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n. permission, a right coupled with the power to do an act or order others to act. Often one person gives another authority to act, as an employer to an employee, a principal to an agent, a corporation to its officers, or governmental empowerment to perform certain functions. There are different types of authority including "apparent authority" when a principal gives an agent various signs of authority to make others believe he or she has authority, "express authority" or "limited authority" which spell out exactly what authority is granted (usually a written set of instructions), "implied authority" which flows from the position one holds, and "general authority" which is the broad power to act for another. (See: agency, agent, principal, authorize, apparent authority, ostensible authority)

Copyright © 1981-2005 by Gerald N. Hill and Kathleen T. Hill. All Right reserved.


1 a judicial decision, statute, or rule of law that establishes a principle; precedent.
2 legal permission granted to a person to perform a specified act.
Collins Dictionary of Law © W.J. Stewart, 2006

AUTHORITY, contracts. The delegation of power by one person to another.
     2. We will consider, 1. The delegation 2. The nature of the authority. 3. The manner it is to be executed. 4. The effects of the authority.
     3.-1. The authority may be delegated by deed, or by parol. 1. It may be delegated by deed for any purpose whatever, for whenever an authority by parol would be sufficient, one by deed will be equally so. When the authority is to do something which must be performed through the medium of a deed, then the authority must also be by deed, and executed with all the forms necessary, to render that instrument perfect; unless, indeed, the principal be present, and verbally or impliedly authorizes the agent to fix his name to the deed; 4 T. R. 313; W. Jones, R. 268; as, if a man be authorized to convey a tract of land, the letter of attorney must be by deed. Bac. Ab. h.t.; 7 T. R. 209; 2 Bos. & Pull, 338; 5 Binn. 613;. 14 S. & A. 331; 6 S. & R. 90; 2 Pick. R. 345; 6 Mass. R. 11; 1 Wend. 424 9 Wend. R. 54, 68; 12 Wend. R. 525; Story, Ag. Sec. 49; 3 Kent, Com. 613, 3d edit.; 3 Chit. Com. Law, 195. But it does not require a written authority to sign an unscaled paper, or a contract in writing not under seal. Paley on Ag. by Lloyd, 161; Story, Ag. Sec. 50.
     4.-2. For many purposes, however, the authority may be by parol, either in writing not under seal, or verbally, or by the mere employment of the agent. Pal. on Agen. 2. The exigencies of commercial affairs render such an appointment indispensable; business would be greatly embarrassed, if a regular letter of attorney were required to sign or negotiate a promissory note or bill of exchange, or sell or buy goods, or write a letter, or procure a policy for another. This rule of the common law has been adopted and followed from the civil law. Story, Ag. Sec. 47; Dig. 3, 3, 1, 1 Poth. Pand. 3, 3, 3; Domat, liv. 1, tit. 15, Sec. 1, art. 5; see also 3 Chit. Com. Law, 5, 195 7 T. R. 350.
     5.-2. The authority given must have been possessed by the person who delegates it, or it will be void; and it must be of a thing lawful, or it will not justify the person to whom it is given. Dyer, 102; Kielw. 83. It is a maxim that delegata potestas non potest delegari, so that an agent who has a mere authority must execute it himself, and cannot delegate his authority to a sub-agent. See 5 Pet. 390; 3 Story, R. 411, 425; 11 Gill & John. 58; 26 Wend. 485; 15 Pick. 303, 307; 1 McMullan, 453; 4 Scamm. 127, 133; 2 Inst. 597. See Delegation.
     6. Authorities are divided into general or special. A general authority is one which extends to all acts connected with a particular employment; a special authority is one confined to "an individual instance." 15 East, 408; Id. 38.
     7. They are also divided into limited and unlimited. When the agent is bound by precise instructions, it is limited; and unlimited when be is left to pursue his own discretion. An authority is either express or implied.
     8. An express authority may be by deed of by parol, that is in writing not under seal, or verbally.. The authority must have been actually given.
     9. An implied authority is one which, although no proof exists of its having been actually given, may be inferred from the conduct of the principal; for example, when a man leaves his wife without support, the law presumes he authorizes her to buy necessaries for her maintenance; or if a master, usually send his servant to buy goods for him upon credit, and the servant buy some things without the master's orders, yet the latter will be liable upon the implied authority. Show. 95; Pal. on Ag. 137 to 146.
