State “Legally” Defined

The following definitions for “state” 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:





A body politic or society or men united together for the purpose of promoting their mutual safety and advantage by their combined strength, occupying a definite territory, and politically organized under one government [McLaughlin v. Poucher, 127 Conn 441, 17 A2d 767]. People, territory, and government considered in combination [Texas v. White (US) 7 Wall 700, 19 L Ed 227, ovrld on other grounds [113 Us 476, 28 L Ed 1044, 5 S Ct 588]. A complete body of free persons united together for their common benefit, to enjoy peaceably what is their own, and to do justice to others [Chisholm v. Georgia (US) 2 Dall 419, 1 L Ed 440].

Under the United States Constitution: a political community of free citizens, occupying a territory of defined boundaries, and organized under a government sanction and limited by a written constitution, and established by the consent of the governed [Coyle v. Smith, 221 US 559, 55 L Ed 853, 31 S Ct 688]. For the purposes of the Fair Labor Standards Act, any state of the United States, the District of Columbia, or any territory or possession of the United States [29 USC § 203 (c)].



  1. This word is used in various senses. In its most enlarged sense, it signifies a self-sufficient body of persons united together in one community for the defense of their rights, and to do right and justice to foreigners. In this sense, the state means the whole people united into one body politic (q. v.) and the state, and the people of the state, are equivalent expressions [1 Pet. Cond. Rep. 37 to 39; 3 Dall. 93; 2 Dall. 425; 2 Wilson’s Lect. 120; Dane’s Appx. 50, p. 63 1 Story, Const. 361]. In a more limited sense, the word ‘state’ expresses merely the positive or actual organization of the legislative, or judicial powers; thus the actual government of the state is designated by the name of the state; hence the expression, the state has passed such a law, or prohibited such an act. State also means the section of territory occupied by the state, as the state of Pennsylvania.

  2. By the word state is also mean, more particularly, one of the commonwealths which form the United States of America. The constitution of the United States makes the following provisions in relation to the states.

  3. [Art. 1, s. 9, 5] No tax or duty shall be laid on articles exported from any states. No preference shall be given by any regulation of commerce or revenue to the ports of one state over those of another, nor shall vessels bound to or from one state be obliged to enter, clear, or pay duties in another.

  4. No money shall be drawn from the treasury but in consequence of appropriations made by law; and a regular statement and account of the receipts and expenditures of all public money shall be published from time to time.

  5. No title of nobility shall be granted by the United States, and no person holding any office of profit or trust under them shall, without the consent of congress, accept of any present, emolument, office, or title of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state.

  6. [Art. 1, se. 10, 1] No state shall enter into any treaty, alliance, or confederation; grant letters of marque and reprisal; coin money; emit bills of credit; make anything but gold and silver coin a tender in payments of debts; pass any bill of attainder, ex post fact, or law impairing the obligation of contracts; or grant any title of nobility.

  7. No state shall, without the consent of congress, lay any imposts or duties on imports or exports, except what may be absolutely necessary for executing its inspection laws; and the net produce of all duties and imposts laid by any state on imports or exports shall be for the use of the treasury of the United States, and all such laws shall be subject to the revision and control of congress. No state, shall, without the consent of congress, lay any duty on tonnage, keep troops or ships of war in time of peace, or engage in war, unless actually invaded, or in such imminent danger as will not admit of delay.

  8. The district of Columbia and the territorial districts of the United States, are not states within the meaning of the constitution and of the judiciary act, so as to enable a citizen thereof to sue a citizen of one of the states in the federal courts [2 Cranch, 445; 1 Wheat. 91].

  9. The several states composing the United States are sovereign and independent, in all things not surrendered to the national government by the constitution, and are considered, on general principles, by each other as foreign states, and yet their mutual relations are rather those of domestic independence, than of foreign alienation [7 Cranch, 481; 2 Wheat. 324; 1 Greenl. Ev. 489, 504. Vide, generally, Mr. Madison’s report in the legislature in Virginia, January, 1800; 1 Story’s Com. On Const. 208; 1 Kent, Com. 189, note b; Grotius, B. 1, c. 1, s. 14; Id. B. 3, c. 3, s. 2; Burlamaqui, vol. 1, pt. 1, c. 4, s. 9; Vattel, B. 1, c. ; 1 Toull. n. 202, note 1 Nation; Cicer. De Repub. 1. 1, s. 25].



