Statute “Legally” Defined

The following definitions for “statute” 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):



An act of the legislature as an organized body [Washington v. Dowling, 92 Fla 601, 109 So 588]. The written will of the legislative department, expressed according to the form necessary to constitute it a law of the United States or of the state, and rendered authentic by certain prescribed forms and solemnities. In a broader sense, inclusive of an act of the legislature, an administrative regulation, or any enactment, from whatever source originating, to which the state gives the force of law [50 J1st State § 2].



  1. The written will of the legislature, solemnly expressed according to the forms prescribed in the constitution; an act of the legislature.

  2. This word is used in contradistinction to the common law. Statutes acquire their force from the time of their passage unless otherwise provided [7 Wheat. R. 104; 1 Gall. R. 62].

  3. It is a general rule that when the provision of a statute is general, everything which is necessary to make such provision effectual is supplied by the common law [Co. Litt. 235; 2 Inst. 222; Bac. Ab. h. t. B]; and when a power is given by statute, everything necessary for making it effectual is given by implication: quando le aliquid concedit, concedere videtur et id pe quod devenitur ad aliud [12 Co. 130, 131 2 Inst. 306].

  4. Statutes are of several kinds; namely, Public or private.

    • Public statutes are those of which the judges will take notice without pleading; as, those which concern all officers in general; acts concerning trade in general or any specific trade; acts concerning all persons generally.

    • Private acts, are those of which the judges will not take notice without pleading; such as concern only a particular species, or person; as, acts relating to any particular place, or several particular places, or to one or several particular countries. Private statutes may be rendered public by being so declared by the legislature [Bac. Ab. h. t. F; 1 Bl. Com. 85].

    • Declaratory or remedial

      • A declaratory statute is one which is passed in order to put an end to a doubt as to what the common law is, and which declares what it is, and has ever been.

      • Remedial statutes are those which are made to supply such defects, and abridge such superfluities in the common law as may have been discovered [1 Bl. Com. 86]. These remedial statutes are themselves divided into enlarging statutes, by which the common law is made more comprehensive and extended than it was before; and into restraining statutes, by which it is narrowed down to that which is just and proper. The term remedial statute is also applied to those acts which give the party injured a remedy, and in some respects those statutes are penal [Esp. Pen. Act. 1].

  1. Temporary or perpetual.

  • A temporary statute is one which is limited in its duration at the time of its enactment. It continues in force until the time of its limitation has expired, unless sooner repealed.

  • A perpetual statute is one for the continuance of which there is no limited time, although it be not expressly declared to be so. If, however, a statute which did not itself contain any limitation, is to be governed by another which is temporary only, the former will also be temporary and dependent upon the existence of the latter [Bac. Ab. h. t. D].

  1. Affirmative or negative.

  • An affirmative statute is one which is enacted in affirmative terms; such a statute does not take away the common law. If, for example, a statute without negative words, declares that when certain requisites shall have been complied with, deeds shall, have in evidence a certain effect, this does not prevent their being used in evidence, though the requisites have not been complied with, in the same manner as they might have been before the statute was passed [2 Cain. R. 169].

  • A negative statute is one expressed in negative terms, and so controls the common law, that it has no force in opposition to the statute [Bro. Parl. pl. 72; Bac. Ab. h. t. G].

  1. Penal statutes are those which order or prohibit a thing under a certain penalty [Esp. Pen. Actions, 5 Bac. Ab. h. t. l, 9. Vide, generally, Bac. Ab. h. t.; Com. Dig. Parliament; Vin. Ab. h. t.; Dane’s Ab. Index, h. t.; Chit. Pr. Index, h. t.; 1 Kent, Com. 447 – 459; Barrington on the Statutes, Boscaw. on Pen. Stat.; Esp. on Penal Actions and Statutes].

  2. Among the civilians, the term statute is generally applied to all sorts of laws and regulations; every provision of law which ordains, permits, or prohibits anything is a statute without considering from what source it arises. Sometimes the word is used in contradistinction to the imperial Roman law, which, by way of eminence, civilians call the common law. They divide statutes into three classes, personal, real and mixed.

  3. Personal statutes are those which have principally for their object the person, and treat of property only incidentally; such are those which regard birth, legitimacy, freedom, the fight of instituting suits, majority as to age, incapacity to contract, to make a will, to plead in person, and the like. A personal statute is universal in its operation, and in force everywhere.

  4. Real statutes are those which have principally for their object, property, and which do not speak of persons, except in relation to property; such are those which concern the disposition, which one may make of his property either alive or by testament. A real statute, unlike a personal one, is confined in its operation to the country of its origin.

  5. Mixed statutes are those which concern at once both persons and property. But in this sense almost all statutes are mixed, there being scarcely any law relative to persons, which does not at the same time relate to things [Vide Merl. Repert. mot Statut; Poth. Cout. d’Orleans, ch. 1; 17 Martin’s Rep. 569 – 589; Story’s Confl. Of Laws, 12, et seq.; Bouv. Inst. Index, h. t.].





In the old Scotch law, to ordain, establish, or decree.


An act of the legislature; a particular law enacted and established by the will of the legislative department of government, expressed with the requisite formalities.

In foreign and civil law, any particular municipal law or usage, though resting for its authority on judicial decisions, or the practice of nations [2 Kent, Comm. 456]. The whole municipal law of a particular state, from whatever source arising [Story, Confl. Laws § 12].

“Statute” also sometimes means a kind of bond or obligation of record, being an abbreviation for “statute merchant” or “statute staple.” See infra.

  • Affirmative statute: see AFFIRMATIVE

  • Declaratory statute: see DECLARATORY

  • Enabling statute: see that title.

