This is an extract from a speech Churchill made in 1947.

Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time; but there is the broad feeling in our country that the people should rule, continuously rule, and that public opinion, expressed by all constitutional means, should shape, guide, and control the actions of Ministers who are their servants and not their masters.

I have to translate this into Japanese, and struggling with the word "constitutional" here. Can anybody explain this to me, or put it in an easier word?

  • It means public opinion expressed in ways allowed by the constitution (and not, for example, through violent measures). Dec 25, 2018 at 7:48

1 Answer 1


Churchill used "Constitutional" here as defined by The Oxford Dictionary as sense 1

Relating to an established set of principles governing a state.

This means that the public opinion which guides the Ministers should be that which is expressed by means consistent with the constitution. By implication this would include formal elections, direct communication with elected representatives, properly conducted opinion polls, referendums and so on: even peaceful mass demonstrations can be considered as constitutional means. What would be excluded would be any sort of violent protest, threats, intimidation, blackmail or other illegal activity.

In the past there have been representations made which were not constitutional at the time but are now regarded as being legitimate. Exmples include:

The St Peter's Field demonstration of 1817 in Manchester which was considered illegal by the ruling classes and was violently dispersed leading to the Peterloo Massacre.

The formation of a trade union in Tolpuddle in 1834 for which the participants were transported to Australia.

The actions of the suffragettes in the early 20th century in pursuit of votes for women which were often illegal, sometimes violent and resulted in imprisonment, hardship, and on at least one occasion death for the campaigners.

The reason that these actions are now considered praiseworthy and even heroic is that the consititution of the time did not give power to the people involved (the working class in the first two cases and women in the third). By 1947 all adults had constitutional rights so Churchill could make the statement that he did.

However the UK does not have a written constitution, its constituion consists of a combination of laws, conventions and legal opinions so deciding what is "constitutional" in the UK is more difficult than it would be in the US for example.

It is difficult to think of a synonym for constitutional means if Japanese does not have a direct translation. Legal methods or Socially acceptable methods come close but do not quite carry the same implication of compliance with the basis of democratic government.

  • Woahh thank you so much Boldben! It totally makes sense now! I found multiple definitions when I looked this word up in my dictionary and weren't able to pick the correct one out of them. I still find it not so easy to put this part into a natural Japanese sentence as you pointed out, but now I'm able to grasp the meaning of it. Thanks for your help!! ^^
    – momo
    Dec 26, 2018 at 12:53

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