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Term Definition
ad hoc (Latin.) Meaning for a particular purpose only.
ad interim (Latin.) Meaning interim or temporary.
ambassador The highest diplomatic rank.

Anarchy is the condition resulting from an absence of governing forces. Often synonymous with chaos or disorder.

Anarchism is the political philosophy that holds that the destruction of government authority will yield justice and equality in society. See discussion.
antebellum (Latin.) Before the war. In U.S. history, usually applied to the decades preceding the Civil War.
armistice An agreement by belligerents to suspend military operations. For example, World War I Armistice.
asylum Protection or shelter given to political refugees by a foreign government.
attaché (French.) A member of a diplomatic staff, usually a civilian or military technical expert or specialist on the mission.
autonomy The right or power to govern oneself; self-determination. It can be less than full independence, as in the case of an ethnic group that is granted autonomy within larger national confines.
balance of power Exists when the relative strength of neighboring states is essentially equal, discouraging war.
belligerent A nation at war.
bilateral Involving two nations, frequently used to describe treaties and trade agreements; two-sided. See also unilateral and multilateral.
bimetallism A monetary standard in which a nation uses two metals, typically gold and silver, to back its currency. All forms of legal tender may be redeemed for either metal at a statutory rate. Usually the government sets a ratio between the values of the metals and is obligated make into coin all of such metals brought to it. Often believed to favor debtors. See gold standard and discussion.
blockade Usually pertains to the denial of supplies and communication by the naval forces of one belligerent against the ports of an opposing power. Occasionally used to describe cutting of land access to an enemy city. See paper blockade.
bootlegging The unauthorized manufacture, distribution or sale of a product. Descriptive of the efforts of Organized Crime and small-time liquor producers during the Prohibition era. In later times, a means to avoid heavy taxation on an item (cigarettes, for example) or high prices (audio and video tapes, CDs and DVDs). Often synonymous with smuggling. In years past, smugglers might hide items in their boots to avoid detection by authorities.
boycott An organized effort to change the behavior of a person, organization or political entity by ostracizing or denying services or patronage.

Englishman Charles C. Boycott served as a land agent in Ireland in the 1880s. He refused to participate in land reform efforts and was shunned or "boycotted" by the reformers.
buffer state A smaller autonomous state existing between two larger rival nations. Sometimes created by international agreement to reduce prospects for war.
capital ships In a general sense, the largest and most heavily armored ships and carrying the largest guns. Typically applied to battleships, heavy cruisers and aircraft carriers. More precise definitions were negotiated at arms limitation conferences in Washington and London in the years between the World Wars.
caucus An informal meeting with candidates and potential voters in which participants discuss their preference for a certain candidate, and delegates, pledged to a particular candidate, are selected to go to party conventions. A caucus is the most local form of election politics, with voters being directly involved in the process. See also primary.
chancery An embassy office building.
chauvinism Extreme and often unreasonable nationalism. From the early 19th century Frenchman Nicolas Chauvin, who maintained an unwavering loyalty to Napoleon and things military. Similar to jingoism. Term is currently applied to those exhibiting a strong sense of superiority.
cloture A parliamentary procedure for ending debate on an issue and moving directly to a vote. The U.S. Senate adopted a cloture rule in 1917 that requires a two-thirds vote of that body to end a filibuster; rarely employed in deference to the Senate tradition of free debate.
commercial paper Major banks and corporations with high credit ratings issue these promissory notes as unsecured obligations to meet short-term (up to 270 days) credit needs, including inventory and accounts receivable. They are usually unsecured amd unregistered, are not offered on the secondary market and bear interest below the prime rate.
common law The traditional legal code of England that developed in the Middle Ages from custom and precedent, and has been expanded by subsequent legal decisions. Unlike statutory and constitutional law, it is not necessarily gathered in written form in a single place. Serves as the basis of the law in all U.S. states except Louisiana.

