What is Rights?

Legal Definition
Rights are legal, social, or ethical principles of freedom or entitlement; that is, rights are the fundamental normative rules about what is allowed of people or owed to people, according to some legal system, social convention, or ethical theory. Rights are of essential importance in such disciplines as law and ethics, especially theories of justice and deontology.

Rights are often considered fundamental to civilization, being regarded as established pillars of society and culture, and the history of social conflicts can be found in the history of each right and its development. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, "rights structure the form of governments, the content of laws, and the shape of morality as it is currently perceived."
-- Wikipedia
Legal Definition
This word is used in various senses: 1. Sometimes it signifies a law, as when we say that natural right requires us to keep our promises, or that it commands restitution, or that it forbids murder. In our language it is seldom used in this sense. 2. It sometimes means that quality in our actions by which they are denominated just ones. This is usually denominated rectitude. 3. It is that quality in a person by which he can do certain actions, or possess certain things which belong to him by virtue of some title. In this sense, we use it when we say that a man has a right to his estate or a right to defend himself. Ruth, Inst. c. 2, §1, 2, 3; Merlin,; Repert. de Jurisp. mot Droit. See Wood's Inst. 119.

2. In this latter sense alone, will this word be here considered. Right is the correlative of duty, for, wherever one has a right due to him, some other must owe him a duty. 1 Toull. n. 96.

3. Rights are perfect and imperfect. When the things which we have a right to possess or the actions we have a right to do, are or may be fixed and determinate, the right is a perfect one; but when the thing or the actions are vague and indeterminate, the right is an imperfect one. If a man demand his property, which is withheld from him, the right that supports his demand is a perfect one; because the thing demanded is, or may be fixed and determinate.

4. But if a poor man ask relief from those from whom he has reason to expect it, the right, which supports his petition, is an imperfect one; because the relief which he expects, is a vague indeterminate, thing. Ruth. Inst. c. 2, §4; Grot. lib. 1, c. §4.

5. Rights are also absolute and qualified. A man has an absolute right to recover property which belongs to him; an agent has a qualified right to recover such property, when it had been entrusted to his care, and which has been unlawfully taken out of his possession. Vide Trover.

6. Rights might with propriety be also divided into natural and civil rights but as all the rights which man has received from nature have been modified and acquired anew from the civil law, it is more proper, when considering their object, to divide them into political and civil rights.

7. Political rights consist in the power to participate, directly or indirectly, in the establishment or management of government. These political rights are fixed by the constitution. Every citizen has the right of voting for public officers, and of being elected; these are the political rights which the humblest citizen possesses.

8. Civil rights are those which have no relation to the establishment, support, or management of the government. These consist in the power of acquiring and enjoying property, of exercising the paternal and marital powers, and the like. It will be observed that every one, unless deprived of them by a sen-tence of civil death, is in the enjoyment of his civil rights, which is not the case with political rights; for an alien, for example, has no political, although in the full enjoyment of his civil rights.

9. These latter rights are divided into absolute and relative. The absolute rights of mankind may be reduced to three principal or primary articles: the right of personal security, which consists in a person's legal and uninter-rupted enjoyment of his life, his limbs, his body, his health, and his reputation; the right of personal liberty, which consists in the power of locomotion, of changing situation, or removing one's person to whatsoever place one's inclination may direct, without any restraint, unless by due course of law; the right of property, which consists in the free use, enjoyment, and disposal of all his acquisitions, without any control or diminution, save only by the laws of the land. 1 Bl. 124 to 139.

10. The relative rights are public or private: the first are those which subsist between the people and the government, as the right of protection on the part of the people, and the right of allegiance which is due by the people to the government; the second are the reciprocal rights of husband and wife, parent and child, guardian and ward, and master and servant.

