The Federalist Papers

The Federalist Papers Glossary


Refers to the diverse group of opponents of the proposed US Constitution. Although their specific viewpoints varied, anti-federalists generally favored a weaker central government and stronger state governments.

Articles of Confederation

The original system of government for the United States adopted in 1777. The Articles created a national legislature with broad responsibilities but severely limited capacity to carry out those responsibilities. It quickly became clear that the national government under the Articles was too weak to govern effectively.

Bill of Attainder

A law passed by the legislature that pronounces a person guilty of a crime without first being tried in court.

Canon Law

Laws that govern Christian churches

Charles I

English monarch who was eventually defeated by an army raised by the parliament. Charles was eventually executed. His fall from power was an important step towards the creation of a limited monarchy in England.

Civil Law

Based on the system of laws first administered in the Roman Empire, civil law generally refers to non-criminal court cases. Civil cases are not tried before juries.


Ancient Roman popular assemblies. Roman forms of government had a significant influence on the founders of the US Constitution.

Common Law

Rules and principles abased on English customs and practices. Common law is typically unwritten and developed over time through legal decisions by judges.


Chief magistrate of the ancient Roman republic. The office of the consul influenced the creation of the office of the presidency in the US Constitution

English Bill of Rights

This English political document, adopted in 1689, established the principle of a limited monarchy and the supremacy of Parliament in the United Kingdom.

Ex post facto law

A law criminal created retroactively that punishes the accused for an act which, when committed, was actually legal.


A group of people with a specific interest or political objective that they are willing to advance at all costs. Faction had a deeply pejorative meaning during the debate over the Constitution.


An early supported of the proposed constitution. Federalists generally favored a strong, united central government.


A system of government the centered on the relationship between lord and vassal. The vassal would pledge loyalty to his lord and occasionally serve in his army in return for land and protection.

Glorious Revolution

Political revolution in late 17th century England that destroyed the doctrine of a divine right for rule and established the political supremacy of the parliament.

Habeas Corpus

The legal right of arrested individuals to be brought before a judge to determine whether the arrest is lawful.

Magna Carta

Ancient English political document which established the principal that all Englishmen are entitled to liberty and subject to the law. The Magna Carta is considered to be the foundation of all Anglo-American political liberties.

Oliver Cromwell

English dictator who ruled in the middle of the 17th century. He is referred to throughout the Federalist Papers as a tyrant and serves as an example of the kind of disaster the Constitution was designed to prevent.


The English legislature, which serves as the supreme political authority in the United Kingdom. Since America adopted much of its political principles from the English, the nature of the English parliament had a significant influence over the debate in American about the proposed constitution.

Shay's Rebellion

An uprising by farmers in Massachusetts from 1786-1787 in response to economic hardships. Although the rebellion was quelled by the state militia, it caused concern throughout the country that the government under the Articles of Confederation was too weak to maintain law and order. It served as a powerful argument in support of the stronger national government advocated by the federalists.