consular service

Most nations maintain consulates in major foreign cities for the purposes of safeguarding their resident and traveling citizens, and for promotion and protection of business interests operating on foreign soil. Consular officials include the consul general, consul, vice consul and consular agents. Everyday consular functions include the processing and granting of passports and visas, the inspection of ships bound for the consulate's home nation and assistance in the resolution of legal issues between its citizens and local authorities.
Court of St. James A figurative reference to the British royal court that includes the monarch and others associated with the governance of the nation. All ambassadors to Britain are properly ambassadors to the Court of St. James.
debenture A certificate issued by a person or business entity for the purpose of acknowledging indebtedness. Debentures are usually not backed by security instruments, such as mortgages, but by the credit worthiness of the debtor.

From the Latin phrase debentur mihi, meaning there are owing to me, that appeared as the first words early loan agreements.
depression A period during which business, employment, and stock market values decline or remain at a low level of activity. See also recession.
diplomatic immunity The exemption of diplomatic representatives from the laws of the nation in which they are serving. This practice has been adopted by most nations as a mean to protect their representatives from intimidation by local officials.
diplomatic note A formal written means of communication among embassies.
diplomatic rank The following titles, listed in order of precedence, are ranks found in U.S. embassies, but not all are found in every mission:
  • Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary
  • Minister Plenipotentiary
  • Ministers
  • Chargé d’ affaires ad hoc or pro tempore
  • Chargé d’ affaires ad interim
  • Minister-Counselors
  • Counselors (or Senior Secretaries in the absence of Counselors)
  • Army, Naval and Air Attaches
  • Civilian Attaches
  • First Secretaries
  • Second Secretaries
  • Assistant Army, Naval and Air Attaches
  • Civilian Assistant Attaches
  • Third Secretaries and Assistant Attaches
diplomatic recognition See recognition below.
dollar diplomacy In a general sense, this is a pejorative term describing the heavy-handed use of force by an outside nation against a debtor state for the benefit of foreign commercial interests.

Originally the term was applied to Taft administration (1909-13) policy when a well-intentioned President wanted to "substitute dollars for bullets" in financially irresponsible Latin American nations. As time passed, the debtor states remained chaotic and increasing U.S. pressure was applied, alienating native peoples.
Downing Street Figurative term for the British government. The Foreign Office is located at No. 10 Downing Street in Westminster, London. It also is the traditional residence of the first lord of the Treasury, who in modern times has been the prime minister as well. (Prime Minister Tony Blair, however, occupies larger personal quarters in an adjacent structure at No. 11.)
dry farming Describes agricultural procedures designed to maximize rainfall retention in dry areas (usually less than 20 inches per year). Mulches and protective stubble are used to trap moisture. Rapidly maturing crops are planted for spring or fall harvest, avoiding the extreme heat of summer. Suitable for special varieties of sorghum, wheat, rye, barley and corn.
due process The principle of treating all accused persons in an equal fashion, using established rules and principles. The U.S. Constitution through the Bill of Rights and Amendment XIV guarantees that the accused be informed of charges against them, have access to legal counsel, be provided a prompt and public trial and enjoy equal protection under the laws. Citizens also are protected against cruel and unusual punishments, unreasonable searches and seizures, double jeopardy and self-incirmination.
embassy A diplomatic mission in the capital city of a foreign country headed by an ambassador.
enabling act A law that provides legal authority or guidelines for a future event. In U.S. history, Congress often passed enabling legislation to establish a procedure for a territory to follow in order to achieve statehood.
encomienda (Spanish encomendar, to entrust.) Colonial system under which vast land grants in the New World were made to royal favorites. Indigenous people were required to pay tribute or provide labor for their overlords, the encomenderos, who were supposed to be benevolent landlords, offering protection and Roman Catholic religious instruction. Routinely, however, the natives were abused, exploited and sometimes enslaved. Enabled a relatively small Spanish presence to control large areas and populations.
entente (French.) An agreement between two or more nations that pledge to adopt a common policy or action.
envoy In a general sense, an envoy is a person carrying a message; a courier, messenger or agent. In diplomacy, it is applied broadly to government agents who are sent on special missions or more specifically to an envoy plenipotentiary.
envoy plenipotentiary The second-ranking diplomat in a foreign mission. Ranks below an ambassador, but is invested with full powers. Sometimes minister plenipotentiary.
executive agreement An agreement that is made between a U.S. president and a foreign nation, but is not subject to approval by the Senate.
expatriation To remove oneself voluntarily from the nation of one’s birth and reside permanently or for a long period in another nation.

