J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Saturday, November 23, 2019

Bribery: “seldom, and not properly, used in a good sense”

With bribery in the news, Boston 1775 reader Byron DeLear asked about how the Framers of the U.S. Constitution understood the term.

The U.S. Constitution provides:

The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.
The term “treason” is defined elsewhere in the Constitution, and “other high Crimes and Misdemeanors” was deliberately unspecific.

To understand “Bribery” we can look at eighteenth-century usage. Here’s the section of Dr. Samuel Johnson’s dictionary devoted to the word and its immediate cognates.

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