What is Law?

Adapted from Bouvier’s Law Dictionary

Law: A rule of action; any regulation that applies.

Law is generally divided into four principle classes and into three primary jurisdictions:




1. Natural Law (Law of Nature) 1. Common Law
2. The Law of Nations (International Law) 2. Equity
3. Public Law 3. Admiralty and Maritime
4. Private or Civil Law  
When considered in relation to its origin: It is also divided into:
1. Statute Law 1. Natural and Positive
2. Common Law 2. Written and Unwritten
When examined as to its different systems: And into:
1. Civil Law 1. Merchant Law
2. Common Law 2. Martial Law
3. Canon Law  3. Municipal Law
  4. Foreign Law
When applied to objects: When considered as to their duration:
1. Civil Immutable and Arbitrary or Positive
2. Criminal When as to their effect:
3. Penal Prospective and Retrospective

Constitution: The fundamental law of the state, containing the principles upon which a government is founded, and regulating the divisions of its sovereign powers, directing to what persons each of these powers is to be confined, and the manner it is to be exercised.

State: The whole of any people united into one body politic for the defense of their rights, and to do right and justice to others.

Charter: The grant of a sovereign securing the enjoyment of certain rights, or the act of creating a corporation, or the document signifying such grant or act.

Bylaws: Rules and ordinances made by a corporation for its own government that define rights and obligations within its structure.

Rules: Principles or guidelines prescribed for conduct or action.

Ordinances: The lesser laws of a corporation.

Canons: Rules or laws established by a religious order.

Regulation: A rule or order prescribed for the management of government by an executive authority relating to the action of those under its control and having the force and effect of law.

Discipline: Instruction, communicating of knowledge and training to observe and act in accordance with rules and orders.

Doctrine: A rule, principle, theory, or tenet (position held) of law.

Principle: (Where are you coming from?) A fundamental truth or doctrine, as of law; a comprehensive rule of doctrine which furnishes a basis or origin for others; a settled rule of action, procedure, or legal determination. A truth or proposition so clear that it cannot be proved or contradicted unless by a proposition which is still clearer.

Precept: (Where are you now?) A rule imposing a standard of conduct or action.

Purpose: (Where are you going?) That which one sets before him to accomplish or attain; an end sought, intention, or aim; an object to be attained, plan, or project.

Remedies at Law handout: What is Law © 1997 (Rev. 2/14/00)

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Last updated on Tuesday, October 21, 2008