.




1. “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”


1a. Does the Declaration of Independence concern only males? [Idea]

1b. Does the Declaration require religious adherence for human rights? [Idea]

1c. Is the Pursuit of Happiness a term of legal systematics? [Idea]


2. “The History of the present King of Great-Britain is a History of repeated Injuries and Usurpations, all having in direct Object the Establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid World.”


2a. Who was the English king? [Idea]

2b. How can we sum up the causes for the Declaration? [Idea]


3. WE, therefore, the Representatives of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, in GENERAL CONGRESS, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the World for the Rectitude of our Intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly Publish and Declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be, FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES.


3a. Does the Declaration solicit a divine intervention? [Idea]

3b. Do we say the United States is, or the United States are? [Idea]




4. WE, the PEOPLE of the UNITED STATES, in order to…


4a. How can we compare the words order and people, if we look to the Constitution and the Great Seal? [Idea]

4b. How can we relate the content of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution? [Idea]


5. The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it.


5a. How can we interpret the phrase habeas corpus? [Idea]

5b. What is the origin and application of the phrase habeas corpus? [Idea]


Let us consider word sense, in the following passages from the Constitution. The boldface has the matters of special focus.


6. “No bill of attainder, or ex post facto law, shall be passed.” [Idea]


7. “The President shall be Commander in Chief of the army and navy of the United States, and of the militia of the several States, when called into the actual service of the United States;” [Idea]


8. “… he may require the opinion, in writing, of the principal officer in each of the executive departments, upon any subject relating to the duties of their respective offices;” [Idea]


9. “… and he shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offences against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.” [Idea]




10. How can we compare the guidelines for legal practice, in Amendment 6 and Magna Carta? [Idea]


(Amendment 6) “In all Criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district …”


(Magna Carta) “No freeman shall be taken or imprisoned or disseised or exiled or in any way destroyed, nor will we go upon him nor send upon him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land …”


11. How could we paraphrase Amendment 4 with the Infinitive? [Idea]


The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.


12. How could we paraphrase the verb shall in Amendment 6? [Idea]


“In all Criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.”


13. How can we comprehend the word enumeration in Amendment 9? [Idea]


“The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”



1a. Obviously, the Declaration did not introduce a separate or unequal status for women. The word man alone denotes human kind. The plural, men, means human beings, not human kinds. The use comes from classic Latin translations. To refer to a male, the noun man requires an article or a determiner as a, the, or this. Examples: Man belongs with the Homo sapiens. The man can read. [Back]


1b. No, it absolutely does not. The Declaration states that all people are equal in human rights and monarchy is not a work of deity (saying also, “the separate and equal Station). The document addresses the royalist belief, into a divine right to rule. [Back]


1c. No, the Declaration never was meant to set out legislation. The document also says, “Mankind are more disposed to suffer, while Evils are sufferable”, and it never was meant to make laws for suffering. The Declaration remains the most famous document to invoke human happiness, within the law, among the incentives to form a country. [Back]


2a. The monarch was George III of the house of Hanover. Often remembered as “Mad King George”, reported by some British resources as ill with porphyria, the king personally decided on policies for America. [Back]


2b. George III disabled administration and justice in America. People were forced to give up on political representation, to obtain civilian status. The royalist military took local residents captive, exploited the land and the people, and were not held responsible. [Back]


3a. No, it does not. The definite article in the phrase “appealing for the Rectitude of our Intentions” says the Causes are righteous. A phrase as appealing for _ rectitude might have such implications. It does not occur. [Back]


3b. The phrase the United States is expresses a unitary concept for a country, as for Germany or France, for example. The phrase the United States are summons up the idea of the country by the people and for the people. USA constituent states have considerable autonomy. Both phrases are grammatically correct. [Back]


4a. Word sense changes over time and the word people may help show it. The noun is derived from the Latin populus. It did not connote nationality in ancient times and often referred to laying waste or degrading: perpopulor, to devastate, pillage; populabilis, destructible. Ancient Rome was a militarist culture oriented to status.


Nowadays, the noun people means a group of human beings, or a nationality. As a group, it takes a plural verb: The people here all speak English. As a nationality or ethnicity, the noun may take on the plural itself: The peoples of Europe have formed a Union.


The word order also comes from Latin. It could mean a rank, group, or a class of people. Cicero’s Philippics have many examples. We use the phrase in order to when we want to tell why or for what purpose something or someone is. In the sense of a group or type, the word ordo did not have to bring associations with an arrangement, as in a line or queue.


