A constitution is a set of fundamental principles or established precedents according to which a state or other organization is governed. These rules together make up, i.e. constitute, what the entity is. When these principles are written down into a single collection or set of legal documents, those documents may be said to comprise a written constitution.
- A good constitution cannot alone make a nation’s happiness. A bad one can alone make its unhappiness.
- (fr) Une bonne constitution ne peut suffire à faire le bonheur d’une nation. Une mauvaise peut suffire à faire son malheur.
- Guy Carcassonne, La Constitution (6th ed.). Paris: Éditions du Seuil, p. 33
- The problem in any constitutional change is the great care put to solve the problems of the past instead of grasping those of the future.
- (fr) Le défaut inhérent à tout changement constitutionnel tient au grand soin mis à régler les problèmes du passé au lieu de saisir ceux de l’avenir.
- Olivier Duhamel, Droit constitutionnel 2: Les Démocraties (3rd ed.). Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 2000, p. 105
- A constitution, as Solon said, is good for a certain people and for a certain time. It shouldn’t be mummified.
- (fr) Une constitution, comme disait Solon, est bonne pour un peuple et pour un temps. Il ne faut pas la momifier.
- Charles de Gaulle, quoted in Alain Peyrefitte: C’était De Gaulle. Paris: Gallimard, 2002, p. 250
- A constitution is made of a spirit, institutions, and a practice.
- (fr) Une constitution, c’est un esprit, des institutions, une pratique.
- Charles de Gaulle, Press Conference on 31 January 1964, Élysée Palace, Paris
- The principles of a free constitution are irrecoverably lost, when the legislative power is nominated by the executive.
- Edward Gibbon, History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1838), chapter 3, third paragraph, p. 33.
- Constitutions should consist only of general provisions; the reason is that they must necessarily be permanent, and that they cannot calculate for the possible change of things.
- Constitutions are intended to preserve practical and substantial rights, not to maintain theories.
- Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Davis v. Mills, 194 U.S. 451, 457 (1904).
- Now and then, an extraordinary case may turn up, but constitutional law, like other mortal contrivances, has to take some chances, and in the great majority of instances, no doubt, justice will be done.
- Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Blinn v. Nelson, 222 U.S. 1, 7 (1911).
- By reducing too the faculty of borrowing within it's natural limits, it would bridle the spirit of war, to which too free a course has been procured by the inattention of money -lenders to this law of nature, that succeeding generations are not responsible for the preceding. On similar ground it may be proved that no society can make a perpetual Constitution, or even a perpetual law. The earth belongs always to the living generation. They may manage it then, and what proceeds from it, as they please, during their usufruct. They are masters too of their own persons, and consequently may govern them as they please. But persons and property make the sum of the objects of government. The constitution and the laws of their predecessors extinguished then in their natural course with those who gave them being. This could preserve that being till it ceased to be itself, and no longer. Every constitution then, and every law, naturally expires at the end of 19 years.
- Thomas Jefferson, letter to James Madison (September 6, 1789); reported in Thomas Jefferson Randolph, Memoirs, Correspondence and Private Papers of Thomas Jefferson (1829), volume 3, p. 31.
- I am certainly not an advocate for frequent and untried changes in laws and constitutions. I think moderate imperfections had better be borne with; because, when once known, we accommodate ourselves to them, and find practical means of correcting their ill effects. But I know also, that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.
- Thomas Jefferson, letter to H. Tompkinson (AKA Samuel Kercheval) (1816) .
- A constitution should be short and obscure.
- Attributed to Napoleon; reported in John Holland Rose, The Life of Napoleon I (1901), "Œuvres," volume iii, p. 428.