Public “Legally” Defined

The following definitions for “public” 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:





Adjective: Belonging to the entire community. Unrestricted in participation.

Noun: The people. The populace; the community. “That vast multitude, which includes the ignorant, the unthinking, and the credulous, who, in making purchases, do not stop to analyze, but are governed by appearance and general impressions” [J. W. Collins Co. v. F. M. Paist Co. (DC Pa) 14 F2d 614].

It is conceded that the public does not mean all the people in the state or any county or town. The public is a term used to designate individuals in general without restriction or selection [Garkane Power Co. v. Public Service Co. 98 Utah 466, 100 P2d 571, 132 ALR 1490].

The word sometimes has the meaning of international sometimes national, and sometimes state [see Morgan v. Cree, 46 Vt 773].



  1. By the term the public, is meant the whole body politic, or all the citizens of the state; sometimes it signifies the inhabitants of a particular place; as, the New York public.

  2. A distinction has been made between the terms public and general, they are sometimes used as synonymous. The former term is applied strictly to that which concerns all the citizens and every member of the state; while the latter includes a lesser, though still a large portion of the community [Greenl. Ev. 128].

  3. When the public interests and its rights conflict with those of an individual, the latter must yield [Co. Litt. 181], if, for example, a road is required for public convenience, and in its course it passes on the ground occupied by a house, the latter must be torn down, however valuable it may be to the owner. In such a case both law and justice require that the owner shall be fully indemnified.

  4. This term is sometimes joined to other terms to designate those things which have a relation to the public; as, a public officer, a public road, a public passage, a public debt.


Pertaining to a state, nation, or whole community; proceeding from, relating to, or affecting the whole body of people to, or affecting the whole body of people or an entire community. Open to all; notorious. Common to all or many; general; open to common use [Morgan v. Cree, 46 Vt. 786, 14 Am. Rep. 640; Crane v. Waters (C. C.) 10 Fed. 621; Austin v. Soule, 36 Vt. 650; Appeal of Eliot, 74 Conn. 586, 51 Atl. 558; O’Hara v. Miller, 1 Kulp (Pa.) 295].

  • A distinction has been made between the terms “public” and “general.” They are sometimes used as synonymous. The former term is applied strictly to that which concerns all the citizens and every member of the state; while the latter includes a lesser, though still a large, portion of the community. [1 Greenl. Ev §128].

As a noun, the word “public” denotes the whole body politic, or the aggregate of the citizens of a state, district, or municipality [Knight v. Thomas, 93 Me. 494, 45 Atl. 499; State v. Luce, 9 Houst. (Del.) 396, 32 Atl. 1076; Wyatt v. Irrigation Co., 1 Colo. App. 480, 29 Pac. 906].

  • Public appointments: public offices or stations which are to be filled by the appointment of individuals, under authority of law, instead of by election.

  • Public building: one of which the possession and use, as well as the property in it, are in the public [Pancoast v. Troth, 34 N. J. Law, 383].

  • Public law: that branch or department of law which is concerned with the state in its political or sovereign capacity, including constitutional and administrative law, and with definition, regulation, and enforcement of rights in cases where the state is regarded as the subject of the right or object of the duty, – including criminal law and criminal procedure, – the law of the state, considered in its quasi private personality, i.e as capable of holding or exercising rights, or acquiring and dealing with property, in the character of an individual [see Holl. Jur. 106, 300]. That portion of law which is concerned with political condition; that is to say, with the powers, rights, duties, capacities, and incapacities which are peculiar to political superiors, supreme and subordinate [Aust. Jur]. “Public law,” in one sense, is a designation given to “international law,” as distinguished from the laws of a particular nation or state. In another sense, a law or statute that applies to the people generally of the nation or state adopting or enacting it, is denominated a public law, as contradistinguished from a private law, affecting only an individual or a small number of persons [Morgan v. Cree, 46 Vt. 773, 14 Am. Rep. 640].

