The fundamental law, written or unwritten, that establishes the character of a government by defining the basic principles to which a society must conform; by describing the organization of the government and regulation, distribution, and limitations on the functions of different government departments; and by prescribing the extent and manner of the exercise of its sovereign powers. A legislative charter by which a government or group derives its authority to act.
The concept of a constitution dates to the city-states of ancient Greece. The philosopher Aristotle described a constitution as creating the frame upon which the government and laws of a society are built:
A constitution may be defined as an organization of offices in a state, by which the method of their distribution is fixed, the sovereign authority is determined, and the nature of the end to be pursued by the association and all its members is prescribed. Laws, as distinct from the frame of the constitution, are the rules by which the magistrates should exercise their powers, and should watch and check transgressors.
In modern Europe, written constitutions came into greater use during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Constitutions such as that of the United States, created in 1787, were influenced by the ancient Greek models. During the twentieth century, an increasing number of countries around the world concluded that constitutions are a necessary part of democratic or republican government. Many thus adopted their own constitutions.
Constitutions, whether written or unwritten, typically function as an evolving body of legal custom and opinion. Their evolution generally involves changes in judicial interpretation or in themselves, the latter usually through a process called amendment. Amendment of a constitution is usually designed to be a difficult process in order to give the constitution greater stability. On the other hand, if a constitution is extremely... [continues]
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