Privilege “Legally” Defined

The following definitions for “privilege” 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 right peculiar to an individual or body [Ripley v. Knight, 123 Mass 519]. An advantage held by way of license, franchise, grant, or permission, not possessed by others. Special enjoyment of a good, or exemption from an evil or burden [Wisener v. Burrell, 28 Okla 546, 118 P 999]. An immunity existing under the law. For tax purposes, any occupation or business which the legislature may declare to be a privilege and tax as such [Seven Springs Water Co. v. Kennedy, 156 Tenn 1, 299 SW 792 56 ALR 496 (Civil law)]. A tacit hypothecation of a thing without any transfer of a possession of it or of the right to possession [The Glide, 167 US 606, 42 L Ed 296, 17 S Ct 930; see immunity; special privilege; writ of privilege].



PRIVILEGE, civil law.

  1. A right which the nature of a debt gives to a creditor, and which entitles him to be preferred before other creditors [Louis. Code, art. 3153; Dict. de Juris. art. Privilege: Domat, Lois Civ. liv. 2, t. 1, s. 4, n.1].
  2. Creditors of the same rank of privileges, are paid in concurrence, that is, on a equal footing. Privileges may exist either in movable, or immovables, or both at once. They are general or special, on certain movables. The debts which are privileged on all the movables in general, are the following, which are paid in this order.
        1. Funeral charges
        2. Law charges, which are such as are occasioned by the prosecution of a suit before the courts. But this name applies more particular to costs, which the party cast has to pay to the party gaining the cause. It is in favor of these only that the law grants the privilege.
        3. Charges, of whatever nature, occasioned by the last sickness, concurrently among those to whom they are due: see Last sickness.
        4. The wages of servants for the year past, and so much as is due for the current year.
        5. Supplies of provisions made to the debtor or his family during the last six months, by retail dealers, such as bakers, grocers; and during the last year by keepers of boarding houses and taverns.
        6. The salaries of clerks, secretaries, and other persons of that kind.
        7. Dotal rights, due to wives by their husbands.
  3. The debts which are privileged on particular movables, are:
        1. The debt of a workman or artizan for the price of his labor, on the movable which he has repaired, or made, if the thing continues still in his possession.
        2. The debt on the pledge which is in the creditor’s possession.
        3. The carrier’s charges and accessory expenses on the thing carried.
        4. The price due on movable effects, if they are yet in the possession of the purchaser; and the like [see Lien].
  4. Creditors have a privilege on immovables, or real estate in some cases, of which the following are instances:
        1. The vendor on the estate by him sold, for the payment of the price, or so much of it as is due whether it be sold on or without a credit.
        2. Architects and undertakes, bricklayers, and other workmen employed in constructing, rebuilding or repairing houses, buildings, or making other works on such houses, buildings, or works by them constructed, rebuilt, or repaired.
        3. Those who have supplied the owner with materials for the construction or repair of an edifice or other work, which he has erected or repaired out of these materials, on the edifice or other work constructed or repaired [Louis. Code, art 3216. See, generally, as to privilege. Louis. Code, tit. 21; Code Civ. Tit. 18; Dict. de Juris. tit. Privilege; Lien; Last sickness; Preference].



PRIVILEGE, mar. law.

An allowance to the master of a ship of the general nature with primage, being compensation or rather a gratuity customary in certain trades, and which the law assumes to be a fair and equitable allowance, because the contract on both sides is made under the knowledge such usage buy the parties [3 Chit. Com. Law, 431].



PRIVILEGE, rights.

  1. This word, taken its active sense, is a particular law, or a particular disposition of the law, which grants certain special prerogatives to some persons, contrary to common right. In its passive sense, it is the same prerogative granted by the same particular law.

  2. Examples of privilege may be found in all systems of law; members of congress and of the several legislatures, during a certain time, parties and witnesses while attending court; and coming to and returning from the same; electors, while going to the election, remaining on the ground, or returning from the same, are all privileged from arrest, except for treason, felony or breach of the peace.