The right of expatriation allows one to change his or her citizenship. See indefeasible allegiance.

expropriation The right professed by a government to seize private property within its borders. A party surrendering such property may or may not receive compensation for its loss.
extradition The surrender of a suspected or convicted criminal by the officials of a state or nation to the officials elsewhere who claim jurisdiction over that person.
extraterritoriality The exemption of diplomatic officials from local legal jurisdiction while serving in a foreign nation. See discussion of U.S. relationship with China.
fascism From the Latin fasces, a group of tightly bundled rods with an axe head protruding from one end, a Roman symbol of power and unity. As a political philosophy, it describes an authoritarian regime that exalts the state above the individual, readily resorts to military action to solve international disputes and seeks to control every aspect of the nation's existence — political, social, religious and economic. Fascism does not embrace communism's devotion to a classless society. First applied to Benito Mussolini's National Fascist Party in Italy in the 1920s, and later to Adolf Hitler's National Socialist Workers' Party in Germany and Francisco Franco's Falange Española Tradicionalista in Spain.

The term fascist is sometimes more loosely used to describe a state or person willing to employ propaganda, intimidation and violence to achieve its ends.
federal Pertaining to or of the nature of a union of states under a central government distinct from the individual governments of the separate states: the federal government of the U.S.
fiat money Money that is made legal tender by government order (fiat); it is not backed by specie reserves and cannot be converted into gold and silver.

The Greenback schemes of the 19th century called for the printing of paper money as an inflationary stimulus. Present-day U.S. Federal Reserve notes are in actuality fiat money.
filibuster The legislative tactic of delaying a vote on a controversial matter through protracted debate. A tool occasionally used by the minority party in the U.S. Senate where unlimited debate can be ended only by a successful cloture vote.

This term is also applied to military actions in a foreign country conducted by private citizens.
financial panic A condition of extreme concern in financial circles that is prompted by unwise governmental policy or the overly liberal extension of credit and loans. Often accompanied by “bank runs’ in which depositors compete to withdraw funds from financial institutions. Panics are often followed by dropping prices, restricted credit, bank and business failures, unemployment and sometimes depression. For example, see Panic of 1907.
gold standard A monetary standard in which a nation’s currency is defined in terms of gold and all forms of legal tender may be redeemed for gold at the statutory rate. Replaced bimetallism in many industrialized nations during the 19th century as a means to create uniform international trade conditions. Often believed to favor creditors. See discussion.
habeas corpus (Latin, present the body.) A writ of habeas corpus is an order to have a prisoner brought before a judge at a specified time and place. A means to determine if a detainee has been afforded due process.
hegemony The leadership or dominance of one state or group over its allies or neighbors.
identic In diplomatic parlance, identical. For example, a government may send identic notes to two or more other governments, conveying exactly the same message to all.
immunity See diplomatic immunity.
indefeasible allegiance A position taken by a government that denies its citizens the ability to change citizenship. The British government in the 19th century held that “Once an Englishman, always an Englishman” in order to prevent its sailors from changing loyalties to escape brutal conditions at sea. Conversely, see expatriation.
indictment A formal, written accusation prepared for a prosecutor charging a person with a crime.
interest section The office responsible for protecting the interests of the United States, housed in a third country embassy, in a country which the U.S. has no formal diplomatic relations.
jingoism A highly belligerent patriotism. Chauvinism. Originated in 19th century Britain when a popular song criticized government restraint during an international crisis:
We don't want to fight,
Yet by jingo, if we do,
We've got the ships, we've got the men,
And got the money, too!
Frequently used to describe American actions at the time of the Spanish-American War, but the term did not come into usage in the U.S. until the 20th century.
judicial review The power of the judiciary to review the actions of other branches of the government and to determine the constitutionality of those actions. This power was established in the United States by the U.S. Supreme Court case of Marbury v. Madison (1803).
Kremlin A figurative term used for the government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.) and its successor, the Russian Federation. From the Russian word meaning fortress or citadel. A number of such installations were built in various Russian cities during the Middle Ages, the most famous in Moscow.
laissez faire From the French phrase, laissez faire, laissez passer, meaning to let things pass. The idea that government should intervene in society as infrequently as possible. In the economic sense, the belief that an unfettered economy encourages self-interested individuals to make decisions that benefit themselves and ultimately all of society. Pure capitalism.
lame duck A term applied to that period between elections and the swearing in of new officeholders. Typically a time of inaction because important matters are often deferred until the new official or body is seated. See Amendment XX.
left wing Describes a group or person that is not closely bound to traditional ways and is supportive of government intervention to cure social ills. Liberal, radical. In U.S. politics, usually supportive of the rights of women, gays, labor, and minority racial and ethnic groups. Often associated with the Democratic Party. By contrast, see right-wing.

