Government “Legally” Defined

The following definitions for “government” 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):




Management; administration; control; power or authority to check or restrain [see St. Louis v. Howard, 119 Mo, 24 SW 770].


The ligament that holds the political society together; the public political authority which guides and directs the body politic, or society of men called the “state,” united together to promote their safety and advantage by means of their union [Thomas v. Taylor, 42 Miss 651]. The political agency through which the state acts [Texas v. White (US) 7 Wall 700, 19 L Ed 227]. A term usually applied to the government of the United States, but equally applicable to the government of any of the states.



GOVERNMENT, natural and political law.

  1. The manner is which sovereignty is exercised in each state.

  2. There are three simple forms of government; the democratic, the aristocratic, and monarchical, but these three simple forms may be varied to infinity by the mixture and divisions of their different powers. Sometimes by the word “government” is understood the body of men, or the individual in the state, to whom is entrusted the executive power. It is taken in this sense when the government is spoken of in opposition to other bodies in the state.

  3. Governments are also divided into monarchical and republican; among the monarchical states may be classed empires, kingdoms, and others; in these the sovereignty resides in, a single individual. There are some monarchical states under the name of duchies, counties, and the like. Republican states are those where the sovereignty is in several persons. These are subdivided into aristocracies, where the power is exercised by a few persons of the first rank in the state; and democracies, which are those governments where the common people may exercise the highest powers [1 Bouv. Inst. n. 20; see Aristocracy; Democracy; Despotism: Monarchy; Theocracy].

  4. It should be remembered, however, that governments, for the most part, have not been framed on models. Their parts and their powers grew out of occasional acts, prompted by some urgent expediency, or some private interest, which, in the course of time, coalesced and hardened into usages. These usages became the object of respect and the guide of conduct long before they were embodied in written laws. This subject is philosophically treated by Sir James McIntosh, in his History of England [see vol. 1, p. 71, et seq].



  1. The regulation, restraint, supervision, or control which is exercised upon the individual members of an organized jural society by those invested with the supreme political authority for the good and welfare of the body politic; or the act of exercising supreme political power or control.

  2. The system of polity in a state; that form of fundamental rules and principals by which a nation or state is governed, or by which a nation or state is governed, or by which individuals members of a body politic are to regulate their social actions; a constitution, either written or unwritten, by which the rights and duties of citizens and public officers are prescribed and defined, as a monarchical government, a republican government, etc. [Webster].

  3. An empire, kingdom, state or independent political community; as in a phrase, “Compacts between independent governments.”

  4. The sovereign or supreme power in a state or nation.

  5. The machinery by which the sovereign power in a state expresses its will and exercise its functions; or the framework of political institutions, departments, and offices, by means of which the executive, judicial, legislative, and administrative business of the state is carried on.

  6. The whole class or body of office-holders or functionaries considered in the aggregate, upon whom devolves the executive, judicial, legislative, and administrative business of the state.

  7. In a colloquial sense, the United States or its representatives, considered as the prosecutor in a criminal action; as in the phrase, “the government objects to the witness.”

  • Federal government: the government of the United States of America, as distinguished from the governments of the several states.

  • Government annuities societies: these societies are formed in England under 3 & 4 Wm. IV c. 14, to enable the industrious classes to make provisions for themselves by purchasing, on advantageous terms, a government annuity for life or term of years. By 16 & 17 Vic. c. 45, this act, as well as 7 & 8 Vict. c. 83, amending it, were repealed, and the whole law in relation to the purchase of government annuities, through the medium of savings banks, was consolidated. And by 27 & 28 Vict. c. 43, additional facilities were afforded for the purchase of such annuities, and for assuring payments of money on death [Wharton].

  • Government de facto: a government of fact. A government actually exercising power and control in the state, as opposed to the true and lawful government; a government not established according to the constitution of the state, or not lawfully entitled to recognition or supremacy, but which has nevertheless supplanted or displaced the government de jure. A government deemed unlawful, or deemed wrongful or unjust, which, nevertheless, receives presently habitual obedience from the bulk of the community [Aust. Jur. 324]. There are several degrees of what is called “de facto government.” Such a government, in its highest degree, assumes a character very closely resembling that of a lawful government. This is when the usurping government expels the regular authorities from their customary seats and functions, and establishes itself in their place, and so becomes the actual government of a such country. The distinguishing characteristic of such a government is that adherents to it in war against the government de jure do not incur the penalties of treason; and, under certain limitations, obligations assumed by it in behalf of the country or otherwise will, in general, be respected by the government de jure when restored.

