legal acceptance of a fact without requiring proof

Presumptions are things that are credited as being true until evidence of their falsity is presented. The concept arises most frequently in legal cases, where doctrines assign presumptions such as the innocence of a person accused of a crime, or a husband's paternity of a child born to his wife.


  • I cannot accept your canon that we are to judge Pope and King unlike other men, with a favorable presumption that they did not wrong. If there is any presumption it is the other way against holders of power, increasing as the power increases.
  • Presumption has many forms; and it is worth considering, whether a great and good Being would most disapprove the presumption which expected too much from His goodness, or the presumption which dared positively to disbelieve His promise.
    • William Arthur, reported in Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895), p. 553.
  • Our sun is one of 100 billion stars in our galaxy. Our galaxy is one of billions of galaxies populating the universe. It would be the height of presumption to think that we are the only living things in that enormous immensity.
    • Wernher von Braun, Text of the Address by von Braun Before the Publishers' Group Meeting, The New York Times Text of the Address by von Braun Before the Publishers' Group Meeting Here 29 April 1960 L. 20, column 2 Wells (April 29, 1960), l. 20, column 2.
  • Presume to lay their hand upon the ark
    Of her magnificent and awful cause.
  • Principle I : Legal rights are presumptive rights.
    • William Ernest Hocking, Present Status of the Philosophy of Law and of Rights (1926), Ch. VI : Presumptive Rights, p. 58.
  • Principle II : The presumptions of the law are creative presumptions : they are aimed at conditions to be brought about, and only for that reason ignore conditions which exist.
    • William Ernest Hocking, Present Status of the Philosophy of Law and of Rights (1926), Ch. VI : Presumptive Rights, § 24, p. 62.
  • If we pretend to respect the artist at all we must allow him his freedom of choice, in the face, in particular cases, of innumerable presumptions that the choice will not fructify.
  • Presumption should never make us neglect that which appears easy to us, nor despair make us lose courage at the sight of difficulties.
    • Stanisław Leszczyński, King of Poland, Duke of Lorrain and Bar, "Reflections on different Subjects of Morality, in The Universal Magazine (1765), p. 119.
  • It is not so with Him that all things knows
    As 'tis with us that square our guess by shows:
    But most it is presumption in us when
    The help of heaven we count the act of men.
  • He will steal himself into a man's favour and for a week escape a great deal of discoveries; but when you find him out, you have him ever after.
Quotes reported in James William Norton-Kyshe, The Dictionary of Legal Quotations (1904), p. 208-209.
  • Presumption means nothing more than, as stated by Lord Mansfield, the weighing of probabilities, and deciding, by the powers of common sense, on which side the truth is.
    • Best, J., King v. Burdett (1820), 1 St. Tr. (N. S.) 114.
  • It is a strong presumption that that which never has been done cannot by law be done at all.
  • It is a familiar principle that all things are presumed to have been rightly done unless there is reasonable ground shown for doubting it.
    • Sir James Hannen, Woodhouse v. Balfour (1887), L. R. 13 Pr. D. 4.
  • When one or more things are proved, from which our experience enables us to ascertain that another, not proved, must have happened, we presume that it did happen, as well in criminal as in civil cases.
    • Best, J., King v. Burdett (1820), 1 St. Tr. (N. S.) 111.
  • It is certainly true, and I most ardently hope that it will ever continue to be the case, that by the law of England, as it was urged and admitted in the case of the Seven Bishops,1 no man is to be convicted of any crime upon mere naked presumption.
    • Holroyd, J., King v. Burdett (1820), 1 St. Tr. (N. S.) 125.
  • No one can doubt that presumptions may be made in criminal as well as in civil cases. It is constantly the practice to act upon them, and I apprehend that more than one half of the persons convicted of crimes are convicted on presumptive evidence.
  • I readily admit that the law which requires presumption or custom to be carried back for a period of nearly 700 years, is a bad and mischievous law, and one which is discreditable to us as a civilised and enlightened people, but such is the law; and while it so continues, I consider myself, in administering it, as bound to administer it as I find it; nor do I feel myself warranted in undermining or frittering it away by subtle fictions or artificial presumptions inconsistent with truth and fact.
  • It follows almost necessarily, from the imperfection and irregularity of human nature, that a uniform course is not preserved during a long period: a little advance is made at one time, a retreat at another; something is added, or taken away, from indiscretion, or ignorance, or through other causes: and, when by the lapse of years the evidence is lost which would explain these irregularities, they are easily made the foundation of cavils against the legality of the whole practice. So also with regard to title: if that which has existed from time immemorial be scrutinised with the same severity which may properly be employed in canvassing a modern grant, without making allowance for the changes and accidents of time, no ancient title will be found free from objection : that, indeed, will become a source of weakness, which ought to give security and strength. It has therefore always been the well-established principle of our law to presume everything in favour of long possession.
    • Littledale, J., R. v. Archdall (1838), 8 A. & E. 288.
  • A presumption of any fact is, properly, an inferring of that fact from other facts that are known; it is an act of reasoning; and much of human knowledge on all subjects is derived from this source.
    • Abbott, C.J., King v. Burdett (1820), 1 St. Tr. (N. S.) 140.
  • Prima facie, every estate, whether given by will or otherwise, is supposed to be beneficial to the party to whom it is so given.
    • Abbott, C.J., Townson v. Tickell (1820), 3 B. & A. 36.
  • If a man go into the London Docks sober without means of getting drunk, and comes out of one of the cellars very drunk wherein are a million gallons of wine, I think that would be reasonable evidence that he had stolen some of the wine in that cellar, though you could not prove that any wine was stolen, or any wine was missed.
  • There is no presumption in this country that every person knows the law: it would be contrary to common sense and reason if it were so.
    • William Henry Maule, J., Martindale v. Falkner (1846), 2 C. B. 720, and characterised by Blackburn, J., in The Queen v. Mayor of Tewkesbury, L. R. 3 Q. B. 629.
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