Term stems from French Revolutionary Era practice of seating representatives of the aristocracy to the right of the presiding officer and the commoners to the left in the assembly hall.
legal tender Refers to currency that a debtor may use in settlement of debts; under law, must be accepted by the creditor. See discussion.
legation A diplomatic mission in a foreign country headed by a minister or legate. Lower in rank than an embassy.
letters of marque and reprisal Written authorization given by a government to privateers to conduct reprisals against an enemy state.
lobby A group of persons who conduct a campaign to influence members of a legislature to vote according to the group's special interest. See also special interest.
loose construction A loose or liberal interpretation of an issue. Commonly applied to that view of the U.S. Constitution that expands federal powers beyond those specifically mentioned in the document. As opposed to strict construction. See implied powers.
mandate A formal assignment or commission granted by the League of Nations authorizing a member nation to administer the affairs of another. See trusteeship.
métis (French.) Generally, people of mixed blood. Frequently applied to those of French-Canadian and Native American ancestry.
minister plenipotentiary The second-ranking diplomat in a foreign mission. Ranks below an ambassador, but is invested with full powers. Sometimes envoy plenipotentiary.
mission Generic term for embassy. Mission also describes the entirety of official US representation in a given foreign country, which functions under the supervision of the ambassador, including civilian and military personnel (except U.S. military reporting to a unified command and official U.S. representation to a multilateral organization).
modus vivendi (Latin.) A diplomatic instrument that provides terms of a temporary solution to a problem that is implemented until a permanent or more exhaustive solution is achieved. No ratification is required. See Theodore Roosevelt's action during the Dominican crisis in 1905.
moratorium A delay, postponement or waiting period. Sometimes, a legally authorized suspension in the performance of a legal obligation. See the Hoover Moratorium (1931) on the payment of reparations and war debts.
most favored nation status The highest diplomatic status that one nation can bestow on another; it requires the granting nation to extend to the most favored nation all those privileges that have been or may be granted to any third nation. Often contained in trade treaties.
multilateral Term used in treaties or agreements denoting the participation of three or more nations. See also unilateral and bilateral.
nativism In the historical context, this means the favoring of the interests of long-standing inhabitants of an area over those of newcomers. Common in 19th century U.S. when the Know-Nothing Movement and others opposed the granting of civil rights to immigrants. In this sense, native is not associated with Native American.
note In diplomacy, a formal written means of communication among embassies.
open door A policy that affords all nations equal trade opportunities. See discussion pertaining to U.S. foreign policy. Sometimes forced on weaker nations by more powerful ones.
orders in council Orders issued by a British monarch in consultation with the Privy Council. Such directives do not need the consent of Parliament.
panic, financial See financial panic.
paper blockade A blockade that is declared, but not enforced, allowing all nations to trade freely with the blockaded nation. See blockade.
passport The official document issued to a person by his or her government certifying citizenship and requesting foreign governments to grant the individual safe passage, lawful aid and protection while under that government’s jurisdiction.
persona non grata (Latin.) An individual who is unacceptable to or unwelcome by the host government.
Porte, The A figurative reference to the government of the Ottoman Empire. Porte (door in French, the international diplomatic language) refers to one of Constantinople's twelve gates, the traditional site where legal and diplomatic issues were resolved by Turkish officials. Often, the Sublime Porte.
precedence Priority; the right to superior honor on a ceremonial or formal occasion; for ambassadors in a country, precedence is determined by the order in which they presented their credentials to the host government.
primary A state-level election in which voters choose a candidate affiliated with a political party to run against a candidate who is affiliated with another political party in the general election in November. A primary may be either open — allowing any registered voter in a state to vote for a candidate to represent a political party, or closed — allowing only registered voters who belong to a particular political party to vote for a candidate from that party. See also caucus.
protectionism The system of fostering or developing home industries by protecting them from foreign competition through duties imposed on importations from foreign countries.
protectorate A term applied to a less powerful state that has given up a portion of its sovereignty to a stronger state. Unlike a colonial arrangement, citizens of a protectorate do not become citizens of the protecting state. Powers surrendered by the protectorate are often those pertaining to foreign affairs and military matters.
provisional government A government that is formed temporarily until a permanent one is created. For example, early settlers in the U.S. often formed provisional governments until the area in which they lived was formally made into a territory .
Quai d'Orsay A figurative reference to the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Offices are located on what was formerly a wharf (quai) on the left bank of Seine River between the Eiffel Tower and the Palais Bourbon.
rapprochement (French.) The reestablishment of harmonious relations between nations. Reconciliation.
ratification The process of giving formal approval; confirmation. The U.S. Constitution requires that international treaties be ratified (the words "advice and consent" are used) by a two-thirds vote of the Senate and that amendments to the Constitution be passed by Congress and then ratified by three-fourths of the states.
recession The short period centering on the peak of a business cycle; the start of business contraction. See also depression.
reciprocity A mutual exchange of privileges or favors. In reciprocal trade agreements, one nation extends certain benefits to another (such as the lowering of tariff duties) and in turn receives the same or similar benefits.
recognition,diplomatic The formal acknowledgement by established nations of a new government entering the international community. For example, a major liability for the Confederacy during the Civil War was its inability to secure diplomatic recognition from major European powers.
rediscount rate The rate of interest charged by the Federal Reserve Bank for loans made to member banks.
reparations Indemnification for damages caused. Compensation in money or goods required from a defeated power by a victor. Plural form generally used in historical contexts. See discussion of German reparations following World War I. Not to be confused with war debts.
reservation A limiting provision; an exception. In a diplomatic context, a body such as the U.S. Senate may attach a reservation to a treaty under consideration without necessitating the renegotiation of the point in question, as would be the case with an amendment. See discussion of the Senate Reservationists during consideration of the Versailles Treaty.
retail The sale of goods to ultimate consumers, usually in small quantities. See also wholesale.
right wing Describes a group or person that supports the existing social and political order or longs for a return to an earlier time. Orthodox, reactionary, conservative. In U.S. politics, usually associated with the Republican Party, and supportive of laissez-faire economic policies and a robust military. Often opposed to government-sponsored relief and welfare programs. As opposed to left-wing.

