Property “Legally” Defined

The following definitions for “property” are taken from Ballantine’s Law Dictionary (3rd edition), Bouvier’s Law Dictionary (6th edition), Black’s Law Dictionary (2nd edition), and “Webster’s 1828 Dictionary:”




In a popular sense, a chattel or tract of land [42 Am J1st Prop § 3]. Inclusive of both real estate and personalty [Anno: 115 ALR 553; 57 Am J1st Wills § 1338]. Inclusive of both tangibles and intangibles; that which is corporeal and that which is incorporeal [Bouse v. Hutzler, 180 Md 682, 26 A2d 767, 141 ALR 843]. Strictly, that dominion or indefinite right of user, control, and disposition which one may lawfully exercise over particular things or objects [42 Am J1st Prop § 2]. The right and interest which a man has in lands and chattels to the exclusion of others [Ralston Steel Car Co. v. Ralston, 112 Ohio St 306, 147 NE 513, 39 ALR 334].

The right of a person to possess, use, enjoy, and dispose of a thing [Willcox v. Penn Mut. Life Ins. Co. Pa 581, 55 A2d 521, 174 ALR 220]. The free use, enjoyment, and disposal of a person’s acquisitions without control or diminution save by the law of the land [Department of Financial Institutions v. General Finance Corp. 227 Ind 373, 86 NE2d 444, 10 ALR2d 436]. Not the material object itself, but the right and interest or domination rightfully obtained over such object, with the unrestricted right to its use, enjoyment, and disposition [Howlett v. Doglio, 42 Ill 311, 82 NE2d 708, 6 ALR2d 790; Akron v. Chapman, 160 Ohio St 382, 116 NE2d 697, 42 ALR2d 1140]. A species of title, inchoate or complete, legal or equitable, embracing rights which lie in contract, executory, or executed [Smith v. United States (US) 10 Pet 326, 9 Led 442].

As the term is used in the guarantee of the Fourteenth Amendment:– the right to acquire, possess, and enjoy particular things and objects in any way consistent with the equal rights of others and the just exactions and demands of the state [Wright v. Hart, 182 NY 330, 75 NE 404 Ives v. South Buffalo R. Co. 201 NY 271, 94 NE 431]; all valuable interests which a man may possess outside of himself – outside of his life and liberty – being more than that which a person owns [16 Am J2d Const L § 364]. As the term appears fit constitutional provisions respecting taking of property:– a word of most general import, extending to every species of right and interest, capable of being enjoyed its such, upon which it is practicable to place a money value [26 Am J2d Em D § 173].

As used fit a statutory provision authorizing a corporation to receive “property” in payment for its stock, the term is not used fit its broad sense which includes anything susceptible of ownership, but is limited to that which may readily be applied to the debts of the corporation [18 Am J2d Corp § 258].


1. The right and interest which a man has in lands and chattels to the exclusion of others [6 Binn. 98; 4 Pet. 511; 17 Johns. 283; 14 East, 370; 11 East, 290, 518]. It is the right to enjoy and to dispose of certain things in the most absolute manner as he pleases, provided he makes no use of them prohibited by law. See “Things.”

2. All things are not the subject of property the sea, the air, and the like, cannot be appropriated; every one may enjoy them, but he has no exclusive right to them. When things are fully our own, or when all others are excluded from meddling with them, or from interfering about them, it is plain that no person besides the proprietor, who has this exclusive right, can have any, claim either to use them, or to hinder him from disposing of them as, he pleases; so that property, considered as an exclusive right to things, contains not only a right to use those things, but a right to dispose of them, either by exchanging them for other things, or by giving them away to any other person, without any consideration, or even throwing them away [Rutherf. Inst. 20; Domat, liv. prel. Tit. 3; Poth. Des Choses; 18 Vin. Ab. 63; Com. Dig. 175; Com. Dig. Biens. See also 2B. & C. 281; S. C. 9 E. C. L. R. 87; 3 D. & R. 394; 9 B. & C. 396; S. C. 17 E. C. L. R. 404; 1 C. & M. 39; 4 Call, 472; 18 Ves. 193; 6 Bing. 630].

