In a very real sense, every state has a constitution, if by a constitution is meant, in the words of Lord Bryce, "the aggregate of the laws and customs through and under which the public life of a State goes on..." (Studies I 1901). In this sense, every state may be said to have a constitution.
There is, however, a tradition in the history of political thought which describes a constitution in terms of a higher law which is an expression of the will of the people. In this view, the state is created by and is organized by the people in the writing and adoption of a constitution, and government derives its authority, institutions, and procedures from this constitution.
That is why, Thomas Paine maintained that any government which violates the constitution exercises "power without right." If the distinction between constitution and government is ignored, then, Paine argued, there being no check upon the will of the government, it follows that the state is a despotism. A true, written constitution, he held, was always antecedent to the actual government, for, in his words, "The constitution is not the act of its government, but of the people constituting a government" (Elster & Slagstad 1988).
To understand the nature of consti...
Early examples of written constitutions include Solon's constitution of Athens (594 BC) and Cleisthenes' constitution, which reformed the constitution of ancient Athens and set it on a democratic footing in 508 BC.
Aristotle (c. 350 BC) was also one of the first in recorded history to formally make the distinction between law and constitutional law. He was the first to establish the ideas of constitution, the idea of constitutionalism and attempt to classify different forms of constitution/government. The most basic definition he used to describe a constitution in general terms was "the arrangement of the offices in a state". Aristotle's classification of the "forms of government" was intended as a classification of constitutions, both good and bad. Under good constitutions - monarchy, aristocracy, and the mixed kind to which Aristotle applied the same term politeia - one person, a few individuals, or the many rule in the interest of the whole polis. Under the bad constitutions - tyranny, oligarchy, and democracy - the tyrant, the rich oligarchs, or the poor demos, or people, rule in their own interest alone.
Aristotle regarded the mixed constitution as the best arrangement of offices in the polis. Such a politeia would contain monarchic, aristocratic, and democratic elements. Its citizens, after learning to obey, were to be given opportunities to participate in ruling. This was a privilege only of citizens, however, since neither noncitizens nor slaves would have been admitted by Aristotle or his contemporaries in the Greek city-states. Aristotle drew a distinction between the constitution (politeia), the laws (nomoi), and something more ephemeral that corresponds to what