Comprehending laws and contracts is impossible, unless we first learn the meaning of the words and phrases they contain.

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“Oppress (-ed, -or, -ion)” as found in the KJV
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"Unlimited Submission," Rev. Jonathan Mayhew, 1750

(Note: Below is an excerpt from Mayhew’s sermon, which is an excellent discussion of the interpretation of Romans 13, explaining how an oppressive government is not a government at all, and need not be obeyed. The complete sermon can be found here: http://hushmoney.org/UnlimitedSubmission_Mayhew.htm )
Witness a great, if not the greatest, part of the known world, who are now groaning, but not murmuring, under the heavy yoke of tyranny! While those who govern, do it with any tolerable degree of moderation and justice, and, in any good measure act up to their office and character, by being public benefactors; the people will generally be easy and peaceable; and be rather inclined to flatter and adore, than to insult and resist, them. Nor was there ever any general complaint against any administration, which lasted long, but what there was good reason for. Till people find themselves greatly abused and oppressed by their governors, they are not apt to complain; and whenever they do, in fact, find themselves thus abused and oppressed, they must be stupid not to complain. To say that subjects in general are not proper judges when their governors oppress them, and play the tyrant; and when they defend their rights, administer justice impartially, and promote the public welfare, is as great treason as ever man uttered;--'tis treason,--not against one single man, but the state--against the whole body politic;--'tis treason against mankind;--'tis treason against common sense;--'tis treason against God. And this impious principle lays the foundation for justifying all the tyranny and oppression that ever any prince was guilty of. The people know for what end they set up, and maintain, their governors; and they are the proper judges when they execute their trust as they ought to do it;--when their prince exercises an equitable and paternal authority over them;--when from a prince and common father, he exalts himself into a tyrant--when from subjects and children, he degrades them into the class of slaves;--plunders them, makes them his prey, and unnaturally sports himself with their lives and fortunes.
A people, really oppressed to a great degree by their sovereign, cannot well be insensible when they are so oppressed. And such a people (if I may allude to an ancient fable) have, like the hesperian fruit, a DRAGON for their protector and guardian: Nor would they have any reason to mourn, if some HERCULES should appear to dispatch him--For a nation thus abused to arise unanimously, and to resist their prince, even to the dethroning him, is not criminal; but a reasonable way of indicating their liberties and just rights; it is making use of the means, and the only means, which God has put into their power, for mutual and self-defense. And it would be highly criminal in them, not to make use of this means. It would be stupid tameness, and unaccountable folly, for whole nations to suffer one unreasonable, ambitious and cruel man, to wanton and riot in their misery. And in such a case it would, of the two, be more rational to suppose, that they that did NOT resist, than that they who did, would receive to themselves damnation.

Webster’s Dictionary of the English Language, 1828
OPPRESS', verb transitive [Latin appressus, from opprimo; ob and premo, to press.]
1. To load or burden with unreasonable impositions; to treat with unjust severity, rigor or hardship; as, to oppress a nation with taxes or contributions; to oppress one by compelling him to perform unreasonable service.
2. To overpower; to overburden; as, to be oppressed with grief.
3. to sit or lie heavy on; as, excess of good oppresses the stomach.

1. The act of oppressing; the imposition of unreasonable burdens, either in taxes or services; cruelty; severity.
2. The state of being oppressed or overburdened; misery.
the Lord - saw the oppression of Israel. 2 Kings 8:1.
3. Hardship; calamity.
4. Depression; dullness of spirits; lassitude of body.
5. A sense of heaviness or weight in the breast, etc.

One that oppresses; one that imposes unjust burdens on others; one that harasses others with unjust laws or unreasonable severity.
Power when employed to relieve the oppressed and to punish the oppressor becomes a great blessing.
Bouvier’s Law Dictionary, 1856

1. One who having public authority uses it unlawfully to tyrannize over another; as, if he keep him in prison until he shall do something which he is not lawfully bound to do.