3. Property is divided into real property, (q. v.) and personal property (q. v.) [Vide Estate; Things].

4. Property is also divided, when it consists of goods and chattels, into absolute and qualified. Absolute property is that which is our own, without any qualification whatever as when a man is the owner of a watch, a book, or other inanimate thing; or of a horse, a sheep, or other animal, which never had its natural liberty in a wild state.

5. Qualified property consists in the right which men have over wild animals which they have reduced to their own possession, and which are kept subject to the their power; as a deer, a buffalo, and the like, which are his own while he has possession of them, but as soon as his possession is lost, his property is gone unless the animals, go animo revertendi [2 Bl. Com. 396; 3 Binn. 546].

6. But property in personal goods may be absolute or qualified without ally relation to the nature of the subject-matter, but simply because more persons than one have an interest in it, or because the right of property is separated from the possession. A bailee of goods, though not the owner, has a qualified property in them; while the owner has the absolute property [Vide, Bailee; Bailment].

7. Personal property is further divided into property in possession, and property or choses in action (q. v.)

8. Property is again divided into corporeal and incorporeal. The former comprehends such property as is perceptible to the sense, as lands, houses, goods, merchandise and the like; the latter consists in legal rights, as choses in action, easements, and the like.

9. Property is lost, in general, in three ways, by the act of man, by the act of law, and by the act of God.

10. -1. It is lost by the act of man by, 1st. Alienation; but in order to do this, the owner must have the legal capacity to make a contract. 2nd. By the voluntary abandonment of the thing; but unless the abandonment be purely voluntary, the title to the property is not lost; as, if things be thrown into the sea to save the ship, the right is not lost [Poth. h. t., n. 270; 3 Toull. ii. 346]. But even a voluntary abandonment does not deprive he former owner from taking possession of the thing abandoned, at any tim before another possession of it.

11. – 2. The title to property is lost by operation of law. 1st. By the forced sale, under a lawful process, of the property of a debtor to satisfy a judgement, sentence, or decree rendered against him, to compel him to fulfill his obligations. 2d. By confiscation, or sentence of a criminal court. 3d. By prescription. 4th. By civil Death. 6th. By capture of a public enemy.

12 -3. The title to property is lost by an act of God, as in the case of the death of slaves or animals, or in the total destruction of a thing; for example, if a house be swallowed up by an opening in the earth during an earthquake.

13. It is proper to observe that in some cases, the moment that the owner loses his possession, he also loses his property or right in the thing: animals ferae naturea, as mentioned above, belong to the owner only while he retains the possession of them. But, in general, the loss of possession does not impair the right of property, for the owner may recover it within a certain time allowed by law [Vide, generally, Bouv. Inst. Index, b. t.].


Rightful dominion over external objects; ownership; the unrestricted and exclusive right to a thing; the right to dispose of the substance of a thing in every legal way, to possess it, to use it, and to exclude every one else from interfering with it [Mackeld. Rom. Law. § 265].

    • Property is the highest right a man can have to anything; being used for that right which one as to lands or tenements, goods, or chattels, which no way depends on another man’s courtesy [Jackson ex dem. Pearson v. Housel, 17 Johns. 281, 283].
    • A right imparting to the owner a power of indefinite user, capable of being transmitted to universal successors by way of descent, and imparting to the owner the power of disposition, from himself and his successors per universitatem, and from all other persons who have a spes successionis under any existing concesson or disposition, in favor of such person or series of persons as he may choose, with the like capacities and powers as he had himself, and under such conditions as the municipal or particular law allows to be annexed to the disposition of private persons [Aust. Jur. (Campbell’s Ed). § 1103].
    • The right to property is that sole and despotic dominion which one man claims and exercises over the external things of the world, in total exclusion of the right of any other individual in the universe. It consists in the free use, enjoyment, and disposal of all a person’s acquisitions, without any control or diminution save only by the laws of the land [1 Bl. Comm. 138; 2 Bl. Comm. 2, 15].

