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Vocabulary Word of the Day: Emolument.

Posted By Cliff Tuttle | August 9, 2017

No. 1,346

Image: businessinsider.com

Two State Attorneys General have filed suit claiming that the President is violating the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution by operating hotels and taking profits from businesses operating in foreign countries after taking office.

You probably haven’t used this word in your entire life.  So, what in the world is an emolument?

Dictionary.com defines it as “profit, salary, or fees from office or employment; compensation for services.” It is said to derive from the Latin word: “to grind”.  The payment made to the miller for grinding wheat or corn was an emolument.  

Article I, Section 9, Clause 8 of the United States Constitution is frequently called “The Foreign Emoluments Clause”  or just the Emoluments Clause. It is also called the Title of Nobility Clause. Here’s what it says:

“No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince or foreign State.”

The Emoluments Clause has never been litigated, however it has been interpreted in Opinions of the Attorney General over the years to apply to gifts by foreign governments.  It was customary in 18th Century Europe for diplomats to receive expensive gifts.  The intent appears to be to prevent foreign governments from buying the loyalty of American diplomats and government officials.




CLIFF TUTTLE has been a Pennsylvania lawyer for over 45 years and (inter alia) is a real estate litigator and legal writer. The posts in this blog are intended to provide general information about legal topics of interest to lawyers and consumers with a Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania focus. However, this information does not constitute legal advice and there is no lawyer-client relationship created when you read this blog. You are encouraged to leave comments but be aware that posted comments can be read by others. If you wish to contact me in privacy, please use the Contact Form located immediately below this message. I will reply promptly and in strict confidence.

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