The term “Constitution,” referred to the body or general framework of British laws and institutions. In eighteenth-century American political thought “constitution” came to refer to a body of fundamental principles, extracted from human experience, which, in written form, set the limits of governmental power. Older charters of rights and liberties for individual colonies, originally conceived as general references rather than guarantees of fundamental political rights, were reinterpreted as efforts to codify first principles of government. The permanent preservation of rights in a written constitution came to be regarded as a necessary against tyranny.
The idea of a written constitution imparted a new dimension to the law in America. Law is a body of universal principles applied locally. The very universality of those principles gave them permanence; hence law could not be changed completely with time and circumstance but could change only in conformity with the mandates of the Constitution.