2. To charge a magistrate with being an oppressor, is therefore actionable. Stark. Sland. 185.

Black’s Law Dictionary, 1st Edition, 1891
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The Century Dictionary, an Encyclopedic Lexicon of the English Language, 1895
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Black’s Law Dictionary, 5th Edition, 1979

The misdemeanor committed by a public officer, who under color of his office, wrongfully inflicts upon any person any bodily harm, imprisonment, or other injury. An act of cruelty, severity, unlawful exaction, or excessive use of authority. An act of subjecting to cruel and unjust hardship; an act of domination.


A public officer who unlawfully uses his authority by way of oppression.

Black’s Law Dictionary, 7th Edition, 1999

1. The act or instance of unjustly exercising authority or power.
2. An offense consisting in the abuse of discretionary authority by a public officer who has an improper motive, as a result of which a person is injured. This offense does not include extortion, which is typically a more serious crime.
3. Coercion to enter into an illegal contract. Oppression is grounds for the recovery of money paid or property transferred under an illegal contract.
4. Unfair treatment of minority shareholders (esp. in a close corporation) by the directors or those in control of the corporation.


A public official who unlawfully or wrongfully exercises power under color of authority in a way that causes a person harm; one who commits oppression.


An act of the court shall oppress no one.
A forestaller is an oppressor of the poor, and a public enemy to the whole community and the country.


Commentaries on the Laws of England in Four Books, vol. 1, Blackstone, 1753
The statute law of England does therefore very seldom, and the common law does never, inflict any punishment extending to life or limb, unless upon the highest necessity; and the constitution is an utter stranger to any arbitrary power of killing or maiming the subject without the express warrant of law. “Nullus liber homo,” says the great charter, “aliquo modo destruatur, nisi per legale judicium parium suorum aut per legem terræ.” Which words, “aliquo modo destruatur,” according to Sir Edward Coke, include a prohibition, not only of killing and maiming, but also of torturing, (to which our laws are strangers,) and of every oppression by colour of an illegal authority.
[T}hese rights consist, primarily, in the free enjoyment of personal security, of personal liberty, and of private property. So long as these remain inviolate, the subject is perfectly free; for every species of compulsive tyranny and oppression must act in opposition to one or other of these rights, having no other object upon which it can possibly be employed.

Crabbe's English Synonyms, 1904
'Injured or oppressed by the world, the good man looks up to a Judge who will vindicate his cause.'--Blair."
Address of the Free Constitutionalists to the People of the United States, Lysander Spooner, 1860
The principal, if not the sole object of our having two governments for the same citizen, would be entirely defeated, if each government had not an equal right to defend him against enslavement by the other. What is the grand object of having two governments over the same citizen? It is, that, if either government prove oppressive, he may fly for protection to the other. This right of flying from the oppression of one government to the protection of the other, makes it more difficult for him to be oppressed, than if he had no alternative but submission to a single government. This certainly is the only important, if not the only possible, advantage of our double system of government. Yet if either of these two governments can enslave their common citizen, and the other has no right to interfere for his protection, the principal, if not the only, benefit of our having two governments, is lost.

Toledo, etc., R. R. v. Jacksonville, 67 Ill. 37
Like other powers of government, there are constitutional limitations to the exercise of the police power. The legislature cannot, under the pretense of exercising this power, enact laws not necessary to the preservation of the health and safety of the community that will be oppressive and burdensome upon the citizen. If it should prohibit that which is harmless in itself, or command that to be done which does not tend to promote the health, safety or welfare of society, it would be an unauthorized exercise of power, and it would be the duty of the court to declare such legislation void.

On Civil Liberty and Self-Government, Francis Lieber, 1853
Oppression does not come from government or official bodies alone. The worst oppression is of a social character, or by a multitude.
I have purposely restricted my remarks on the resisting force of institutions to cases of invasion by domestic powers. When foreign invaders trample upon rights and grind down a people, something different and sharper is required to rouse them, to electrify them into united resistance. Humanity itself must be stung; an element in man's very nature must be offended, so that the most patient cannot endure the oppression any longer. We find, therefore, that innumerable popular risings against foreign despots, in antiquity and modern times, have taken place, when the insolent oppressor, having gone all lengths, at last violates a wife or a daughter. Such outrage comes home to the most torpid heart, and will not be borne by the veriest slave.
It is a universal law of social degradation that it consists always of a chain of degraded classes who at the same time are or try to be in turn degraders, as oppression begets the lust of oppressing in the oppressed.