  3. Privileges from arrest for civil cases re either general and absolute, or limited and qualified as to time and place.

  4. In the first class may be mentioned ambassadors, and their servants, when the debt or duty has been contracted by the latter since they entered into the service of such ambassador; insolvent debtors duly discharged under the insolvent laws; in some places, as in Pennsylvania, women for any debt by them contracted; and in general, executors and administrators, when sued in their representative character, though they have been held to bail [2 Binn. 440].

  5. In the latter class may be placed, first, members of congress this privilege is strictly personal, and is not only his own, or that of his constituent, but also that of the house of which is a member, which every man is bound to know, and must take notice of [Jeff. Man. 3; 2 Wils. R. 151; Com. Dig. Parliament, D. 17]. the time during which the privilege extends includes all the period of the session of congress, and a reasonable time for going to, and returning from the seat of government [Jeff. Man. 3; Story, Const. 856 to 862; 1 Kent, Com. 221; 1 Dall. R. 296]. The same privilege is extended to the members of the different state legislatures.

  6. Electors under the constitution and laws of the United States, or any state, are protected from arrest for any civil cause, or for any crime except treason, felony, or a breach of the peace, eundo, morando, et redeundo, that is, going to, staying at, or returning from the election.

  7. Militia men, while engaged in the performance of military duty, under the laws, and eundo, morando, et redeundo.

  8. All persons who, either necessarily or of right are attending any court or forum of justice, whether as judge, juror, party interested or witness, and eundo, morando, et redeundo [see 6 Mass. R., 245; 4 Dall. R. 329, 487; 2 John. R. 294; 1 South. R. 366; 11 Mass. R. 11; 3 Cowen, R. 381; 1 Pet. C. C. R. 41].

  9. Ambassadors are wholly exempt from arrest for civil or criminal cases [Vide Ambassador; see, generally, Bac. Ab. h.t.; 2 Rolle’s Ab. 272; 2 Lilly’s Ref. 369; Brownl. 15; 13 Mass. R. 288; 1 Binn. R. 77; 1 H. Bl. 686; Bouv. Inst. Index, h.t.]



A particular and peculiar benefit or advantage enjoyed by a person, company, or class, beyond the common advantages of other citizens. An exceptional or extraordinary power or exemption. A right, power, franchise, or immunity held by a person or class, against or beyond the course of the law.

Privilege is an exemption from some burden or attendance, with which certain persons are indulged, from a supposition of law that the stations they fill, or the offices they are engaged in, are such as require all their time and care, and that, therefore, without this indulgence, it would be impracticable to execute such offices to that advantage which the public good requires [see Lawyers’ Tax Cases, 8 Heisk. (Tenn.) 649; U.S. v. Patrick (C. C.) 54 Fed. 348; Dike v. State, 38 Minn. 366, 38 N. W. 95; International Trust Co. v. American L. & T. Co., 62 Minn. 501, 65 N. W. 78; Com. v. Henderson, 172 Pa. 135, 33 Atl. 368; Tennessee v. Whitworth (C. C.) 22 Fed. 83; Morgan v. Louisiana, 93 U.S. 217, 23 L. Ed. 860; Corfield v. Coryell, 6 Fed. Cas. 551; State v. Gilman, 33 W. Va. 146, 10 S. E. 283, 6 L. R. A. 847].

In the civil law, a right which the nature of a debt gives to a creditor, and which entitles him to be preferred before other creditors [Civil Code La. Art. 3186].

In maritime law, an allowance to the master of a ship of the same general nature with primage, being compensation, or rather a gratuity, customary in certain trades, and which the law assumes to be a fair and equitable allowance, because the contract on both sides is made under the knowledge of such usage by the parties [3 Chit. Commer. Law, 431].

