Sovereign “Legally” Defined

The following definitions for “sovereign” 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 ruler; a king; the supreme power in a government.

A gold coin of Great Britain, equivalent in value to one pound.

  • “To the Constitution of the United States the term sovereign is totally unknown. There is but one place where it could have been used with propriety. But, even in that place it would not, perhaps, have comported with the delicacy of those who ordained and established that Constitution. They might have announced themselves ‘sovereign’ people of the United States: But, serenely conscious of the fact, they avoided the ostentatious declaration.” Chrisholm v. Georgia (US) [2 Dall 419, 454, 1 L Ed 440, 455].



  1. A chief ruler with supreme power; one possessing sovereignty. It is also applied to a king or other magistrate with limited powers.
  2. In the United States the sovereignty reside in the body of the people [Vide Rutherf. Inst. 282]
  3. English law: The name of the gold coin of Great Britain of the value of one pound sterling.



A chief ruler with supreme power; a king or other ruler with limited power.

In English law, a gold coin of Great Britain, of the value of a pound sterling.

  • Sovereign people: A term familiarly used to describe the political body, consisting of the entire number of citizens and qualified electors, who, in their collegiate capacity, possess the powers of sovereignty and exercise them through their chosen representatives [see Scott v. Sandford, 19 How. 404, 15 L. Ed. 691].
  • Sovereign power: That power in a state to which none other is superior or equal, and which includes all the specific powers which are necessary to accomplish the legitimate ends and purposes of government [see Boggs v. Merced Min. Co., 14 Cal. 309; Donnelly v. Decker; 58 Wis. 461, 17 N.W. 389, 46 Am. Rep. 637; Com. v. Alger, 7 Cush. (Mass.) 81].
  • Sovereign right: A right which the state alone, or some of its governmental agencies, can possess, and which it possesses in the character of a sovereign, for the common benefit, and to enable it to carry out its proper functions; distinguished from such “proprietary” rights as a state, like any private person, may have in property or demands which it owns [see St. Paul v. Chicago, etc. R. Co. 45 Minn. 387, 48 N.W. 17].
  • Sovereign states: States whose subjects or citizens are in the habit of obedience to them, and which are not themselves subject to any other (or paramount) state in any respect. The state is said to be semi-sovereign only, and not sovereign, when in any respect or respects it is liable to be controlled (like certain of the states in India) by a paramount government (e.g. by the British empire). Brown [says], “In the intercourse of nations, certain states have a position of entire independence of others, and can perform all those acts which it is possible for any state to perform in this particular sphere. These same states have also entire power of self-government; that is, of independence upon all other states as far as their own territory and citizens not living abroad are concerned. No foreign power or law can have control except by convention. This power of independent action in external and internal relations constitutes complete sovereignty.” [Wools. Pol. Science, I. 204].



SOVEREIGN, a. suv’eran. [We retain this babarous orthography from the Norman sovereign. The true spelling would be suveran from the L. supernes, superus.]

1. Supreme in power; possessing supreme dominion; as a sovereign ruler of the universe.
2. Supreme; superior to all others; chief. God is the sovereign good of all who love and obey him.
3. Supremely efficacious; superior to all others; predominant; effectual; as a sovereign remedy.
4. Supreme; pertaining to the first magistrate of a nation; as sovereign authority.

SOVEREIGN, n. suv’eran.

1. A supreme lord or ruler; one who possesses the highest authority without control. Some earthly princes, kings and emperors are sovereigns in their dominions.
2. A supreme magistrate; a king.
3. A gold coin of England, value 20s or $4.44

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