18 U.S. Code § 241 - Conspiracy against rights
If two or more persons conspire to injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate any person in any State, Territory, Commonwealth, Possession, or District in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him by the Constitution or laws of the United States, or because of his having so exercised the same; or

If two or more persons go in disguise on the highway, or on the premises of another, with intent to prevent or hinder his free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege so secured—

They shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both; and if death results from the acts committed in violation of this section or if such acts include kidnapping or an attempt to kidnap, aggravated sexual abuse or an attempt to commit aggravated sexual abuse, or an attempt to kill, they shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for any term of years or for life, or both, or may be sentenced to death.

What is Property? An Inquiry into the Principle of Right and of Government, P. J. Proudhon, 1840
A free man is one who enjoys the use of his reason and his faculties; who is neither blinded by passion, nor hindered or driven by oppression, nor deceived by erroneous opinions.


There are over 200 quotes about oppression at this site. Here are some of my top picks:

Nelson Mandela:
A freedom fighter learns the hard way that it is the oppressor who defines the nature of the struggle, and the oppressed is often left no recourse but to use methods that mirror those of the oppressor. At a point, one can only fight fire with fire.
Napoleon Bonaparte:
Among those who dislike oppression are many who like to oppress.
James Madison:
If Tyranny and Oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy.
A people armed and free forms a barrier against the enterprises of ambition and is a bulwark for the nation against foreign invasion and domestic oppression.
[T]he powers granted by the proposed Constitution are the gift of the people, and may be resumed by them when perverted to their oppression, and every power not granted thereby remains with the people.
Wherever the real power in a Government lies, there is the danger of oppression. In our Governments the real power lies in the majority of the community, and the invasion of private rights is chiefly to be apprehended, not from acts of Government contrary to the sense of its constituents, but from acts in which the Government is the mere instrument of the major number of the Constituents.
We have seen the mere distinction of color made in the most enlightened period of time, a ground of the most oppressive dominion ever exercised by man over man.
I own myself the friend to a very free system of commerce, and hold it as a truth, that commercial shackles are generally unjust, oppressive and impolitic -- it is also a truth, that if industry and labour are left to take their own course, they will generally be directed to those objects which are the most productive, and this in a more certain and direct manner than the wisdom of the most enlightened legislature could point out.
In a society under the forms of which the stronger faction can readily unite and oppress the weaker, anarchy may as truly be said to reign as in a state of nature.
One hundred and seventy-three despots would surely be as oppressive as one.
A just security to property is not afforded by that government, under which unequal taxes oppress one species of property and reward another species.
Thomas Jefferson:
Single acts of tyranny may be ascribed to the accidental opinion of the day; but a series of oppressions, begun at a distinguished period, and pursued unalterably through every change of ministers (adminstrators) too plainly proves a deliberate, systematic plan of reducing us to slavery.
The majority, oppressing an individual, is guilty of a crime, abuses its strength, and by acting on the law of the strongest breaks up the foundations of society.
Bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression.
When all government, in little as in great things, shall be drawn to Washington as the Center of all Power, it will render powerless the checks provided of one government on another and will become as venal and oppressive as the government from which we separated.
Frederic Bastiat:
Thus, if there exists a law which sanctions slavery or monopoly, oppression or robbery, in any form whatever, it must not even be mentioned. For how can it be mentioned without damaging the respect which it inspires? Still further, morality and political economy must be taught from the point of view of this law; from the supposition that it must be a just law merely because it is a law. Another effect of this tragic perversion of the law is that it gives an exaggerated importance to political passions and conflicts, and to politics in general.
