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Set of doctrines and practices that form the fundamental organizing principle of a political state. It may be written (e.g., the Constitution of the United States) or partly written and uncodified (e.g., Britain's constitution). Its provisions usually specify how the government is to be organized, what rights it shall have, and what rights shall be retained by the people. Modern constitutional ideas developed during the Enlightenment, when philosophers such as Thomas Hobbes, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and John Locke proposed that constitutional governments should be stable, adaptable, accountable, and open, should represent the governed, and should divide power according to its purpose. The oldest constitution still in force is that of the state of Massachusetts (1780). See alsosocial contract.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on constitution, visit Britannica.com.