Republican Form of Government

Author:William M. Wiecek

Page 2209

The Constitution requires that "The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government" (Article IV, section 4). The ideal of republican government antedated the Constitution and supplied some substantive criteria for the guarantee. The concept of republican government has changed and expanded over time, but it has influenced constitutional development only indirectly.

THOMAS JEFFERSON'S 1776 draft constitution for Virginia, various Revolutionary-era state constitutions, and the NORTHWEST ORDINANCE (1787) mandated republican government in the states or TERRITORIES. When the GUARANTEE CLAUSE was adopted at the CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION OF 1787, the concept of republican government had identifiable connotations to the Revolutionary generation. In a negative sense, it excluded monarchical government and the creation of nobility. Because the Framers believed that internal disorder threatened republican institutions, they fused the guarantee clause with the clause in Article IV authorizing the federal government to suppress domestic violence. But in its positive connotations, republican government implied popular SOVEREIGNTY, a balance and SEPARATION OF POWERS, and LIMITED GOVERNMENT.

The contributions of ALEXANDER HAMILTON and JAMES MADISON in THE FEDERALIST reflected these negative and positive emphases. In numbers 6, 21, 22, 25, 34, and 84, Hamilton stressed the nonmonarchical character of republican governments and the need for a central authority powerful enough to suppress insurrections so as to forestall republican degeneration into absolutism. Madison, however, in numbers 10, 14, 39, and 43, emphasized the representative and majoritarian nature of republican government, contrasting it with direct democracies. SHAYS ' REBELLION in central Massachusetts (1786?1787), rumors of monarchical plots and overtures late in the Confederation period, and federal response to the WHISKEY REBELLION (western Pennsylvania, 1794) lent weight to the emphasis that Hamilton reflected.

Conservative judges in the antebellum period insisted that statutes must conform to "certain vital principles in our free republican governments," in the words of Justice SAMUEL CHASE in CALDER V. BULL (1798) (SERIATIM OPINION.) He claimed that "the genius, the nature, and the spirit of our state governments" voided unconstitutional legislation even without specific constraints in the state constitutions...

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