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American Dictionary of the English Language

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Prosecute


PROS'ECUTE, verb transitive [Latin prosecutus, prosequor; pro and sequor, to follow; Eng. to seed. See Essay.]

1. To follow or pursue with a view to reach, execute or accomplish; to continue endeavors to obtain or complete; to continue efforts already begun; as, to prosecute a scheme; to prosecute an undertaking. The great canal in the State of New York has been prosecuted with success.

That which is morally good is to be desired and prosecuted.

This word signifies either to begin and carry on, or simply to continue what has been begun. When I say, 'I have devised a plan which I have not the courage or means to prosecute ' the word signifies to begin to execute. When we say, 'the nation began a war which it had not means to prosecute ' it signifies to continue to carry on. The latter is the genuine sense of the word, but both are well authorized. We prosecute any work of the hands or of the head. We prosecute a purpose, an enterprise, a work, studies, inquiries, etc.

2. To seek to obtain by legal process; as, to prosecute a right in a court of law.

3. To accuse of some crime or breach of law, or to pursue for redress or punishment, before a legal tribunal; as, to prosecute a man for trespass or for a riot. It is applied to civil suits for damages, as well as to criminal suits, but not to suits for debt. We never say, man prosecutes another on a bond or note, or in assumpsit; but he prosecutes his right or claim in an action of debt, detinue, trover or assumpsit. So we say, a man prosecutes another for assault and battery, for a libel or for slander, or for breaking his close. In these cases, prosecute signifies to begin and to continue a suit. The attorney general prosecutes offenders in the name of the king or of the state, by information or indictment.

Prosecute differs from persecute, as in law it is applied to legal proceedings only, whereas persecute implies cruelty, injustice or oppression.