11. Rights are also divided into legal and equitable. The former are those where the party has the legal title to a thing, and in that case, his remedy for an infringement of it, is by an action in a court of law. Although the person holding the legal title may have no actual interest, but hold only as trustee, the suit must be in his name, and not in general, in that of the cestui que trust. 1 East, 497 8 T. R. 332; 1 Saund. 158, n. 1; 2 Bing. 20. The latter, or equitable rights, are those which may be enforced in a court of equity by the cestui que trust. See, generally, Bouv. Ins t. Index, h. t. Remedy.
-- Bouviers Law Dictionary
Legal Definition
As a noun, and taken In an abstract sense, the term means justice, ethical correctness or consenance with the rules of law or the principles of morals. In this sig nification It answers to one meaning of the Latin "jus," and serves to indicate law in the abstract, considered as the foundation of all rights, or the complex of underlying moral principles which impart the character of justice to all positive law, or give it an ethical content. As a noun, and taken in a concrete sense, a right signifies a power, privilege, faculty, or demand, inherent in one person and incident upon another. "Rights" are defined generuily as "powers of free action." And the primal rights pertaining to men are undoubtedly enjoyed by human beings purely as such, being grounded in personality, and existing antecedently to their recognition by positive law. But leaving the abstract moral sphere, and giving to the term a juristic content, a "right" is well defined as "a. capacity residing in one man of controlling, with the assent and assistance of the state, the actions of others." HolL Jut. 69. The noun substantive "a right" signifies that Which jurists denominate a "faculty;" that which resides in a determinate person, by virtue of a given law, and which avails against a person (or answers to a duty lying on a person) other than the person in whom it resides. And the noun substantive "rights" is the plural of the noun substantive "a right." But the expression "right," when it is used as an adjective, is equivalent to the adjective "just," as the adverb "rightly" is equivalent to the adverb "justly." And, when used as the abstract name corresponding to the adjective "right," the noun substantive "right" is synonymous with the noun substantive "justice." Aust. Jur. § 264, note. In a narrower signification, the word denotes an interest or title in an object of property ; a just and legal claim to hold, use, or enjoy it, or to convey or donate it, as he may please. See Co. Litt. 345a. The term "right," in civil society, is defined to mean that which a man is entitled to have, or to do, or to receive from others within the limits prescribed by law. Atchison & N. R. Co., v. Baty, 6 Neb. 40, 29 Am. Rep. 356. That which one person ought to have or receive from another, it being withheld from him, or not in his possession. In this sense, "right" has the force of "claim," and is properly expressed by the Latin "jus." Lord Coke considers this to be the proper signification of the word, especially in writs and pleadings, where an estate is turned to a right; as by discontinuance, disseisin, etc. Co. Litt. 345a. Classification. Rights may be described as perfect or imperfect, according as their action or scope is clear, settled, and determinate, or is vague and unfixed. Rights are either in personam or in rem. A right in personam Is one which imposes an obligation on a definite person. A right in rem is one which imposes an obligation on persons generally; i. e., either on nil the world or on all the world except cortain determinate persons. Thus, lf I am entitled to exclude all persons from a given piece of land, I have a right in rem in respect of that land; and, if there are one or more persens, A., B., and G„ whom I am not entitled to exclude from it, my right is still a right in rem. Sweet. Rights may also be described as either primary or secondary. Primary rights are those which can be created without reference to rights already existing. Secondary rights can only arise for the purpose of protecting or ehforcing primary rights. They are either preventive (protective) or remedlal (reparative.) Sweet Preventive or protective secondary rights exist in order to prevent the infringement or loss of primary rights. They are judicial when they require the assistance of a court of law for their enforcement, and extrajudicial when they are capable of being exercised by the party himself. Remedial or reparative secondary rights are also either judicial or extrajudicial. They may further be divided into

(1) rights of restitution or restoration, which entitle the person injured to be replaced in his original position;

(2) rights of enforcement, which entitle the person injured to the performance of an act by the person bound; and

