Legal Definition of Principal

Whoever commits an offense or aids, abets, counsels, commands, induces or procures its commission, is punishable as a principal.6 min read



  1. Whoever commits an offense or aids, abets, counsels, commands, induces or procures its commission, is punishable as a principal; Whoever willfully causes an act to be done which if directly performed by him or another would be an offense against the U.S., is punishable as a principal.
  2. A person who designates another to act as their attorney in fact or agent. This word has several meanings. It is used in opposition to accessory, to show the degree of crime committed by two persons; thus, we say, the principal is more guilty than the accessory after the fact.

Estate Principal

In estates, principal is used as opposed to incident or accessory; as in the following rule: "the incident shall pass by the grant of the principal, but not the principal by the grant of the incident. Accessorium non ducit, sed sequitur suum principale."

It is used in opposition to agent, and in this sense it signifies that the principal is the prime mover.

It is used in opposition to interest; as, the principal being secured tho interest will follow.

It is used also in opposition to surety; thus, we say the principal is answerable before the surety.

Other Definitions

Principal is used also to denote the more important; as, the principal person.

In the English law, the chief person in some inns of chancery is called principal of the house. Principal is also used to designate the best of many things as, the best bed, the best table, and the like.

Principal in Contracts

One who, being competent to contract, and who is sui juris, employs another to do any act for his own benefit, or on his own account.

Who May Act as a Principal?

As a general rule, it may be said, that every person, sui juris, is capable of being a principal, for in all cases where a man has power as owner, or in his own right to do anything, he may do it by another. Married women, and persons who are deprived of understanding, as idiots, lunatics, and others, not sui juris, are wholly incapable of entering into any contract, and, consequently, cannot appoint an agent.

Infants and married women are generally, incapable but, under special circumstances, they may make such appointments. For instance, an infant may make an attorney, when it is for his benefit; but lie cannot enter into any contract which is to Iiis prejudice. A married woman cannot, in general, appoint an agent or attorney, and when it is requisite that one should be appointed, the husband generally appoints for both. Perhaps for her separate property she may, with her husband, appoint an agent or attorney but this seems to be doubted.

Rights of a Principal

A principal has rights which he can enforce, and is liable to obligations which he must perform. These will be briefly considered: The rights to which principals are entitled arise from obligations due to them by their agents, or by third persons.

The rights against their agents:

  1. To call them to an account at all times, in relation to the business of their agency.
  2. When the agent violates his obligations to his principal, either by exceeding his authority, or by positive misconduct, or by mere negligence or omissions in the discharge of the functions of his agency, or in any other manner, and any loss or damage falls on his principal, the latter will be entitled to full indemnity.