    10.-3. In considering in what manner the authority is to be executed, it will be necessary to examine, 1. By whom the authority must be executed. 2. In what manner. 3. In what time.
    11.-1. A delegated authority can be executed only by the person to whom it is given, for the confidence being personal, cannot be assigned to a stranger. 1 Roll. Ab. 330 2 Roll. Ab. 9 9 Co. 77 b.; 9 Ves. 236, 251 3 Mer. R. 237; 2 M. & S. 299, 301.
    12. An authority given to two cannot be executed by one. Co. Litt. 112 b, 181 b. And an authority given to three jointly and separately, is not, in general, well executed by two. Co. Litt. 181 b; sed vide 1 Roll. Abr. 329, 1, 5; Com. Dig. Attorney, C 8 3 Pick. R. 232; 2 Pick. R. 345; 12 Mass. R. 185; 6 Pick. R. 198; 6 John. R. 39; Story, Ag. Sec. 42. These rules apply to on authority of a private nature, which must be executed by all to whom it is given; and not to a power of a public nature, which may be executed by all to whom majority. 9 Watts, R. 466; 5 Bin. 484, 5; 9 S, & R. 99. 2. When the authority is particular, it must in general be strictly pursued, or it will be void, unless the variance be merely circumstantial. Co. Litt. 49 b, 303, b; 6 T. R. 591; 2 H. Bl. 623 Co. Lit. 181, b; 1 Tho. Co. Lit. 852.
    13.-2. As to the form to be observed in the execution of an authority, it is a general rule that an act done under a power of attorney must be done in the name Of the person who gives a power, and not in the attorney's name. 9 Co. 76, 77. It has been holden that the name of the attorney is not requisite. 1 W. & S. 328, 332; Moor, pl. 1106; Str. 705; 2 East, R. 142; Moor, 818; Paley on Ag. by Lloyd, 175; Story on Ag. Sec. 146 T 9 Ves. 236: 1 Y. & J. 387; 2 M. & S. 299; 4 Campb. R. 184; 2 Cox, R. 84; 9 Co. R. 75; 6 John. R. 94; 9 John. Pi,. 334; 10 Wend. R. 87; 4 Mass. R. 595; 2 Kent, Com. 631, 3d ed. But it matters not in what words this is done, if it sufficiently appear to be in the name of the principal, as, for A B, (the principal,) C D, (the attorney,) which has been held to be sufficient. See 15 Serg. & R. 55; 11 Mass. R. 97; 22 Pick. R. 168; 12 Mass. R. 237 9 Mass. 335; 16 Mass. R. 461; 1 Cowen, 513; 3 Wend. 94; Story, Ag. Sec. 154,275, 278, 395; Story on P. N., 69; 2 East, R. 142; 7 Watt's R. 121 6 John. R. 94. But see contra, Bac. Ab. Leases, J 10; 9 Co, 77; l Hare & Wall. Sel. Dec. 426.
    14.-3. The execution must take place during the continuance, of the authority, which is determined either by revocation, or performance of the commission.
    15. In general, an authority is revocable, unless it be given as a security, or it be coupled with an interest. 3 Watts & Serg. 14; 4 Campb. N. P. 272; 7 Ver. 28; 2 Kent's Com. 506; 8 Wheat. 203; 2 Cowen, 196; 2 Esp. N. P. Cases, 565; Bac. Abr. h.t. The revocation (q.v.) is either express or implied; when it is express and made known to the person authorized, the authority is at an end; the revocation is implied when the principal dies, or, if a female, marries; or the subject of the authority is destroyed, as if a man have authority to sell my house, and it is destroyed by fire or to buy for me a horse, and before the execution of the authority, the horse dies.
    16. When once the agent has exercised all the authority given to him, the authority is at an end.
    17.-4. An authority is to be so construed as to include all necessary or usual means of executing it with effect 2 H. Bl. 618; 1 Roll. R. 390; Palm. 394 10 Ves. 441; 6 Serg. & R. 149; Com'. Dig. Attorney, C 15; 4 Campb. R. 163 Story on Ag. 58 to 142; 1 J. J. Marsh. R. 293 5 Johns. R. 58 1 Liv. on Ag. 103, 4 and when the agent acts, avowedly as such, within his authority, he is not personally responsible. Pal. on Ag. 4, 5. Vide, generally, 3 Vin. Ab. 416; Bac. Ab. h. f.; 1 Salk. 95 Com. Dig. h.t., and the titles there referred to. 1 Roll. Ab. 330 2 Roll. Ab. 9 Bouv. Inst. Index, h.t. and the articles, Attorney; Agency; Agent; Principal.

AUTHORITY, government. The right and power which an officer has in the exercise of a public function to compel obedience to his lawful commands. A judge, for example, has authority to enforce obedience to his not being correct. Merlin, Repertoire, mot Authentique.

A Law Dictionary, Adapted to the Constitution and Laws of the United States. By John Bouvier. Published 1856.
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