What does it mean when you read “know all men by these presents” in a contract?
What’s the purpose of this statement?
Where does it come from?
In this article, we will break down the expression “KNOW ALL MEN BY THESE PRESENTS” so you know all there is to know about it.
We will look at its meaning, its history, its intended purpose and when it may be used.
Are you ready?
Let’s get started!
Table of Contents
“Know all men by these presents” meaning
Contract drafting and formulating legal obligations in a contract requires precision and the proper use of terms to convey the right message ane express the true intention of parties.
The best practice is to use plain English and words that are simple to understand.
Over the years, we’ve seen contract professionals shy away from Latin terms, legal jargon and complicated terms.
So far so good.
Until you read “KNOW ALL MEN BY THESE PRESENTS”.
It’s English and the words seem plain, but what does it mean!!
I’ve capitalized it as that’s exactly how you are likely to see it in a contract or legal instrument.
Why would someone say that in a contract?
You can read “know all men by these presents” as “everyone, take note of the following” or “to the public, take notice”.
Variations of “know all men by these presents”
The expression know all men by these presents can be formulated in several ways but all meaning the same thing:
- Know all men by these presents
- Know ye all me by these presents
- Know all persons by these presents
There may be other variations but these are the most common ones.
History of the expression
The expression “know all men by these presents” or its variations come from the translation of the Latin expression noverint universi which means “know all persons”.
When the term noverint universi per praesentes (i.e. know all persons by these presents) was used, it served as a statement to the public or “all men” to “know” or take notice of what’s contained in the document.
Historically, men conducted business with other men.
Women were not invited to the party!
The reference “all men” is a reflection of how society used to conduct business.
Today, you may see a more ‘modern’ formulation of the noverint universi expression where the “know all men” is removed and only the “by these presents” is kept.
Purpose of the expression
The formulation “know all men” is a way of saying, “everyone, pay close attention to what is being outlined in this document”.
This conveys an intention to make a statement so the public is made aware of something or is notified of something.
As a result, a fully private contract should not necessarily make reference to this expression.
However, a publicly registered deed may make reference to this statement to let everyone know of what’s contained in the deed.
A mortgage is a deed that is registered against a property letting the public know that a bank is a creditor on the property.
Technically, the mortgage deed may use the expression “all men by these presents”.
For example, a general power of attorney may start with a statement saying KNOW ALL MEN BY THESE PRESENTS…
Since the power of attorney is intended to be used by a person to prove that he or she has the power to represent another, there is an element of publicity or public disclosure to it.
For that reason, the power of attorney starts with this expression to imply that the person giving the power of attorney wants to give notice to the public of the designation of an attorney.
Where do we see the expression?
Occasionally, we see the expression or statement “know all men by these presents” in various documents such as:
- Bills of sale
- Assignment agreements
- Release documents
- Deed of property
- Deed of trust
- Security agreement
- Financing statements
- Powers of attorney
- Stock powers
- Release documents
They are not very common but they do surface from time to time.
The expression “know all men by these presents” has been criticized over the years as not having a clear meaning or making reference to outdated, lengthy and offuscating language.
In 1995, Lord Jauncey, in the Trafalgar House Construction case, commented as follows:
“great difficulty in understanding the desire of commercial men to embody so simple an obligation in a document which is quite unnecessarily lengthy, which obfuscates its true purpose and which is likely to give rise to unnecessary arguments and litigation as to its meaning”
Today, sme may continue to come across this expression in contracts or other legal instruments.
Is it really necessary to use this expression?
Not from my perspective but I suspect that it continues to be used as that’s “how it used to be done”!
The expression know all men by these presents is a remnant of past contractual formulations.
It may not be as useful or relevant in the modern days but at some point in our history, it did have its own relevance and merit.
“Know all men” suggests “hey everyone”, “by these presents” suggests “take notice of what I’m about to say” or “have a look at what’s stated here”.
Generally, this expression is used when the contracting parties had an intention to make the content of their agreement public or at least serve a notice to the public.
Back in the days, by referring to “all men” you were referring to the public.
A good example is when a person used to purchase land or property, the property deed would have the statement “know all men by these presents” so everyone is made aware that this person is now the lawful owner of this piece of land.
At the end of the day, we don’t necessarily need this expression in our legal instruments today.