As a child I always imagined a bunch railroad cars, yet from my understanding the railway system didn't really appear until the 1800's. And, if there was no steam engine to pull the cars, the only alternative would seem to be animal or man power, which begs the question - How long of a train could it have been?

If my suppositions are valid, would 'a long train' in the American forefathers day have been shorter then what our modern technology would consider a 'long train'?

  • 2
    Trains also applied to convoys of horse drawn wagons, cloth trailing behind a dress or a number of other meanings. Note that Train is short for Railroad Train
    – Oldcat
    Feb 11, 2016 at 0:51
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    train fourteenth century French. By the fifteenth century it had come to mean a chain of connected concepts.
    – MCW
    Feb 11, 2016 at 1:34
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    I think it would best translate as "an ongoing series" in modern English.
    – jamesqf
    Feb 11, 2016 at 4:43
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    @malcontent do you refer to any occurence of the phrase other than what CGCampbell writes in his answer?
    – Rohit
    Feb 11, 2016 at 14:15

4 Answers 4


According to The Declaration of Independence for Dummies, Part 1,

”But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their Right, it is their Duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.”

can be reworded "in street corner English, as

But when a government becomes tyrannical and abusive with consistent, repeated violations of the people’s rights, with the intent to make them slaves of the state, then the people have the right–in fact, the duty to revolt against the government, and put new rules in place to protect their future rights.

I happen to think this is an acceptable 'dumbing down' of the Declaration.

As you can see by this interpretation, "a long train" has nothing to do with a railroad train, but more of a long history of violations of the Rights of Man. The writers of the Declaration were telling the World Powers, and their own people, that over the millennium, Kings, Emperors, and other despots trampled on these Rights and that the "long train of events" culminating in the imposition of taxation (of the Colonies) that was enacted to help pay off the recent war by England. The Subjects who were facing this taxation never were afforded the opportunity to raise their own voices in Parliament, as would Subjects at home.

So the writers were, in essence, saying that over the course of history, many rulers had trampled on the Rights that were being declared here, and enough! we weren't going to take it any more.


"Train" in this context, means a series of events, in this case, "abuses and usurpations" as cited in the passage of another answerer.

A common 18th century usage of "train" was "wagon train," as in a group of wagons pulled by horse that carried food and other supplies for an army.

It was only in the 19th century, after the invention of steam engines and locomotives, that "train" referred to motor vehicles traveling on "rail roads," that is "roads" constructed of rails specifically designed to carry such vehicles.


Train had a different meaning before the advent of the rail road. More like a "length of" like the train of a dress. Then a train of cars (railroad train cars) was abbreviated to just train.


Here is a reducto ad Absurbum of the idea that "train" only refers to a railroad train.

J.R.R. Tolkien, writer of Lord of the Rings, was a professional philologist and knew the meanings of words.

In the Silmarillion chapter on the Dagor Bragollach, "The Battle of Sudden Flame", Tolkien describes a sudden attack by Morgoth, the original Dark Lord, on his unsuspecting enemies. First the Mountains of Iron and the peaks of Thangorodim belched out fire and lava. Rivers of lava flowed over the camps of his enemies.

Then came Glaurung the Golden, Father of Dragons, in his full size and power that had never been seen before. "in his train" were balrogs (terrible war demons) and then came innumerable armies of orcs.

Obviously Morgoth wasn't going to delay his surprise attack to wait for the lava flows to cool and solidify and then build a railroad line over it for the balrogs to ride in.

These events were fictionally supposed to happen sometime between about 13,000 BC and 11,000 BC.

Unless someone claims to be a better philologist than Tolkien, they should give up any claim or thought that "train" always and only refers to a railroad train.

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