Term stems from French Revolutionary Era practice of seating representatives of the aristocracy to the right of the presiding officer and the commoners to the left in the assembly hall.
round robin A statement of position prepared by a legislator and circulated among colleagues for their consideration. Those who support the stated position indicate their backing by placing their signatures in a circular fashion around the edges of the document, disguising authorship and the order of signing. See example of use by U.S. Senate Republicans in regard to Treaty of Versailles.
From Greek, Latin and Arabic origins. Sino refers to Oriental people, Chinese particularly. Used in combination form, such as Sino-Japanese War. Sinology is the study of Chinese history, language and literature.
special interest A body of persons, corporation or industry that by reason of its alleged importance to the public good, seeks or receives benefits or privileged treatment, especially through legislation. See also lobby.
status quo ante bellum (Latin.) Meaning the state of affairs before a war. Treaties at the end of a conflict sometimes call for the restoration of borders to locations that existed before fighting began. As opposed to a status quo post (after) bellum. See Treaty of Ghent and the War of 1812.
strict construction A close or literal interpretation of an issue. Commonly applied to that view of the U.S. Constitution that limits federal powers to those specifically described in that document. As opposed to loose construction. See implied powers.
superdelegates Since the 1980s, the Democratic Party has included a number of “superdelegates” as part of its presidential nominating process. These delegates participate in the national convention, but are not selected by primary or caucus.