  • Expository statute: see that title.

  • General statute: a statute relating to the whole community, or concerning all persons generally, as distinguished from a private or special statute [1 Bl. Comm. 85, 86; 4 Coke, 75a].

  • Local statute: such a statute as has for its object the interest of some particular locality, as the formation of a road, the alteration of the course of a river, the formation of a public market in a particular district, etc.

  • Negative statute: a statute expressed in negative terms; statute which prohibits a thing from being done, or declares what shall not be done.

  • Penal statute: see PENAL.

  • Perpetual statute: one which is to remain in force without limitation as to time; one which contains no provision for its repeal, abrogation, or expiration at any future time.

  • Personal statute: in foreign and modern civil law, those statutes which have principally for their object the person, and treat of property only incidentally [Story, Confl. Laws § 13]. A personal statute, in this sense of the term, is a law, ordinance, regulation, or custom, the disposition of which affects the person and clothes him with a capacity or incapacity, which he does not change with every change of abode, but which, upon principles of justice and policy, he is assumed to carry with him wherever he goes [2 Kent, Comm. 456]. The term is also applied to statutes which, instead of being general, are confined in their operation to one person or group of persons [Bank of Columbia v. Walker, 14 Lea (Tenn.) 308; Saul v. Creditors, 5 Mart. N. S. (La.) 591, 16 Am. Dec. 212].

  • Private statute: a statute which operates only upon particular persons, and private concerns [1 Bl. Comm. 86]. An act which relates to certain individuals, or to particular classes of men [Dwar. St. 629; State v. Chambers, 93 N. C. 600].

  • Public statute: a statute enacting a universal rule which regards the whole community, as distinguished from one which concerns only a particular individuals and affects only their private rights [see Code Civ. Proc. Cal. § 1898].

  • Real statutes: in the civil law, statutes which have principally for their object property, and which do not speak of persons, except in relation to property [Story, Confl. Laws § 13; Saul v. His Creditors, 5 Mart. N. S. (La.) 582, 16 Am. Dec. 212].

  • Remedial statute: see REMEDIAL.

  • Revised statutes: a body of statutes which have been revised, collected, arranged in order, and re-enacted as a whole; this is the legal title of the collections of complied laws of several of the states and also of the United States.

  • Special statute: one which operates only upon particular persons and private concerns [1 Bl. Comm. 86]. Distinguished from a general or public statute.

  • Statute fair: in English laws, a fair at which laborers of both sexes stood and offered themselves for hire; sometimes called also “Mop.”

  • Statute-merchant: in English law, a security for a debt acknowledged to be due, entered into before the chief magistrate of some trading town, pursuant to the statute [13 Edw. I. De Mercatoribus, by which not only the body of the debtor might be imprisoned, and his goods seized in satisfaction of the debt, but also his lands might be delivered to the creditor till out of the rents and profits of them the debt be satisfied [2 Bl. Comm. 160; now fallen into disuse; 1 Steph. Comm. 287; see Yates v. People, 6 Johns. (N. Y.) 404].

  • Statute of accumulations: in English law, the statute 39 & 40 Geo. III. c. 98, forbidding the accumulation, beyond a certain period, of property settled by deed or will.

  • Statute of allegiance de facto: an act of 11 Hen. VII. c. 1, requiring subjects to give their allegiance to the actual king for the time being, and protecting them in so doing.

  • Statute of distributions: see DISTRIBUTION

  • Statute of Elizabeth: in English law, the statute 13 Eliz. c. 5, against conveyances made in fraud of creditors.

  • Statute of frauds: see FRAUDS, STATUTE OF

  • Statute of Glouchester: in English law, the statute 6 Edw. I. c. 1, A. D. 1278, it takes its name from the place of its enactment, and was the first statute giving costs in actions [3 Bl. Comm. 399].

  • Statute of laborers: see LABORER

  • Statute of uses: see USE

  • Statute of wills: in English law, the statute 32 Hen. VIII c. 1, which enacted that all persons being seised in fee-simple (except femes covert, infants, idiots, and persons of non-sane memory might, by will and testament in writing, devise to any other person, except to bodies corporate, two-thirds of their lands, tenements, and hereditaments, held in chivalry, and the whole of those held in socage [2 Bl. Comm. 375].

  • Statute roll: a roll upon which an English statute, after receiving the royal assent, was formerly entered.

  • Statute staple: see STAPLE

  • Statutes at large: statutes printed in full and in the order of their enactment, in a collected form, as distinguished from any digest, revision, abridgment, or compilation of them. Thus the volumes of “United States Statutes at Large,” contain all the acts of congress in their order. The name is also given to an authentic collection of the various statutes which have been passed by the British parliament from every early times to the present day.

Statutes in derogation of common law must be strictly construed [Cooley, Const. Lim. 75, note; Arthurs, Appeal of, 1 Grant Cas. (Pa.) 57].



STATUTE, [L., to set].

  1. An act of the legislature of a state that extends its binding force to all the citizens or subjects of that state, as distinguished from an act which extends only to an individual or company; an act of the legislature commanding or prohibiting something; a positive law. Statutes are distinguished from common law. The latter owes its binding force to the principles of justice, to long use and the consent of a nation. The former owe their binding force to a positive command or declaration of the supreme power. Statute is commonly applied to the acts of a legislative body consisting of representatives. In monarchies, the laws of the sovereign are called edits, decrees, ordinances, rescripts, &c.

  2. A special act of the supreme power, of a private nature, or intended to operate only on an individual or company.

  3. The act of a corporation or of its founder, intended as a permanent rule or law; as the statutes of a university.

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