Officer “Legally” Defined

The following definitions for “officer” 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 term of vague and variant import, the meaning of which varies necessarily with the context and the circumstances surrounding the use of the term [42 Am J1st Pub Of § 2]. A commissioned officer of the Armed Forces [36 Am Jst Mil § 51]. A policeman. One holding or inseparably connected with an office [Metcalf v. Mitchell, 269 US 514, 70 L Ed 384, 46 S Ct 172]. A person who holds an office, either public or private [42 Am J1st Pic Of § 2].

An officer is distinguishable from a person who holds a place of trust or profit. Such places are not offices, and yet they occupy the sam general level in dignity and importance. Members of the legislature are not officers. Their places are places of trust and profit, but they are not offices of trust and profit [Doyle v. Aldermen of Raleigh, 89 NC 133].

See corporate officers; municipal officer; public officer.



  1. He who is lawfully invested with an office.

  2. Officers may be classed into, Executive, as the president of the United States of America, the several governors of the different states. Their duties are pointed out in the national constitution, and the constitutions of the several states, but they are required mainly to cause the laws to be executed and and obeyed.

  3. The legislature; such as members of congress; and of the several state legislatures. These officers are confined in their duties by the constitution, generally to make laws, though sometimes in cases of impeachment, one of the houses of the legislature exercises judicial functions, somewhat similar to those of a grand jury by presenting to the other articles of impeachment; and the other house acts as a court in trying such impeachments. The legislatures have, besides the power to inquire into the conduct of their members, judge of their elections, and the like.

  4. Judicial officers; whose duties are to decide controversies between individuals, and accusations made in the name of the public against persons charged with a violation of the law.

  5. Ministerial officers, or those whose duty it is to execute the mandates, lawfully issued, of their superiors.

  6. Military officers, who have commands in the army; and

  7. Navy officers, who are in command in the navy.

  8. Officers are required to exercise the functions which belong to their respective offices. The neglect to do so, may, in some cases, subject the offender to an indictment [1 Yeates, R. 519]; and in others, he will be liable to the party injured [1 Yeates, R. 506].

  9. Officers are also divided into public officers and those who are not public. Some officers may bear both characters; for example, a clergyman is a public officer when he acts in the performance of such a public duty as the marriage of two individuals [4 Conn. 209]; and he is merely a private person when he acts in his more ordinary calling of teaching his congregation [see 4 Conn. 134; 1 Apple. 155].



The incumbent of an office; one who is lawfully invested with an office. One who is charged by a superior power (and particularly by government) with the power and duty of exercising certain functions.

  • Civil officer: any officer of the United States who holds his appointment under the national government, whether his duties are executive or judicial, in the highest or the lowest departments of the government, with the exception of officers of the army and navy [1 Story, Const. § 792; State v. Clarke, 21 Nev. 333, 31 Pac. 545, 18 L. R. A. 313, 37 Am. St. Rev. 517; State v. O’Driscoll, 3 Brev. (S. C.) 527; Com’rs v. Goldsborough, 90 Md. 193, 44 Atl. 1055].

  • Officer de facto: as distinguished from an officer de jure, this is the designation of one who is in the actual possession and administration of the office, under some colorable or apparent authority, although his title to the same, whether by election or appointment, is in reality invalid or at least formally questioned [see Norton v. Shelby County, 118 U.S. 425, 6 Sup. Ct. 1121, 30 L. Ed. 78; State v. Carroll, 38 Conn. 449, 9 Am. Rep. 409; Trenton v. McDaniel, 52 N. C. 107; Barlow v. Stanford, 82 Ill. 298; Brown v. Lunt, 27 Me. 423; Gregg Tp. Jamison, 55 Pa. 468; Pierce v. Edington, 38 Ark. 150; Plymouth v. Painter, 17 Conn. 585, 44 Am. Dec. 574; Prescott v. Hayes, 42 N. H. 56; Jewell v. Gilbert, 64 N. H. 12, 5 Atl. 80, 10 Am. St. Rep. 357; Griffin v. Cunningham, 20 Grat. (Va.) 31; Ex parte Strang, 21 Ohio St. 610].

  • Officers of justice: a general name applicable to all persons connected with the administration of the judicial department of government, but commonly used only of the class of officers whose duty is to serve the process of the courts, such as sheriffs, constables, bailiffs, marshals, sequestrations, etc.

  • Public officer: an officer of a public corporation; that is, one holding office under the government of a municipality, state, or nation. In English law, an officer appointed by a joint-stock banking company, under the statutes regulating such companies, to prosecute and defend suits in its behalf.




A person commissioned or authorized to perform any public duty. Officers are civil, military, or ecclesiastical. There are great officers of state, and subordinate officers. Military and naval officers of the same grade usually take rank according to the dates of their commissions. Non-commissioned officers are nominated by their captains, and appointed by the commanding officers of regiments.

OF’FICER, v.t.

To furnish with officers; to appoint officers over.

  • Count Pulaski raised a legionary corps, which he officered principally with foreigners.

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