U.S. History Key Terms List with Definitions

By the end of the school year you will be expected to know all the terms on this list. We will begin with the first few words or so and with each new topic we will add more terms. There will be a vocabulary quiz approximately every week. Any new words, in addition to all previous words on the list, are fair game for these quizzes. These are not all the key terms and people you will be required to learn this year, but these are the ones that will appear on our vocabulary quizzes throughout the year.

Note: Terms marked with an asterisk (*) are not found in the 8th grade textbook's glossary. (Other than those terms marked with an asterisk, most definitions are taken directly from Call to Freedom: Beginnings to 1877 by Sterling Stuckey and Linda Salvucci. Copyright 2001 by Holt, Rinehart, Winston. Pages 731-744.)

  1. history* - The record of events of the past, often with an explanation of the causes and effects of those events.
  2. primary source* - An account of an event by someone who was present at the event.
  3. secondary source* - An account of an event by someone who was not present at the event.
  4. headright system - System set up by the London company in 1618 that gave 50 acres of land to colonists who paid their own way to Virginia, or paid the way for someone else.
  5. indentured servants - Colonists who received free passage to North America in exchange for working without pay for a certain number of years.
  6. House of Burgesses - Colonial Virginia's elected assembly.
  7. Bacon's Rebellion - Attack by Nathanial Bacon against American Indians and the colonial government in Virginia. (1675)
  8. Puritans - Protestants who wanted to reform the Church of England.
  9. Pilgrims - Members of a Puritan Separatist sect that left England in the early 1600s to settle in the Americas.
  10. immigrants - People who move to another country after leaving their homeland.
  11. Mayflower Compact - Legal document written by the Pilgrims to specify basic laws and social rules for their colony. (1620)
  12. Great Migration - Mass migration of thousands of English people to the Americas that took place between 1629 and 1640.
  13. covenant - Sacred agreement.
  14. town meeting - Political meeting at which people make decisions on local issues.
  15. Fundamental Orders of Connecticut - First written principles of government created in the present day United States.
  16. proprietor - Owner.
  17. Quakers - Society of Friends; Protestant sect founded in 1640s in England whose members believed that salvation was available to all people.
  18. Privy Council - Group of royal advisors who set policy for Britain's American colonies.
  19. Parliament - The British legislature.
  20. parliamentary democracy* - A system of government in which the executive leaders (usually a prime minister and a cabinet) are chosen by and responsible to the legislature (parliament), as well as being members of the legislature, as in Great Britain.
  21. bicameral legislature - A lawmaking body made up of two houses.
  22. libel - A false, printed statement that damages a person's reputation.
  23. Glorious Revolution - A revolt in England against Catholic king James II that led to his overthrow and put Protestants William and Mary of Orange on the throne. (1688)
  24. mercantilism - Practice of creating and maintaining wealth by carefully controlling trade.
  25. balance of trade - Relationship between what goods a country purchases from other countries and what goods it sells to other countries.
  26. imports - Items that a country purchases from other countries.
  27. exports - Items that a country sells to other countries.
  28. Navigation Acts - A series of English laws that regulated trade in the American colonies in order to increase profits. (1650-96)
  29. duties - Taxes on imported goods.
  30. triangular trade - Trading networks in which goods and slaves moved among England, the American colonies, and West Africa.
  31. Middle Passage - Voyage that brought enslaved Africans across the Atlantic Ocean to North America and the West Indies.
  32. cash crops - Crops that farmers grow primarily to be sold for profits, not for personal use.
  33. slave codes - Laws passed in the colonies to control slaves.
  34. apprentice - Young person who learns a skilled trade from a master craftsman.
  35. staple crops - Crops that are continuously in demand.
  36. Great Awakening - An unorganized but widespread movement of evangelical Christian sermons and church meetings in the 1730s and 1740s.
  37. Scientific Revolution - Period of great learning that began in the 1600s as European mathematicians, scientists, and astronomers looked for scientific explanation about how the universe works.
  38. scientific method - Observation of and experimentation with natural events in order to form theories that could predict other events or behaviors.
  39. Enlightenment - The Age of Reason; movement that began in Europe in the 1700s as people began examining the natural world, society, and government.
  40. militia - An army made up of civilians serving temporarily as soldiers.
  41. French and Indian War* - The conflict in which British Americans and the Iroquois fought with the French and their Indian allies the Huron and Algonquin for control of the Ohio Country. (1754-1763)
  42. casualties - People who are killed, wounded, captured, or missing in a war or battle.
  43. Proclamation of 1763 - British proclamation banning further colonial settlement west of the Appalachian Mountains and ordering colonists already living there to move their settlements.
  44. Sugar Act - Law passed by the British Parliament setting a tax on sugar and molasses imported into the colonies. (1764)
  45. boycott - To refuse to buy certain goods; method often used in protest movements.
  46. Stamp Act - Law passed by Parliament the required colonists to pay for an official stamp whenever they bought paper items such as newspapers, licenses, and legal documents. (1765)
  47. Sons of Liberty - Secret societies formed in the mid-1700s to protest new taxes and to frighten tax collectors.
  48. Townshend Acts - Laws passed by Parliament placing duties on certain items imported by the colonists. (1767)
  49. Boston Massacre - Incident in which British soldiers fired into a crowd of colonists, killing five people. (1770)
  50. propaganda - Stories and images designed to support a particular point of view.
  51. Tea Act - Law passed by Parliament allowing the British East India Company to sell its low-cost tea directly to the colonies, undermining colonial tea merchants; led to the Boston Tea Party (1773)
  52. Boston Tea Party - Protest against the Tea Act in which a group of colonists boarded British tea ships and dumped more than 340 chests of tea into Boston Harbor. (1773)
  53. Intolerable Acts - Four laws passed by Parliament designed to punish the colonists for the Boston Tea Party and to tighten governmental control over the colonies. (1774)
