Vocabulary Lists

Historical Documents

Iroquois Constitution

Also known as The Great Binding Law, this document established a representative confederacy of five tribes: Mohawk, Oneida, Seneca, Cuyuga, and Onondaga. Its exact date is uncertain (possible years are 1142, 1451, and 1525), but many historians agree that it is the first constitution in the New World. Here is a link to the full text: Iroquois Constitution Compare the words in these lists: Iroquois Constitution, Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, US Constitution
45 Words

Martin Luther King, Jr., "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" (1963)

In April 1963 Dr. King was arrested for leading a non-violent protest in Birmingham, Alabama. In a local newspaper a group of white clergymen criticized King. They acknowledged that injustices had been committed when local authorities used fire hoses, batons and police dogs on the demonstrators, but asserted that protest should only be done through the courts. From his jail cell King responded. His letter justifies the use of non-violent protest to fight unjust laws.
96 Words

Vocabulary from The Articles of Confederation

Just as "history is written by the winners," the historical record often skips over missteps or mistakes made by those same winners. The Articles of Confederation were the founding fathers' first attempt at establishing an central alliance of all the different states in 1777. Although a valiant effort, the provisions laid down in this document didn't quite work the way the writers wanted them to, and they soon realized they had to start again with a new document. That second try is known as The Constitution, and it endures to this day. Here are 43 vocabulary words from The Articles of Confederation. The entire document is available here.
43 Words

The Bill of Rights

Learn these 50 words to better understand the first ten amendments of the U.S. Constitution.
50 Words

The Star-Spangled Banner

The American National Anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner, is sung at assemblies, before sporting events, and it has even been sung before all the presidential debates this year. The words were written in 1814 by Francis Scott Key during the Battle of Fort McHenry in Baltimore during the war of 1812. Key's words embody a spirit of perseverance that has become essentially linked to the idea of American character and identity. Here are fifteen vocabulary from the entire Star-Spangled Banner, including words from the little-known three additional verses.
15 Words

Declaration of the Rights of Woman (1791)

The full title of this declaration includes a focus on citizenship, and it was published two years after the declaration of rights for men and immediately after the National Assembly of France rejected a proposal to extend the rights to women. With an ironic tone, the writer and activist Olympe de Gouges dedicated it to Marie Antoinette, who -- as a woman -- was not seen as an equal. And, as a queen, she did nothing to promote gender equality (yet she was eventually given a trial and death sentence equal to that of King Louis XVI). While a postscript and form for a social contract are also included, the main structure and contents of this declaration parallel and parody its male counterpart. Compare these lists to hear the echoes. E-text available here. Here are links to our lists on rights: The Declaration of Independence, Declaration of the Rights of Man, Declaration of the Rights of Woman, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
35 Words

Declaration of the Rights of Man (1789)

Coauthored by Thomas Jefferson and General Lafayette, this declaration was approved by the National Assembly of France in 1789. Unlike the American Declaration of Independence, its content consists more of philosophical principles rather than specific grievances against an abusive king. But similarly, it led to a revolution that inspired the hearts of individuals around the world. Read this list aloud to hear the echoes that unite humanity. E-text available here. Here are links to our lists on rights: The Declaration of Independence, Declaration of the Rights of Man, Declaration of the Rights of Woman, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
30 Words

"The Declaration of Independence" (1776)

The Declaration of Independence was adopted on July 4, 1776 by the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia. Drafted by Thomas Jefferson, with a preamble by John Adams and editing by Benjamin Franklin and other members of Congress, it outlines the offenses of King George III to justify the vote for independence that had taken place two days earlier. With the colonies already one year into a war, the Declaration closed the door on reconciliation with Great Britain, paved the way for the creation of the United States of America, and continues to serve as an inspiration throughout the world. E-text available here.
30 Words

Vocabulary from the Magna Carta on its 800th Anniversary

The Magna Carta, signed in 1215, is 800 years old on June 15, 2015. The Magna Carta settled the rebellion of some barons against the king. Although some of the language is still obscure, the document is widely credited as being the first statement of individual rights under kingly rule. Among other things, it put a limit on payments that could be made to a king and ensured swift justice, guaranteed by a board of peers, in this case 25 barons. Here are 35 words from the English translation of the original Latin of this document that is the forerunner of democratic expressions like the Declaration of Independence.
35 Words

"While the World Watched," Vocabulary from the Introduction-Chapter 5

While the world watched, September 15, 1963 became a traumatic day that fourteen-year-old Carolyn Maull (now also McKinstry) struggled to live past and understand. Read "While the World Watched: A Birmingham Bombing Survivor Comes of Age during the Civil Rights Movement," and learn this list to see how the personal words of the author are integrated with those of historical figures. Here are links to our lists for the memoir: Introduction-Chapter 5, Chapters 6-11, Chapters 12-18, Chapter 19-Barack Obama's Letter
35 Words

The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty

On 24th September 1996, the nations of the world convened to sign a treaty that banned the testing and development of all nuclear weapons in a massive step towards harmony and peace. This list of vocabulary is taken straight from the Treaty itself.
21 Words

Lee Surrenders to Grant (1865)