The word is also commonly used to denote any external object over which the right of property is exercised. In this sense it is a very wide term, and includes every class of acquisitions which a man can own or have an interest in. [[see Scranton v. Wheeler, 179 U. S. 141, 21 Sup. Ct. 48, 45 L. Ed. 126; Lawrence v. Hennessey, 165 Mo. 659, 65 S. W. 717; Boston & L. R. Corp. v. Salem & L. R. Co., 2 Gray (Mass.), 35; National Tel. News Co. v. Western Union Tel. Co. 119 Fed. 294, 56 C. C. A. 198, 60 L. R. A. 805; Hamilton v. Rathbone, 175 U. S. 414, 20 Sup. Ct. 155, 44 L. Ed. 219; Stanton v. Lewis, 26 Conn. 449; Wilson v. Ward Lumber Co. (C. C.) 67 Fed. 674].

    • Absolute property: In respect to chattels personal property is said to be “absolute” where a man has, solely and exclusively, the right and also the occupation of any movable chattels, so that they cannot be transferred from him, or cease to be his, without his own act or default [21 Bl. Comm. 389]. In the law of wills, a bequest or devise “to be the absolute property” of the beneficiary, may pass a title in fee simply [Myers v. Anderson, 1 Strob. Eq. (S. C.) 344, 47 Am. Dec. 537; Fackler v. Berry, 93 Va. 565, 23 S. E. 887, 57 Am. St. Rep. 819]. Or it may mean that the property is to be held free from any limitation or condition or free from any control or disposition on the part of others [Wilson v. White, 133 Ind. 614, 33 N. E. 361, 19 L. R. A. 581; Williams v. Vancleave, 7 T/ B. Mon. (Ky.) 388, 393]
    • Common property: A term sometimes applied to lands owned by a municipal corporation and held in trust for the common use of the inhabitants [Comp. Laws N. Mex. 1897, § 2184]. Also property owned jointly by husband and wife under the community system [see COMMUNITY].
    • Community property: [see COMMUNITY]
    • Ganancial property: [see that title]
    • General property: The right and property in a thing enjoyed by the general owner [see OWNER]
    • Literary property: [see LITERARY]
    • Mixed property: Property which is personal in its essential nature, but is invested by the law with certain of the characteristics and features of real property. Heirlooms, tombstones, monuments in a church, and title-deeds to an estate are of this nature [2 Bl. Comm. 428; 3 Barn. & Adol. 174; 4 Bing. 106; Miller v. Worral, 62 N. J. Eq. 776, 48 Atl. 586, 90 Am. St. Rep. 480; Minot v. Thompson, 106 Mass. 585].
    • Personal property: Property of a personal or movable nature, as opposed to property of a local or immovable character, (such as land or houses,) the latter being called “real property.” This term is also applied to the right or interest less than a freehold which a man has in realty [Boyd v. Selma, 96 Ala. 144. 11 South. 393, 16 L. R. A. 729; Adams v. Hackett, 7 Cal. 203; Stief v. Hart. 1 N. Y. 24; Bellows v. Allen, 22 Vt. 108; In re Bruckman’s Estate, 195 Pa. 363; 45 Atl. 1078; Atlanta c. Chattanooga Foundry & Pipe Co., (C. C.) 101 Fed. 907]. That kind of property which usually consists of things temporary and movable, but includes all subjects of property not of a freehold nature, nor descendible to the heirs at law [2 Kent, Comm. 340]. Personal property is divisible into (1) corporeal personal property, which includes movable and tangible things, such as animals, ships, furniture, merchandise, etc.; and (2) incorporeal personal property, which consists of such rights as personal annuities, stocks, shares, patents, and copyrights [Sweet].
    • Private property: As protected from being taken for public uses, is such property as belongs absolutely to an individual, and of which he has the exclusive right of disposition; property of a specific, fixed and tangible nature, capable of being had in possession and transmitted to another, such as house, lands, and chattels [Homochotto River Com’rs v. Withers, 29 Miss. 21, 64 Am. Dec. 126; Scranton v. Wheeler, 179 U. S. 141, 21 Sup. Ct. 48, 45 L. Ed. 126].
    • Property tax: In English law, this is understood to be an income payable in respect to landed property. In America, it is a tax imposed on property, whether real or personal, as distinguished from poll taxes, and taxes on successions, transfers, and occupations, and from license taxes [See Garrett v. St. Louis, 25 Mo. 510, 69 Am. Dec. 475; In re Swift’s Estate, 137 N. Y. 77, 32 N. E. 1096, 18 L. R. A. 709; Rohr v. Gray, 80 Md. 274, 30 Atl. 632].
    • Public property: This term is commonly used as a designation of those things which are publici juris (q. v.,) and therefore considered as being owned by “the public,” the entire state or community, and not restricted to the dominion of a private person. It may also apply to any subject of property owned by a state, nation, or municipal corporation as such.
    • Qualified property: Property in chattels which is not in its nature permanent, but may at some times subsist and not at other times; such for example, as the property a man may have in wild animals, which he has caught and keeps, and which are his only so long as he retains possession of them [2 Bl. Comm. 389].
    • Real property: A general term for lands, tenements, and hereditaments; property which, on the death of the owner intestate, passes to his heir. Real property is either corporeal or incorporeal [see Code N. Y. § 462].
    • Separate property: The separate property of a married woman is that which she owns in her own rights, which is liable only for her debts, and which she can incumber and dispose of at her own will.
    • Special property: Property of a qualified, temporary, or limited nature; as distinguished from absolute, general, or unconditional property. Such is the property of a bailee in the article bailed, of a sheriff in goods temporarily in his hands under a levy, of the finder of lost goods while looking for the owner, of a person in wild animals which he as caught [Steif v. Hart, 1 N. Y. 24; Moulton v. Witherell, 52 Me. 242; Eisendrath v. Knauer, 64 Ill. 402; Phelps v. People, 72 N. Y. 357].