(3) rights of satisfaction or compensation. Id. With respect to the ownership of external objects of property, righto may be classed as absolute and qualified. An absolute right gives to the person in whom it inheres the uncontrolled dominion over the object at all times and for all purposes. A qualified right gives the possessor a right to the object for cortain purposes or under certain circumstances only. Such is the right of a bailee to recover the article bailed when it has been unlawfully token from him by a stranger. Rights are also either legal or equitable. The former is the case where the person seeking to enforce the right for his own benefit has the legal title and a remedy at law. The latter are such as are enforceable only in equity; as, at the suit of cestui que trust. In constitutional law. There is also a classification of rights, with respect to the constitution of civil society. Thus, according to Blaekstone, "the rights of persons, considered in their natural capacities, are of two sorts,—absolute and relative; absolute, which are such as appertain and belong to particular men, merely as individuals or single persons; relative, which are incident to them as members of society, and standing in various relations to each other." 1 Bl. Comm. 123. And sce In re Jacobs, 33 Hun (N. Y.) 374; Atchison & N. R. Co. v. Baty, 6 Neb. 37, 29 Am. Rep. 356; Johnson v. Johnson, 32 Ala. 637; People v, Berberrich, 20 Barb. (N. Y.) 224. Rights are also classified in constitutional law as natural, civil, and political, to which there is sometimes added the class of "personal rights." Natural rights are those which grow out of the nature of man and depend upon personality, as distinguished from such as are created by law and depend upon civilized seciety; or they are those which are plainly assured by natural law (Borden v. State, 11 Ark. 519, 44 Am. Dec. 217); or those which, by fair deduction from the present physical, moral, social, and religious characteristics of man, he must be invested with, and which he ought to have realized for him in a jural society, in order to fulfill the ends to which his nature calis him. 1 Woolsey, Polit. Science, p. 26. Such are the rights of Ilfe, liberty, privacy, and good reputation. See Black, Const. Law (3d Ed.) 523. Civil rights are such as belong to every citizen of the state or country, or, in a wider sense, to all its inhabitante, and are not connected with the organization or administration of government They include the rights of property, marriage, protection by the laws, freedom of contract, trial by jury, etc. See Winnett v. Adams, 71 Neb. 817, 99 N. W. 681. Or, as otherwise defined, civil rights are rights appertaining to a person in virtue of his citizenship in a state or community. Rights capable of being enforced or redressed in a civil action. Also a term applied to certain rights secured to citizens of the United States by the thirteenth and fourteenth amendments to the constitution, and by various acts of congress made in pursuance thereof. Iowa v. Railroad Co. (C. C.) 37 Fed. 498, 3 L. It A. 554; State v. Powers, 51 N. J. Law, 432, 17 Atl. 969; Bowles v. Habermann, 95 N. Y. 247; People v. Washington, 36 Cal. 658; Fletcher v. Tuttle, 151 111. 41, 37 N. E. 683, 25 In R. A. 143, 42 Am. St. Rep. 220; Hronek v. People, 134 III. 139, 24 N. E. 861, 8 In R. A. 837, 23 Am. St. Rep. 652. Political rights consist in the power to participate, directly or indirectly, in the establishment or administration of government, such as the right of citizenship, that of suffrage, the right to hold public office, and the right of petition. See Black Const Law (3d Ed.) 524; Winnett v. Adams, 71 Neb. 817, 99 N. W. 681. Personal rights is a term of rather vague import, but generally It may be said to mean the right of personal security, comprising those of life, limb, body, health, reputation, and the right of personal llberty. As an adjective, the term "right" means just, morally correct, consonant with ethical principles or rules of positive law. It is the opposite of wrong, unjust, Illegal. "Right" is used in law, as well as in ethica, as opposed to "wrong." Thus, a person may acquire a title by wrong. In old English law. The term denoted an accusation or charge of crime. Fitzh. Nat. Brev. 66 F. See, also, Droit; Jins; Recht. Other compound and descriptive terms.
See also
-- Black's Law Dictionary
Legal Definition
Property; interest; power; prerogative; immunity; privilege. See 57 Or. 192, Aim. Cas. 1913A, 63, 109 Pac. 584.
-- Ballentine's Law Dictionary