Constitution “Legally” Defined

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




A system of fundamental laws or principles for the government of a nation, state, society, corporation, or other aggregation of individuals [16 Am J2d Const L § 1].

Although a constitution, in the broad sense of the term, may be written or unwritten, in the United States, the word as applied to the organization of the federal and state governments, always implies a writing [16 Am J2d Const L § 1].

“A written constitution is not only the direct and basic expression of the sovereign will, but is the absolute rule of action and decision for all departments and offices of government in respect to all matters covered by it, and must control as it is written until it shall be changed by the authority that established it.” [182 NY 330, 75 NE 404].

A constitution differs from a statute in that a statute must provide at least to a certain degree, the details of the subject of which it treats, whereas a constitution usually states general principles and builds the substantial foundation and general framework of the law and government [16 Am J2d Const L § 3].



CONSTITUTION, government.

  1. The fundamental law of the state, containing principles upon which the government is founded, and regulating the divisions of the sovereign powers, directing to what persons each of these powers is to be confided, and the, manner it is to be exercised as, the Constitution of the United States [see Story of the Constitution; Rawle on the Const.].
  2. The words constitution and government (q.v.) are sometimes employed to express the same idea, the manner in which sovereignty is exercised in each state. Constitution is also the name off the instrument containing the fundamental laws of the state.
  3. By constitution, the civilians, and, from then, the common law writers, mean some particular; as the constitutions of the emperors contained in the Code.


The constitution of a contract, is the making of the contract as, the written constitution of a debt [1 Bell’s Com. 332, 5th ed].



In public law, the organic and fundamental law of a nation or state, which may be written or unwritten, establishing the character and conception of its government, laying the basic principles to which its internal life is to be conformed, organizing the government, and regulating, distributing, and limiting the functions of its different departments, and prescribing the extend and manner of the exercise of sovereign powers.

  • In a more general sense, any fundamental or important law or edict; as the Novel Constitutions of Justinian; the Constitutions of Clarendon.

In American law, the written instrument agreed upon by the people of the Union or of a particular state, as the absolute rule of action and decision for all departments and officers of the government in respect to all the points covered by it, which must control it shall be changed by the authority which established it, and in opposition to which any act or ordinance of any such department or officer is null and void [Cooley, Const. Lim. 3].




1. The act of constituting, enacting, establishing, or appointing.

2. The state of being; that form of being or peculiar structure and connection of parts which makes or characterizes a system or body. Hence the particular frame or temperament of the human body is called its constitution. We speak of a robust or feeble constitution; a cold, phlegmatic, sanguine or irritable constitution. We speak of the constitution of the air, or other substance; the constitution of the solar system; the constitution of things.

3. The frame or temper of mind, affections or passions.

4. The established form of government in a state, kingdom or country; a system of fundamental rules, principles and ordinances for the government of a state or nation. In free states, the constitution is paramount to the statutes or laws enacted by the legislature, limiting and controlling its power; and in the United States, the legislature is created, and its powers designated, by the constitution.

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