The language of the Constitution is modern American English. The document opens with the phrase We, the people, meaning the people of the United States of America. The language of the Great Seal mottos is ancient Latin. It has the phrase Novus Ordo Seclorum, which can be comprehended as A New People Come, that is, a new nation has come into existence. Feel welcome to read A new people come. [Back]


4b. The Constitution addresses the issues named in the Declaration: establishes the legislative (Article 1), the executive (Article 2), as well as the judiciary (Article 3). It provides against absolutism, instituting impeachment from office. It limits potential by royalist or foreign influence, requiring of the Head of State to be a born American citizen, elected President in free elections. The maximum of two terms of four years in office discourages attempts at hereditary government. Article 4 guarantees a republican form of government, and Article 6 declares the Constitution the binding law of the land, denying the idea of a divine right to govern: no religious tests are allowed as qualifications for an office. Article 7 predicts ratification for adopting constitutional legislation. [Back]


5a. The phrase derives from a larger fragment, habeas corpus ad subjiciendum, dated on the English king Edward I. The writ ordered detainee cases to be evaluated in courts of law, with the persons present, to prevent indeterminate incarceration. The fragment is a Latin subjunctive and can be interpreted as (so) that you have the person in court. Similar phrases: habeas corpus ad respondendum, for the detainee to answer in proceedings; habeas corpus ad testificandum, for the detainee to testify. Nowadays, these are the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to guide administration of justice. [Back]


5b. The Habeas Corpus Parliament passed The Habeas Corpus Act in 1679, during the reign of Charles II. Habeas corpus is effective in the USA, England, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Most countries have equivalent legislation, such as the Criminal Procedure Act in Scotland, or article 40.4 of the 1937 Irish Constitution. The European Convention on Human Rights, Article 5, says, “Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person.” [Back]


6. The word attainder comes from the French atteindre, to reach, hit. The bills allowed punishment without trial. They were banned as violating the principle of separation of powers. We may compare Montesquieu on the legislative, the executive, and the judiciary.


The Latin word factum meant a deed, act, or exploit. Retroactivity, as ex post facto laws are also called, is forbidden in the USA. Legality of an act may not be disputed with use of regulations adopted after the fact. [Back]


7. There have been disputes in the US over the scope of presidential military command. Obviously, in case of a war, it would not honor the civilian authority to have the president the rank of a corporal. However, in the Constitution, the phrase “when called into the actual service of the United States” would be redundant, should the command belong with the President simply as In Office.


The Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story wrote, “The propriety of admitting the president to be commander in chief, so far as to give orders, and have a general superintendency, was admitted. But it was urged, that it would be dangerous to let him command in person, without any restraint, as he might make a bad use of it. The consent of both houses of Congress ought, therefore, to be required, before he should take the actual command.”


Justice Robert Cooper Grier stated: “The President is not only authorized but bound to resist force by force. He does not initiate the war, but is bound to accept the challenge without waiting for any special legislative authority.” [Back]


8. The personal pronoun he remains is legal use for both genders. Here, it is an anaphora to refer to the President. Anaphoras refer back in discourse: “When called into the actual service, the President becomes Commander-in-Chief. He may require the opinion …”


Let us compare Article 5 of the European Convention: “Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person. No one shall be deprived of his liberty …”


Modern linguistics proposes the forms he or she as well as s/he for short, to avoid anaphoric ambiguity. [Back]


9. The President has the right to pardon even capital punishment convicts. The limitation on impeachment is to prevent royalist practices that appointed irremovable officials. [Back]


10. Magna Carta does not say that detention is justifiable in criminal cases only. It also has forms of punishment that American codes reject, such as exile or mutilation. The Carta does not state that judgment requires lawyers, and the laws of the land do not provide for a proper place of judgment.


The Declaration describes, among the Causes, “FOR depriving us, in many Cases, of the Benefits of Trial by Jury: FOR transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended Offences. The Declaration adds, HE has called together Legislative Bodies at Places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the Depository of their public Records, for the sole Purpose of fatiguing them into Compliance with his Measures.” The Carta never gave the idea as well as ideal for the Amendments. Read about the Bill of Rights. [Back]


11. The people have the right to be inviolably secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, and no Warrants are to be issued, unless upon a probable cause to be supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly to describe the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. [Back]


12. In all Criminal prosecutions, the law warrants a speedy and public trial for the accused, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime occurs; the law requires that the judiciary is identified by the administrative, the accused to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation, to be confronted with the witnesses against him, to have witnesses in his favor, and to have legal Counsel for his defense. [Back]


13. The word enumeration comes from Latin. Latin numerals were letters of the alphabet. For example, X meant 10, XX meant 20. Nowadays also, enumeration does not have to mean digits. It often means naming, presenting.


The Founders realized the Constitution did not name all possible rights and it was impracticable for it to make all regulations. The Amendment says the fact a matter is presented (enumerated) in the Constitution does not make it more important than other rights the people have; the fact a particular right is not in the Constitution does not mean it belongs under federal powers. [Back]