On April 9, 1865, after a final battle that failed to break through Union forces, Robert E. Lee surrendered at the Appomattox Court House in Virginia. As a brigadier general and secretary to Ulysses S. Grant, Horace Porter witnessed and recorded this event. In his report, Porter included detailed observations, letters between the opposing generals, and personal opinions—all of which served to emphasize the humanity of the moments leading up to and surrounding the formal ceremony that is now seen as the end of the Civil War. E-text available here.
40 Words

"The Declaration of Sentiments" (1848)

The Declaration of Sentiments was presented in July 1848 at the first Women's Rights Convention in Seneca Falls. Composed by the abolitionist Elizabeth Cady Stanton, it deliberately echoes the Declaration of Independence by casting women in the role of the oppressed and men in the role of the tyrant. This led to much heated dispute, but it is now recognized as the first step towards the addition of the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution. E-text available here.
30 Words

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948)

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 10, 1948 to reflect the commitment of the international community to prevent any repeat of the atrocities of World War II. Drafted by the Commission on Human Rights, which consisted of 18 members from various political, cultural, and religious backgrounds, it recognizes the value and rights of every individual everywhere. In addition to influencing many subsequent national constitutions, laws, and treaties, it serves as a tool to apply moral pressure on abusive governments. E-text available here.
30 Words

Vocabulary from "John L. O'Sullivan on 'Manifest Destiny' " from 1839

John L O'Sullivan, the columnist who coined the term "Manifest Destiny," puts forward the case for The United States as the chosen nation. O' Sullivan contrasts nations with bloody histories which oppress them with America, which he sees as free of such hindrances and therefore free to march towards the future- the future being America's rightful domain. E-text available here
25 Words

"Common Sense," Vocabulary from the pamphlet

As you read Thomas Paine's “Common Sense” (etext found here), learn this word list of 50 words.
50 Words

Ten Words from New York Times History - Japan Surrenders - August 14, 1945

From Japan Told to Order End of Hostilities, Notify Allied Supreme Commander and Send Emissaries to Him.
10 Words

Ten Words from New York Times History - The Kitchen Debate - July 24, 1959

From Nixon and Khrushchev Argue In Public As U.S. Exhibit Opens; Accuse Each Other Of Threats, the story of the "kitchen debates," from July 24, 1959.
10 Words

Stamp Act (1765)

The Stamp Act was an act passed by the British Parliament in 1765 in order to collect revenue in the American colonies. The act upset many colonists, since it was passed without the colonists' consent and thus there were widespread protests. The protests were so effective that the tax was never collected in any meaningful way. Full text: http://ahp.gatech.edu/stamp_act_bp_1765.html This list is based on the introductory paragraph, which explains the taxes.
18 Words

Quartering Act (1765)

The Quartering Act of 1765 was an act passed by British Parliament, which forced people in the US colonies to house and feed British soldiers during times of peace if there was no room in barracks. The symbolic power of this act was great, as it implied that there would now be a British standing army in the colonies during peace time. The act was largely ineffective and expired in 1767, however, it was amended in 1774 as part of the Intolerable Acts. Even though it was rather ineffective, the act had such high symbolic value and was so unpopular that it is mentioned in the Declaration of Independence and in the US Constitution. Full texts: http://www.ushistory.org/declaration/related/quartering.htm This list is based on paragraph 2, which explains the core aspect of the act.
33 Words

The Dawes Act

The Dawes Act, or General Allotment Act of 1887, was a law that allowed the U.S. government to take Native American tribal lands and divide them into 40 acre lots for individual Native Americans. The goal was to break up communal tribal lands and speed the assimilation of Native Americans into American society. The Dawes Act caused great suffering with much of the land winding up in the hands of white settlers.
51 Words

The Emancipation Proclamation (1862)

The pivotal document of the Civil War, this proclamation freed the slaves and opened a new chapter in the nation's history. To emancipate means to liberate or free someone. The Emancipation Proclamation was a presidential order made by Abraham Lincoln on September 22, 1862. It was a military order that freed any slave held in the Confederacy as of January 1, 1863. While this proclaimed slaves in the South free, it did not end all slavery in the United States. That was accomplished by the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution ratified In 1865.
28 Words

The Dred Scott Decision (1857)

Vocabulary from this pro-slavery Supreme Court decision illuminates how it brought the nation to the brink of the Civil War. In March of 1857, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney delivered the majority opinion in the Dred Scott Case. Scott, a slave, had been brought from a slave territory to a free territory and demanded his freedom. The Court ruled that as a slave, Scott was not a citizen and as such could not sue in the courts. The decision further polarized the North and the South and ended any chance of compromise on the issue of slavery.
25 Words

The Atlantic Charter - Churchill/Roosevelt (1941)

The alliance between the U.S. and the U.K. in World War II was forged by this document. Understand the words that went into it.
26 Words

Henry David Thoreau "Civil Disobedience" (1849)

Originally published as "On the Duty of Disobedience" and based on an 1848 lecture, Thoreau's work is a civil libertarian classic. Questioning the authority of all governments, Thoreau especially challenged both the right of the state to tax him and the morality of a government which allows slavery. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/71/71-h/71-h.htm
91 Words

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