  54. Second Continental Congress - Meeting of colonial delegates in Philadelphia to decide, among other things, how to react to fighting at Lexington and Concord. (1775)
  55. Olive Branch Petition - A request for peace sent by the Second Continental Congress to Britain's King George III, who rejected it. (1775)
  56. Declaration of Independence - Statement of the Second Continental Congress that defined the colonists' rights, outlined their complaints against the British government, and declared the colonies' independence. (1776)
  57. guerrilla warfare - Type of fighting in which soldiers use swift hit-and-run attacks against the enemy.
  58. rights* - Just claims that belong to a person by law, nature, or tradition.
  59. natural rights - Basic, fundamental human rights that cannot be taken away or given up, such as religious freedom.
  60. republic - Type of government in which the people hold the political power.
  61. suffrage - Voting rights.
  62. Articles of Confederation - Document that created the first central government for the United States; replaced by the Constitution in 1789. (1777)
  63. ratification - Formal approval.
  64. tariff - A tax on imports or exports.
  65. interstate commerce - Trade conducted between states.
  66. creditor - A person who lends money.
  67. debtor - A person who owes money.
  68. depression - A steep drop in economic activity.
  69. federalism - U.S. system of government in which power is distributed between a central authority and individual states.
  70. constitution - A set of basic principles that determines the powers and duties of a government.
  71. legislative branch - Division of government that proposes bills and passes them into laws.
  72. executive branch - Division of the federal government that includes the president and administrative departments; enforces and carries out the nation's laws.
  73. judicial branch - Division of the federal government that is made up of the national courts; interprets laws, punishes criminals, and settles disputes.
  74. checks and balances - A system established by the Constitution that prevents any branch of government from becoming too powerful.
  75. delegated powers - Powers that are granted to the federal government by the Constitution.
  76. elastic clause - Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution that has been interpreted as giving Congress authority to stretch its delegated powers to address issues not otherwise specified in the document.
  77. reserved powers - Powers retained by state governments or by citizens.
  78. concurrent powers - Powers that are shared by the federal and state governments.
  79. representative democracy - A government that is ruled by representatives of the people.
  80. impeach - To bring charges against.
  81. veto - To cancel.
  82. pardon - To release a person from punishment.
  83. cabinet - Group made up of the heads of the executive departments that advises the U.S. president.
  84. due process - Fair application of the law.
  85. habeas corpus - Constitutional protection against unlawful imprisonment.
  86. indict - To formally accuse a person of crime.
  87. eminent domain - The government's right to take personal property to further the public good.
  88. electoral college - Group selected by state legislatures to represent the popular vote in federal elections.
  89. national debt - Total amount of money owed by a country to its lenders.
  90. bonds - Certificates that represent money the government has borrowed from private citizens.
  91. strict construction - Way of interpreting the Constitution that allows the federal government to take only those actions the Constitution specifically says it can take.
  92. loose construction - Way of interpreting the Constitution that allows the federal government to take actions that the Constitution does not specifically forbid it from taking.
  93. Marbury v. Madison - U.S. Supreme Court case that established the principle of judicial review. (1803)
  94. judicial review - Principle that gives the Supreme Court the power to declare an act of Congress unconstitutional.
  95. Louisiana Purchase - Purchase of French land between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains that doubled the size of the United States. (1803)
  96. embargo - Banning of trade with a country.
  97. Monroe Doctrine - President James Monroe's statement forbidding further colonization in the Americas and declaring that any attempt by a foreign nation to colonize would be considered an act of hostility. (1823)
  98. Missouri Compromise - Agreement proposed by Henry Clay that allowed Missouri to enter the Union as a slave state and Maine to enter as a free state and outlawed slavery in any territories or states north of the 36°36' line.
  99. Industrial Revolution - Period of rapid growth in the use of machines in manufacturing and production that began in the mid-1700s.
  100. trade unions - Workers' organizations that try to improve working conditions.
  101. annex - To take control of land.
  102. Oregon Trail - A 2,000-mile trail stretching from western Missouri to the Oregon Territory.
  103. manifest destiny - Belief shared by many Americans in the mid-1800s that the United States should expand across the continent to the Pacific Ocean.
  104. Mexican Cession - Land that Mexico gave to the United States after the Mexican War through the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo; included present-day California, Nevada, and Utah; most of Arizona and New Mexico; and parts of Colorado, Texas, and Wyoming. (1848)
  105. Gadsden Purchase - United States' purchase of land from Mexico that included the southern parts of present-day Arizona and New Mexico. (1853)
  106. popular sovereignty - The rule of the people; Principle that would allow voters in a particular territory to decide whether to ban or permit slavery.
  107. Dred Scott decision - U.S. Supreme Court ruling that declared African Americans were not U.S. citizens, that Missouri Compromise's restriction on slavery was unconstitutional, and that Congress did not have the right to ban slavery in any federal territory. (1857)
  108. secession - Act of formally withdrawing from the Union.
  109. Confederate States of America - Nation formed by the southern states on February 4, 1861; also known as the Confederacy.
  110. Emancipation Proclamation - Order issued by Pres. Lincoln freeing the slaves in areas rebelling against the Union; took effect January 1, 1863.
  111. total war - Type of warfare in which an army destroys its opponent's ability to fight by targeting military as well as civilian and economic resources.
  112. Reconstruction - Period following the Civil War during which the U.S. government worked to reunite the nation and to rebuild the southern states. (1865-77)
  113. amnesty - An official pardon issued by the government for an illegal act.
  114. 13th Amendment - Constitutional Amendment that outlawed slavery. (1865)

This list was lasted updated on 02/10/2008.