ArtIV.S4.1.1.1 Guarantee of a Republican Form of Government: Historical Background

Article IV, Section 4:

The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government, and shall protect each of them against Invasion; and on Application of the Legislature, or of the Executive (when the Legislature cannot be convened) against domestic Violence.

The first clause of this section, in somewhat different language, was contained in the Virginia Plan introduced in the Convention and was obviously attributable to Madison.1 Through the various permutations into its final form,2 the object of the clause seems clearly to have been more than an authorization for the Federal Government to protect states against foreign invasion or internal insurrection,3 a power seemingly already conferred in any case.4 No one can now resurrect the full meaning of the clause and intent which moved the Framers to adopt it, but with the exception of the reliance for a brief period during Reconstruction the authority contained within the confines of the clause has been largely unexplored.5


  1.  Jump to essay-1 Resd. that a Republican government . . . ought to be guaranteed by the United States to each state. 1 The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, at 22 (Max Farrand ed., 1937). In a letter in April, 1787, to Randolph, who formally presented the Virginia Plan to the Convention, Madison had suggested that an article ought to be inserted expressly guaranteeing the tranquility of the states against internal as well as external danger. . . . Unless the Union be organized efficiently on republican principles innovations of a much more objectionable form may be obtruded. 2 Writings of James Madison 336 (G. Hunt ed., 1900). On the background of the clause, see W. Wiecek, The Guarantee Clause of the U.S. Constitution ch. 1 (1972).
  2.  Jump to essay-2Thus, on June 11, the language of the provision was on Madison's motion changed to: Resolved that a republican constitution and its existing laws ought to be guaranteed to each state by the United States. 1 The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, at 193–94, 206 (Max Farrand ed., 1937). Then, on July 18, Gouverneur Morris objected to this language on the ground that [h]e should be very unwilling that such laws as exist in R. Island ought to be guaranteed to each State of the Union. 2 id. at 47. Madison then suggested language that the Constitutional authority of the States shall be guaranteed to them respectively against domestic as well as foreign violence, whereas Randolph wanted to add to this the language and that no State be at liberty to form any other than a Republican Govt. Wilson then moved, as a better expression of the idea, almost the present language of the section, which was adopted. Id. at 47–49.
  3.  Jump to essay-3Thus, Randolph on June 11, supporting Madison’s version pending then, said that a republican government must be the basis of our national union; and no state in it ought to have it in their power to change its government into a monarchy. 1 id. at 206. Again, on July 18, when Wilson and Mason indicated their understanding that the object of the proposal was merely to protect states against violence, Randolph asserted: The Resoln. has 2 Objects. 1. to secure Republican government. 2. to suppress domestic commotions. He urged the necessity of both these provisions. 2 id. at 47. Following speakers alluded to the dangers of monarchy being created peacefully as necessitating the provision. Id. at 48. See W. Wiecek, The Guarantee Clause of the U.S. Constitution ch. 2 (1972).
  4.  Jump to essay-4 See Article I, § 8, cl. 15.
  5.  Jump to essay-5 See generally W. Wiecek, The Guarantee Clause of the U.S. Constitution (1972).