Rebellion “Legally” Defined

The following definitions for “rebellion” 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 insurrection against lawful authority which is void of all appearance of justice [30 Am J Rev ed Insurr § 2]. The open and active opposition of a number of citizens or subjects of a country or state to its government [56 Am J1st War § 2]. A term incorrectly applied to the war between the states, otherwise known as the Civil War [30 Am J Rev ed Insurr § 2].

Rebellion does not constitute a war in a legal sense prior to the recognition of the participants as belligerents by the existing domestic government or by foreign nations [30 Am J Rev ed Insurr § 2].

See insurrection.



  1. The taking up arm traitorously against the government and in another, and perhaps a more correct sense, rebellion signifies the forcible opposition and resistance to the laws and process lawfully issued.

  2. If the rebellion amount to treason, it is punished by the laws of the United States with death. If it be a mere resistance of process, it is generally punished by fine and imprisonment [see Dallox, Dict. h. t.; Code Penal, 209].



Deliberate, organized resistance, by force and arms, to the laws or operations of the government, committed a subject [see Hubbard v. Harnden Exp. Co., 10 R. I. 247; State v. McDonald, 4 Port. (Ala.) 455; Crashley v. Press Pub. Co., 74 App. Div. 118, 77 N. Y. Supp. 711].

In the old English law, the term “rebellion” was also applied to contempt of a court manifested by disobedience to its process, particularly of the court of chancery. If a defendant refused to appear, after attachment and proclamation, a “commission of rebellion” issued against him [3 Bl. Comm. 444].

  • Rebellion, commission of: in equity practice, a process of contempt issued on the non-appearance of a defendant.



REBEL’LION, n. [L. rebellio; among the Romans, rebellion was originally a revolt or open resistance to their government by nations that had been subdued in war. It was a renewed war].

  1. An open and avowed renunciation of the authority of the government to which one owes allegiance; or the taking of arms traitorously to resist the authority of lawful government; revolt. Rebellion differs from insurrection and from mutiny. Insurrection may be a rising in opposition to a particular act or law, without a design to renounce wholly all subjection to the government. Insurrection may be, but is not necessarily, rebellion. Mutiny is an insurrection of soldiers or seamen against the authority of their officers.

  • No sooner is the standard of rebellion displayed, than men of desperate principles resort to it.

  1. Open resistance to lawful authority.

  • Commission of rebellion, in law, a commission awarded against a person who treats the king’s authority with contempt, in not obeying his proclamation according to his allegiance, and refusing to attend his sovereign when required; in which case, four commissioners are ordered to attach him wherever he may be found.

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