  • Public offense: a public offense is an act or omission forbidden by law, and punishable as by law provided [Code Ala. 1886, § 3699, Ford v. State, 7 Ind. App. 567, 35 N. E. 34; State v. Cantieny, 34 Minn. 1, 24 N. W. 458].

  • Public passage: a right, subsisting in the public, to pass over a body of water, whether the land under it be public or owned by a private person.

  • Public place: a place to which the general public has a right to resort; not necessarily a place devoted solely to the uses of the public, but a place which is in point of fact public rather than private, a place visited by many persons and usually accessible to the public [see State v. Welch, 88 Ind. 310; Gomprecht v. State, 36 Tex. Cr. R. 434, 37 S. W. 734; Russell v. Dyer, 40 N. H. 187; Roach v. Eugene, 23 O. 376, 31 Pac. 825; Taylor v. State, 22 Ala. 15].

  • Public purpose: in the law of taxation, eminent domain, etc. this is a term of classification to distinguish the objects for which, according to settled usage, the government is to provide, from those which, by the like usage, are left to private interest, inclination, or liberality [People v. Salem, Tp. Board, 20 Mich. 485, 4 Am. Rep. 400, see Black Const. Law (3d Ed.) p. 454, et seq.

  • Public service: a term applied in modern usage to the objects and enterprises of certain kinds of corporations, which specially serve the needs of the general public or conduce to the comfort and convenience of an entire community, such as railroads, gas, water, and electric light companies.

  • Public, true, and notorious: the old form by which charges in the allegations in the ecclesiastical courts were described at the end of each particular.

  • Public use: in constitutional provisions restricting the exercise of the right to take private property in virtue of eminent domain, means a use concerning the whole community as distinguished from particular individuals. But each and every member of society need not be equally interested in such use, or be personally and directly affected byt it; if the object is to satisfy a great public want or exigency, that is sufficient [Gilmer v. Line Point, 18 Cal. 229; Budd v. New York, 143 U. S. 517, 12 Sup. Ct. 468, 36 L. Ed. 247].

  • Public ways: highways [q. v.]

  • Public welfare: the prosperity, well-being, or convenience of the public at large, or of the whole community as distinguished from the advantage of an individual or limited class [see Shaver v. Starrett, 4 Ohio St. 499].


PUB’LIC, a. [L.publicus, from the root of populus, people; that is, people-like.]

1. Pertaining to a nation, state or community; extending to a whole people; as a public law, which binds the people of a nation or state, as opposed to a private statute or resolve, which respects an individual or a corporation only. Thus we say, public welfare, public good, public calamity, public service, public property.
2. Common to many; current or circulated among people of all classes; general; as public report; public scandal.
3. Open; notorious; exposed to all persons without restriction.
           Joseph her husband being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded    to put her away privily. Matt.1.
4. Regarding the community; directed to the interest of a nation, state or community; as public spirit; public mindedness; opposed to private or selfish.
5. Open for general entertainment; as a public house.
6. Open to common use; as a public road.
7. In general, public expresses something common to mankind at large, to a nation, state, city or town, and is opposed to private, which denotes what belongs to an individual, to a family, to a company or corporation.

Public law, is often synonymous with the law of nations.


PUB’LIC, n. The general body of mankind or of a nation, state or community; the people, indefinitely.

The public is more disposed to censure than to praise.

In this passage, public is followed by a verb in the singular number; but being a noun of multitude, it is more generally followed by a plural verb; the public are.

In public, in open view; before the people at large; not in private or secrecy.

In private grieve, but with a careless scorn,
In public seem to triumph, not to mourn.
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2 Responses to Public “Legally” Defined

  1. Advocate- Salil Ray says:

    I am not satisfied, the purpose we mentioned is not their academically only advertisement with the intention of business. The website is not useful to the professions of Attorney as well as to the law students.

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