The mission of the law is not to oppress persons and plunder them of their property, even though the law may be acting in a philanthropic spirit. Its purpose is to protect persons and property.... If you exceed this proper limit -- if you attempt to make the law religious, fraternal, equalizing, philanthropic, industrial, or artistic -- you will then be lost in uncharted territory, in vagueness and uncertainty, in a forced utopia or, even worse, in a multitude of utopias, each striving to seize the law and impose it on you.
Lord Acton:
It is bad to be oppressed by a minority, but it is worse to be oppressed by a majority.
Benjamin Franklin:
History affords us many instances of the ruin of states, by the prosecution of measures ill suited to the temper and genius of their people. The ordaining of laws in favor of one part of the nation, to the prejudice and oppression of another, is certainly the most erroneous and mistaken policy. An equal dispensation of protection, rights, privileges, and advantages, is what every part is entitled to, and ought to enjoy… These measures never fail to create great and violent jealousies and animosities between the people favored and the people oppressed; whence a total separation of affections, interests, political obligations, and all manner of connections, by which the whole state is weakened.
Ludwig Von Mises:
It is not conclusive proof of a doctrine’s correctness that its adversaries use the police, the hangman, and violent mobs to fight it. But it is a proof of the fact that those taking recourse to violent oppression are in their subconscious convinced of the untenability of their own doctrines.
Violent resistance against the power of the state is the last resort of the minority in its effort to break loose from the oppression of the majority. ... The citizen must not be so narrowly circumscribed in his activities that, if he thinks differently from those in power, his only choice is either to perish or to destroy the machinery of state.
Alexis de Tocqueville:
[Some people] have a depraved taste for equality, which impels the weak to lower the powerful to their own level, and reduces men to prefer equality in slavery to inequality with freedom. I believe that it is easier to establish an absolute and despotic government amongst a people in which the conditions of society are equal, than amongst any other; and I think that, if such a government were once established amongst such a people, it would not only oppress men, but would eventually strip each of them of several of the highest qualities of humanity. Despotism, therefore, appears to me peculiarly to be dreaded in democratic times.
Thomas Paine:
An avidity to punish is always dangerous to liberty. It leads men to stretch, to misinterpret, and to misapply even the best of laws. He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates his duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.
Noah Webster:
The moral principles and precepts contained in the Scripture ought to form the basis of all our civil constitutions and laws. All the miseries and evil men suffer from vice, crime, ambition, injustice, oppression, slavery, and war, proceed from their despising or neglecting the precepts contained in the Bible.
Frederick Douglass:
Find out just what the people will submit to and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue until they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.
Leo Nikolaevich Tolstoi:
Governments need armies to protect them against their enslaved and oppressed subjects.
John Locke:
If the innocent honest Man must quietly quit all he has for Peace sake, to him who will lay violent hands upon it, I desire it may be considered what kind of Peace there will be in the World, which consists only in Violence and Rapine; and which is to be maintained only for the benefit of Robbers and Oppressors.
Eric Hoffer:
I doubt if the oppressed ever fight for freedom. They fight for pride and for power -- power to oppress others. The oppressed want above all to imitate their oppressors; they want to retaliate.
Steve Biko:
The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.
Ulysses S. Grant:
The right of revolution is an inherent one. When people are oppressed by their government, it is a natural right they enjoy to relieve themselves of the oppression, if they are strong enough, either by withdrawal from it, or by overthrowing it and substituting a government more acceptable.
John F. Kennedy:
Tolerance implies no lack of commitment to one’s own beliefs. Rather it condemns the oppression or persecution of others.
Henry Clay:
An oppressed people are authorized, whenever they can, to rise and break their fetters.
Justice Robert H. Jackson:
The most odious of all oppressions are those which mask as justice.
Justice William O. Douglas:
As nightfall does not come all at once, neither does oppression. In both instances, there is a twilight when everything remains seemingly unchanged. And it is in such twilight that we all must be most aware of change in the air - however slight - lest we become unwitting victims of the darkness.
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