    • But there is another description of government, called also by publicists a “government de facto,” but which might, perhaps, be more aptly denominated a “government of paramount force.” Its distinguishing characteristics are (1) that its existence is maintained by active military power, within the territories, and against the rightful authority, of an established, and lawful government; and (2) that, while it exists, it must necessarily be obeyed in civil matters by private citizens who, by acts of obedience, rendered in submission to such force, do not become responsible, as wrong-doers, for those acts, though not warranted by the laws of the rightful government. Actual governments of this sort are established over districts differing greatly in extend and conditions. They are usually administered directly by military authority, but they may be administered, also, by civil authority, supported more or less by military force [Thorington v. Smith, 8 Wall. 8, 9, 19 L. Ed. 361]. The term “de facto,” as descriptive of a government, has no well-fixed and definite sense. It is, perhaps, most correctly used as signifying a government completely, though only temporarily, established in the place of the lawful or regular government, occupying its capitol, and exercising its power, and which is ultimately overthrown, and the authority of the government de jure reestablished [Thomas v. Taylor, 42 Miss. 651, 703, 2 Am. Rep. 625]. A government de facto is a government that unlawfully gets the possession and control of the rightful legal government, and maintains itself there, by force and arms, against the will of such legal government, and claims to exercise the powers thereof [Chisholm v. Coleroan, 43 Ala. 204, 92 Am. Dec. 677; and see further Smith v. Stewart, 21 La. Ann. 67, 99 Am. Dec. 709; Williams v. Bruffy, 96 U. S. 176, 24 L. Ed. 716; Keppel v. Railroad Co., 14 Fed. Cas. 357].

  • Government de jure: a government of right; the true and lawful government; a government established according to the constitution of the state, and lawfully entitled to recognition and supremacy and the administration of the state, but which is actually cut off from power or control. A government deemed lawful, or deemed rightful or just, which, nevertheless, has been supplanted or displaced; that is to say, which receives not presently (although it received formerly) habitual obedience from the bulk of the community [Aust. Jur. 324].

  • Local government: the government or administration of a particular locality; especially, the governmental authority of a municipal corporation, as a city or county, over its local and individual affairs, exercised in virtue of power delegated to it for that purpose by the general government of the state or nation.

  • Mixed government: a form of government combined some of the features of two or all of there primary forms, viz. monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy.

  • Republican government: one in which the powers of sovereignty are vested in the people and are exercised by the people, either directly, or through representatives chosen by the people, to whom those powers are specially delegated [Black. Const. Law (3d. Ed.) 309; In re Duncan, 139 U. S. 449, 11 Sup. Ct. 573, 35 L. Ed. 219; Minor v. Happersett, 21 Wall. 175, 22 L. Ed. 627].



GOV’ERNMENT, n. Direction; regulation. These precepts will serve for the government of our conduct.

  1. Control; restraint. Men are apt to neglect the government of their temper and passions.

  2. The exercise of authority; direction and restraint exercised over the actions of men in communities, societies or states; the administration of public affairs, according to established constitution, laws and usages, or by arbitrary edicts.

  • Prussia rose to importance under the government of Frederick II.

  1. The exercise of authority by a parent or householder.

  • Children are often ruined by a neglect of government in parents.

  • Let family government be like that of our heavenly Father, mild, gentle and affectionate.

  1. The system of polity in a state; that form of fundamental rules and principles by which a nation or state is governed, by which individual members of a body politic are to regulate their social actions; a constitution, either written or unwritten, by which the rights and duties of citizens and public officers are prescribed and defined; as a monarchical government, or a republican government.

  • Thirteen governments thus founded on the natural authority of the people alone, without the pretence of miracle or mystery, are a great point gained in favor of the rights of mankind.

  1. An empire, kingdom, or state; any territory over which the right of sovereignty is extended.

  2. The right of governing or administering the laws.

  • The king of England vested the government of Ireland in the lord lieutenant.

  1. The persons or council which administer the laws of a kingdom or state; executive power.

  2. Manageableness; compliance; obsequiousness.

  3. Regularity of behavior [Not in use.]

  4. Management of the limbs or body [Not in use].

  5. In grammar, the influence of a word in regard to construction, as when established usage required that one word should cause another to be in a particular case or mode.

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