1. A peculiar quality of any thing; that which is inherent in a subject, or naturally essential to it; called by logicians an essential mode. Thus color is a property of light; extension and figure are properties of bodies.

2. An acquired or artificial quality; that which is given by art or bestowed by man. The poem has the properties which constitute excellence.

3. Quality; disposition.

          It is the property of an old sinner to find delight in reviewing his own villainies in others.

4. The exclusive right of possessing, enjoying and disposing of a thing; ownership. In the beginning of the world, the Creator gave to man dominion over the earth, over the fish of the sea and the fowls of the air, and over every living thing. This is the foundation of man’s property in the earth and in all its productions. Prior occupancy of land and of wild animals gives to the possessor the property of them. The labor of inventing, making or producing any thing constitutes one of the highest and most indefeasible titles to property. Property is also acquired by inheritance, by gift or by purchase. Property is sometimes held in common, yet each man’s right to his share in common land or stock is exclusively his own. One man may have the property of the soil,and another the right of use, by prescription or by purchase.

5. Possession held on one’s own right.

6. The thing owned; that to which a person has the legal title, whether in his possession or not. It is one of the greatest blessings of civil society that the property of citizens is well secured.

7. An estate, whether in lands, goods or money; as a man of large property or small property.

8. An estate; a farm; a plantation. In this sense, which is common in the United States and in the West Indies, the word has a plural.

           The still-houses on the sugar plantations, vary in size, according to the fancy of the proprietor or the      magnitude of the property.

           I shall confine myself to such properties as fall within the reach of daily observation.

9. Nearness or right.

           Here I disclaim all my paternal care,
Propinquity and property of blood.

10. Something useful; an appendage; a theatrical term.

           I will draw a bill of properties.
High pomp and state are useful properties.

11. Propriety. [Not in use.]

Literary property, the exclusive right of printing, publishing and making profit by one’s own writings. No right or title to a thing can be so perfect as that which is created by a man’s own labor and invention. The exclusive right of a man to his literary productions, and to the use of them for his own profit, is entire and perfect, as the faculties employed and labor bestowed are entirely and perfectly his own. On what principle then can a legislature or a court determine that an author can enjoy only a temporary property in his own productions? If a man’s right to his own productions in writing is as perfect as to the productions of his farm or his shop, how can the former by abridged or limited, while the latter is held without limitation? Why do the productions of manual labor rank higher in the scale of rights or property, than the productions of the intellect?

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