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Misspellings in the U.S. Constitution

The Constitution was written in 1787 in the manner of the day — in other words, it was written by hand. According to the National Archives, the version we are most familiar with today was penned by Jacob Shallus, a clerk for the Pennsylvania State Assembly. In the document itself are several words which are misspelled. Far from the days of spell checkers and easy edits, these misspellings survive in the document today.

Only one, though, is a glaringly obvious mistake. In the list of signatories, the word "Pennsylvania" is spelled with a single N: "Pensylvania." This usage conflicts with a prior spelling, at Article 1, Section 2. However, the single N was common usage in the 18th century — the Liberty Bell, for example, has the single N spelling inscribed upon it.

Another mistake, though less obvious, is a common one even today: the word "it's" is used in Article 1, Section 10, but the word "its" should have been used.

The most common mistake, at least to modern eyes, is the word "choose," spelled "chuse" several times. This is less a mistake than it is an alternate spelling used at the time. The word is found in the Constitution as both "chuse" and "chusing."

Finally, at that time, the American spelling of words was inconsistent at best, and several words are spelled in the British manner. These words are "defence," "controul," and "labour." In America, we would today write these words as "defense," "control," and "labor."

Most of the misspellings are in the original document, which was written hastily after the Convention concluded. Aside from one use of British spelling in the Bill of Rights ("defence" in the 6th), the amendments are all error-free. The authors of the latter amendments all had the benefit of time to better proofread their work, and the benefit of a standardized American dictionary.

New students of the Constitution often see one more thing that raises eyebrows: the use of capital letters in the original text. Some have even gone so far as to say that capitalized words in the original Constitution have some sort of special significance above and beyond the non-capitalized words. This is only true in that most of the non-standard capitalization is done to nouns. Again, this was an issue of style, and is similar to the way German capitalizes nouns — they are simply capitalized, and that's all. The words "People" and "State" have the exact same significance and meaning as "people" and "state". Many modern transcriptions of the Constitution remove this extra capitalization without changing the meaning of the document.