In the law of libel and slander, an exemption from liability for the speaking or publishing of defamatory words concerning another, based on the fact that the statement was made in the performance of a duty, political, judicial, social, or personal. Privilege is either absolute or conditional. The former protects the speaker or publisher without reference to his motives or the truth or falsity of the statement. This may be claimed in respect, for instance, to statements made in legislative debates, in reports of officers to their superiors in the line of their duty, and statements made by judges, witnesses, and jurors in trials in court. Conditional privilege will protect the speaker or publisher unless actual malice and knowledge of the falsity of the statement is shown. This may be claimed where the communication related to a matter of public interest, or where it was necessary to protect one’s private interest and was made to a person having an interest in the same matter [Ramsey v. Cheek, 109 N. C. 270, 13 S. E. 775; Nichols v. Eaton, 110 Iowa, 509, 81 N. W. 792, 47 L. R. A. 483, 80 Am. St. Rep. 319; Knapp & Co. v. Campbell, 14 Tex. Civ. App. 199, 36 S. W. 765; Hill v. Drainage Co., 79 Hun, 335, 29 N. Y. Supp. 427; Cooley v. Galyon, 109 Tenn. 1, 70 S. W. 607, 60 L. R. A. 139, 97 Am. St. Rep. 823; Ruohs v. Backer, 6 Heisk. (Tenn.) 405, 19 Am. Rep. 598; Cranfill v. Hayden, 97 Tex. 544, 80 S. W. 613].

In parliamentary law, the right of a particular question, motion, or statement to take precedence over all other business before the house and to be considered immediately, notwithstanding any consequent interference with or setting aside the rules of procedure adopted by the house. The matter may be one of “personal privilege,” where it concerns one member of the house in his capacity as a legislator, or of the “privilege of the house,” where it concerns the rights, immunities, or dignity of the entire body, or of “constitutional privilege,” where it relates to some action to be taken or some order of proceeding expressly enjoined by the constitution.

  • Privilege from arrest: a privilege extended to certain classes of persons, either by the rules of international law, the policy of the law, or the necessities of justice or of the administration of government, whereby they are exempted from arrest on civil process, and, in some cases, on criminal charges, either permanently, as in the case of a foreign minister and his suite, or temporarily, as in the case of the members of the legislature, parties and witnesses engaged in a particular suit, etc.

  • Privilege tax: a tax on the privilege of carrying on a business for which a license or franchise is required [Adams v. Colonial Mortgage Co., 82 Miss. 263, 34 South. 482, 100 Am. St. Rep. 633; Gulf & Ship Island R. Co. v. Hewes, 183 U. S. 66, 22 Sup. Ct. 26, 46 L. Ed. 86; St. Louis v. Western Union Tel. Co., 148 U. S. 92, 13 Sup. Ct. 485, 37 L. Ed. 380].

  • Real privilege: in English law, a privilege granted to, or concerning, a particular place or locality.

  • Special privilege: in constitutional law, a right, power, franchise, immunity, or privilege granted to, or vested in, a person or class of persons, to the exclusion of others, and in derogation of common right [see City of Elk Point v. Vaughn, 1 Dak. 118, 46 N. W. 577; Ex parte Douglass, 1 Utah, 111].

  • Writ of privilege: a process to enforce or maintain a privilege; particularly to secure the release of a person arrested in a civil suit contrary to his privilege.




PRIV’ILEGE, n. [L. privilegium; privus, separate, private, and lex, law; originally a private law, some public act that regarded an individual.]

  1. A particular and peculiar benefit or advantage enjoyed by a person, company or society, beyond the common advantages of other citizens. A privilege may be a particular right granted by law or held by custom, or it may be an exemption from some burden to which others are subject. The nobles of Great Britain have the privilege of being triable by their peers only. Members of parliament and of our legislatures have the privilege of banking company are privileges granted by the legislature.

    He pleads the legal privilege of a Roman.

    The privilege of birthright was a double portion.

  2. Any peculiar benefit or advantage, right or immunity, not common to others of the human race. Thus we speak of national privileges, and civil and political privileges, which we enjoy above other nations. We have ecclesiastical and religious privileges secured to us by our constitutions of government. Personal privileges are attached to the person; as those of embassadors, peers, members of legislatures, &c. Real privileges are attached to place; as the privileges of the kings palace in England.
  3. Advantage; favor; benefit.

    A nation despicable by its weakness forfeits even the privilege of being neutral.

    Writ of privilege, is a writ to deliver a privileged person from custody when arrested in a civil suit.


PRIV’ILEGE, v.t. [To grant some particular right or exemption to; to invest with a peculiar right or immunity; as, to privilege representatives from arrest; to privilege the officers and students of a college from military duty].

  1. To exempt from ensure or danger.

    This place doth privilege me.

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