A body politic, or society of men, united together for the purpose of promoting their mutual safety and advantage, by the joint efforts of their combined strength [Cooley, Const. Lim. 1]

One of the component commonwealths or states of the United States of America.

The people of a state, in their collective capacity, considered as the party wronged by a criminal deed; the public; as in the title of a cause, “The State vs. A. B.”

The section of territory occupied by one of the United States.

  • Foreign state: a foreign country or nation. The several United States are considered “foreign” to each other except as regards their relations as common members of the Union.

  • State’s evidence: see EVIDENCE

  • State officers: those who duties concern the state at large or the general public, or who are authorized to exercise their official functions throughout the entire state, without limitation to any political subdivision of the state. In another sense, officers belonging to or exercising authority under one of the states of the Union, as distinguished from the officers of the United States [see In re Police Com’rs, 22 R. I. 654, 49 Atl. 36; State v. Burns, 38 Fla. 378, 21 South. 290; People v. Nixon, 158 N. Y. 221, 52 N. E. 1117].

  • State paper: a document prepared by, or relating to, the political department of the government of a state or nation, and concerning or affecting the administration of its government or its political or international relations. Also, a newspaper, designated by public authority, as the organ for the publication of public statutes, resolutions, notices, and advertisements.

  • State tax: a tax that proceeds of which are to be devoted to the expenses of the state, as distinguished from taxation for local or municipal purposes [see Youngblood v. Sexton, 32 Mich. 413, 20 Am. Rep. 654; State v. Auditor of State, 15 Ohio St. 482].

  • State trial: a trial for a political offense.

  • State Trials: a work in thirty-three volumes octavo, containing all English trials for offenses against against the state and others partaking in some degree of that character, from the ninth year of Hen. II to the first of Geo. IV.


1. Condition; the circumstances of a being or thing at any given time. These circumstances may be internal, constitutional or peculiar to the being, or they may have relation to other beings. We say, the body is in a sound state, or it is in a weak state; or it has just recovered from a feeble state. The state of his health is good. The state of his mind is favorable for study. So we say, the state of public affairs calls for the exercise of talents and wisdom. In regard to foreign nations, our affairs are in a good state. So we say, single state, and married state.
          Declare the past and present state of things.
2. Modification of any thing.
          Keep the state of the question in your eye.
3. Crisis; stationary point; highth; point from which the next movement is regression.
           Tumors have their several degrees and times, as beginning, augment, state and declination. [Not in use.]
4. Estate; possession. [See Estate.]
5. A political body, or body politic; the whole body of people united under one government, whatever may be the form of the government.
         Municipal law is a rule of conduct prescribed by the supreme power in a state.
         More usually the word signifies a political body governed by representatives; a commonwealth; as the States of Greece; the States of America. In this sense, state has sometimes more immediate reference to the government, sometimes to the people or community. Thus when we say, the state has made provision for the paupers, the word has reference to the government or legislature; but when we say, the state is taxed to support paupers, the word refers to the whole people or community.
6. A body of men united by profession, or constituting a community of a particular character; as the civil and ecclesiastical states in Great Britain. But these are sometimes distinguished by the terms church and state. In this case, state signifies the civil community or government only.
7. Rank; condition; quality; as the state of honor.
8. Pomp; appearance of greatness.
          In state the monarchs marchd.
         Where least of state, there most of love is shown.
9. Dignity; grandeur.
         She instructed him how he should keep state, yet with a modest sense of his misfortunes.
10. A seat of dignity.
          This chair shall be my state.
11. A canopy; a covering of dignity.
         His high throne, under state of richest texture spread– [Unusual.]
12. A person of high rank. [Not in use.]
13. The principal persons in a government.
         The bold design pleasd highly those infernal states.
14. The bodies that constitute the legislature of a country; as the states general.
15. Joined with another word, it denotes public, or what belongs to the community or body politic; as state affairs; state policy.
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