Founders’ Purpose: America’s State and Local Form of Government as Guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution
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What is the purpose and impact of Article IV, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution in that “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government”? How does this form relate to the republican (representative) styles such as Commission Form, County Administrator, Elected Executive, City-County Consolidation, Constitutional Row Offices or Home Rule Authority to ensure power remains in the hands of each American, preventing a monarchy or aristocracy in each state and local government?
The idea of a republican government was raised at the Constitutional Convention in the atmosphere of the just-ended War for Independence. The primary target of the signers of the Declaration has been the English king, who was designated a tyrant. This same target lies in the background in discussions of the governmental form. In addition, the Founders had read widely in ancient and recent history and had studied many forms of government labeled as republics. Their conclusions were ambiguous. They were not agreed as to what a republic was, but they did agree on what it was not. The meaning of Article IV, Section 4, then has to be understood in this light. For the Founders, it meant simply that government was not a monarchy. So to guarantee a monarchy was to eliminate monarchy as legitimate, but then to “fill in details” as to what it was by drawing on many diverse sources in order to design the best constitutional form. In a positive sense, therefore, a republic contained elements of democracy, aristocracy and some executive function, though never only a monarchy. It was also viewed as a form in which all power was limited and checked in various ways.
It is then the task of architects of governmental forms to design governmental structures to discover those institutional structures that promote republican government. Obviously this means no monarchy (or one-man rule), but that itself does not tell us what forms are best or whether we may have “sneaked” in one-man rule in other guises. It was in the late nineteenth century, during the Progressive Era, that unique forms of government began to be proposed at state and local levels.
The motives behind the Progressive Movement treated the Constitution as an outmoded document in the light of a complex and changing society. But one aspect of that movement was a desire for more democracy at all levels of government. By itself, that desire could be beneficial insofar as it marked a return to consent as the basis for governments. This democratizing trend then was consistent with the spirit of Article IV, Section 4. However, it’s weakness would be a failure to maximize the use of checks and balances at state and local levels, leaving the elected bodies themselves with virtually sole power with no limits except those imposed by state and Federal constitutions.
In particular, institutions like Home Rule government do bring the people closer to those who govern them, but at the same time, can increase centralization of government. So even though the officials of those urban areas might be elected, the number of officials elected might be smaller and there might be no enforceable constitutional limits. It is necessary therefore to carefully design institutions, even though we might construct more democratic processes.
Marc A. Clauson is Professor of History, Law and Political Economy and Professor in Honors at Cedarville University. Marc holds a PhD from the University of the Orange Free State, SA, Intellectual History and Polity); JD (West Virginia University College of Law, Jurisprudence); MA, ThM (Liberty University, New Testament Studies and Church History); MA (Marshall University, Political Science); BS (Marshall University, Physics); and PhD work (West Virginia University, Economic Theory).
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