master and servant relationship – same as employer-employee relationship, similar but not identical to a principal-agent relationship

     This page is continued from Fiduciary Relationships:


master and servant:

1. The relation between two persons, one of whom (the master) has authority over the other (the servant), with the power to direct the time, manner, and place of the services provided.  *  This relationship is similar to that of principal and agent, but that terminology applies to employments in which the employee has some discretion, whereas the servant is almost completely under the control of the master.  Also, an agent usually acts for the principal in business relations with third parties, whereas a servant does not.

master-servant relationship (1917) 1. The association between one in authority and a subordinate, especially between an employer and an employee.  *  At common law, this term also designated the husband-wife relationship for purposes of analyzing loss of consortium, but that usage is now obsolete. — aka employer-employee relationship. [1]

     Excerpt from Ernest W. Huffcut, The Law of Agency 193-94 (1901):

     “Torts are the chief subject-matter of the law of master and servant. A servant is employed to perform mechanical or operative acts for his master. While so engaged he may negligently or wilfully injure third persons. in such case it is held that the master is liable for every wrong committed by the servant in the course of the employment and for the master’s benefit.  And it is immaterial whether the master authorized or directed the act; the first inquiry is whether it was within the course of the employment, and a secondary inquiry may be whether it was for the master’s benefit. . . . Contract is the chief subject-matter of the law of principal and agent because an agent is employed mainly to influence third persons to enter into new legal relations with the principal. But an agent may have authority, real or ostensible, to make representations to third persons which when acted Upon involve the principal in a tort liability.  Accordingly we have to discuss here such torts as may be committed by an agent as agent, namely, torts arising from representations made by the agent to a third person in order to induce him to act. These torts differ from those committed by a servant in this, that a servant injures a person by acting upon him or his property, while an agent injures a person by inducing the injured person to act to his own prejudice; and this the agent does by making representations calculated to influence the conduct of the injured person. [4]

master n. (bef. 12c) 1. Someone who has personal authority over another’s services; specifically, a principal who employs another to perform one or more services and who controls or has the right to control the physical conduct of the other in the performance of the services; EMPLOYER <the law of master and servant>.

     Excerpt from William A. Gregory, The Law of Agency and Partnership 5 (3d ed. 2001):

     “[A] master is a species of principal. All masters are pnncipals, but all principals are not necessarily masters. A prin« cipal becomes a master only if his control of the agent’s physical conduct is sufficient. [5]

2. A parajudicial officer (such as a referee, an auditor, an examiner, or an assessor) specially appointed to help a court with its proceedings.  *  A master may take testimony, hear and rule on discovery disputes, enter temporary orders, and handle other pretrial matters, as well as computing interest, valuing annuities, investigating encumbrances on land titles, and the like –usu. with a written report to the court. Fed. R. Civ. P. 53. — aka (in sense 2) special master.

special master (1833) A master appointed to assist the court with a particular matter or case.

standing master (1848) A master appointed to assist the court on an ongoing basis.

3. Someone in command of a vessel or aircraft.

servant (13c) Someone who is employed by another to do work under the control and direction of the employer.  *  A servant, such as a full-time employee, provides personal services that are integral to an employer’s business, so a servant must submit to the employer’s control of the servant’s time and behavior.  See EMPLOYEE.  Cf. MASTER (1).

    Excerpt from H.G. Wood, A Treatise on the Law of Master and Servant § 1, at r 2 (2d ed. 1886).:

     “A servant, strictly speaking, is a person who, by contract or operation of law, is for a limited period subject to the authority or control of another person in a particular trade, business or occupation . . . . The word servant, in our legal nomenclature, has a broad significance, and embraces all persons of whatever rank or position who are in the employ, and subject to the direction or control of another in any department of labor or business. Indeed it may, in most cases, be said‘to be synonymous with employee. [6]

assigned servant (1991) Hist. In early colonial times, , an unpaid servant, usu. a deported convict, sentenced to labor on an estate, especially in America or Australia. — aka assignee.  See ASSIGNMENT SYSTEM.

civil servant See CIVIL SERVANT.

fellow servant See FELLOW SERVANT.

indentured servant (18c) Hist. A servant who contracted to work without wages for a fixed period in exchange for some benefit, such as learning a trade or cancellation of a debt or paid passage to another country, and the promise of freedom when the contract period expired.  *  Indentured servitude could be voluntary or involuntary.  A contract usually lasted from four to ten years, but the servant could terminate the contract sooner by paying for the unexpired time.  Convicts transported to the colonies were often required to serve as indentured servants as part of their sentences.

servant of servants (15c) Hist. A person degraded to extreme servitude.

servantry n. (1860) Servants collectively. [1]


Disclaimer: All material throughout this website is compiled in accordance with Fair Use.

[1]: Black’s Law Dictionary Deluxe Tenth Edition by Henry Campbell Black, Editor in Chief Bryan A. Garner. ISBN: 978-0-314-61300-4

[2]: Ballantine’s Law Dictionary with Pronunciations Third Edition by James A. Ballantine (James Arthur 1871-1949).  Edited by William S. Anderson.  © 1969 by THE LAWYER’S CO-OPERATIVE PUBLISHING COMPANY.  Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 68-30931

[3]:  Ballantine’s Law Dictionary Legal Assistant Edition
by Jack Ballantine 
(James Arthur 1871-1949).  Doctored by Jack G. Handler, J.D. © 1994 Delmar by Thomson Learning.  ISBN 0-8273-4874-6.

[4]: Ernest W. Huffcut, The Law of Agency 193-94 (1901).

[5]: William A. Gregory, The Law of Agency and Partnership 5 (3d ed. 2001).

[6]: H.G. Wood, A Treatise on the Law of Master and Servant § 1, at r 2 (2d ed. 1886).


Back to Fiduciary Relationships

Home Page

Like this website?

Please Support Our Fundraiser

or donate via PayPal:


Disclaimer: Wild Willpower does not condone the actions of Maximilian Robespierre, however the above quote is excellent!

This website is being broadcast for First Amendment purposes courtesy of

Question(s)?  Suggestion(s)?
We look forward to hearing from you!