In 2004, there are 715 superdelegates, including Democrats from the following constituencies:

  • Members of the Democratic National Committee
  • Members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives
  • Sitting state governors
  • Mayor of Washington, D.C.
  • “Distinguished party leaders” that include former presidents, vice-presidents and chairmen of the national committee.

The party explains that these delegates are needed to retain faithfulness to Democratic ideals. Critics, however, charge that the superdelegates are designed to block insurgent movements that would reduce the influence of party professionals.

tariff A government-imposed tax on imports and less frequently on exports. Customs duty or impost. See discussion and U.S. Tariff Table.
Tory Generally, an advocate of traditional political and social views. In U.S. history, a derisive term for Americans who favored the continuation of British control during the era of the American Revolution; a loyalist. Conversely, see Whig. From the name applied to the supporters of the English monarchy in the late 17th century and afterward. Currently, Conservative Party members in Britain and Canada.
trusteeship Trust territories are the creations of the United Nations for the protection of a political entity preparing for independence. Oversight responsibilities are asssigned to a trustee nation under the supervision of the U.N. Trusteeship Council. Replaced the mandate system of the League of Nations.
unilateral Refers to an action carried out by a single nation; one-sided. See also bilateral and multilateral.
unfunded liability Refers to the amount by which the liabilities of a program exceed program assets, at a given date.
Vatican In diplomatic parlance, the papacy or papal government. The Vatican City is an independent state of slightly more than 100 acres, located on the west bank of the Tiber River in Rome. It is the spiritual and administrative center of the Roman Catholic Church.
visa A seal or endorsement made on a passport by the proper officials of a country that entitles the bearer to apply for entry into another country at the port of admission.
war debts Those financial obligations incurred by a belligerent power to pay for the cost of a war and, sometimes, postwar reconstruction. Not to be confused with reparations.
Whig In 18th century English history, the faction that opposed unbridled royal power and styled itself as the champion of liberty. During the Revolutionary era in America, patriots appropriated the label in their stands against royal policies and officials. Conversely, see Tory. Later, in the 1830s, a Whig Party emerged in the U.S. to oppose what it regarded as the authoritarian rule of “King” Andrew Jackson and the Democrats.
Whitehall Figurative term for the British government. The name of a street in Westminster, London, that runs between the Houses of Parliament and Trafalgar Square. Many important government buildings are located on this and adjacent streets, including No. 10 Downing Street, the Banqueting House and the New Scotland Yard.
wholesale The sale of goods in large amounts, as to retailers or jobbers rather than to consumers directly. See also retail.
Wilhelmstrasse Figurative term for the German Imperial government. The name of an avenue in central Berlin that was home to many government facilities as well as major banks, retail establishments and university buildings.
xenophobia The fear or hatred of strangers or foreigners. See anti-Japanese sentiments in California and resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan.
yellow journalism
yellow press
Refers to the inflammatory tactics used by newspaperman William Randolph Hearst and others in drumming up support for war against Spain in the 1890s. In a general sense, it is applied to aggressive, lurid and irresponsible journalism. See discussion.