Republic


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Republic

That form of government in which the administration of affairs is open to all the citizens. A political unit or "state," independent of its form of government.

The word republic, derived from the Latin res publica, or "public thing," refers to a form of government where the citizens conduct their affairs for their own benefit rather than for the benefit of a ruler. Historically republics have not always been democratic in character, however. For example, the ancient Republic of Venice was ruled by an aristocratic elite.

In the U.S. historical tradition, the belief in republicanism shaped the U.S. Revolution and Constitution. Before the revolution, leaders developed many political theories to justify independence from Great Britain. Thomas Paine, in his book Common Sense (1776), called for a representative government for the colonies and for a written constitution. Paine rejected the legitimacy of the monarchy to have a part in government. This attack on the king was echoed the following year in the Declaration of Independence, where Thomas Jefferson proposed that colonists reject the monarchy and become republican citizens. Framers of the U.S. Constitution intended to create a republican government. Article IV, Section 4, states "The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government…." Though the language was vague, the authors of the Constitution clearly intended to prevent the rise to power of either a monarchy or a hereditary aristocracy. Article I, Section 9, states, "No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States," and most state constitutions have similar provisions.

The guarantee of republican government was designed to provide a national remedy for domestic insurrection threatening the state governments and to prevent the rise of a monarchy, about which there was some talk at the time.James Madison, the author of many of the essays included in The Federalist Papers (1787–88), put forward a sophisticated concept of republican government. He explained in Number 10 that a republic must be contrasted with a democracy. In the eighteenth century the term "democracy" meant what is now called a pure or direct democracy, wherein legislation is made by a primary assembly of citizens, as existed in several rural Swiss cantons and in New England towns. In a pure democracy, Madison argued, there is no check on the majority to protect the weaker party or individuals and therefore such democracies "have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention," where rights of personal security and property are always in jeopardy.

By a republic, Madison meant a system in which representatives are chosen by the citizens to exercise the powers of government. In Number 39 of The Federalist Papers, he returned to this theme, saying that a republic "is a government which derives all its powers directly or indirectly from the great body of the people; and is administered by persons holding their offices during pleasure, for a limited period, or during good behavior." Generally, such leaders as Madison and John Adams believed that republicanism rests on the foundation of a balanced constitution, involving a Separation of Powers and checks and balances.

The republican form of government has remained a constant in U.S. politics. State constitutions follow the federal constitution in dividing powers among the legislative, executive, and judicial branches. Likewise, states have adopted the various checks and balances that exist between the three branches, including the executive Veto power and Judicial Review.

The U.S. Supreme Court has stayed out of controversies that involve whether the government of a state is republican in character. For example, in Pacific States Telephone and Telegraph Co. v. Oregon, 223 U.S. 118, 32 S. Ct. 224, 56 L. Ed. 377 (1912), the Court declined to rule whether state legislation by initiative and Referendum (legislation approved directly by the people through the ballot) was inconsistent with republicanism. The Court refused to rule because it considered this issue a Political Question outside its jurisdiction. It is now well established that it is the province of Congress and the president, not the courts, to decide whether the government of a state is republican in character.

Cross-references

Constitution of the United States; Federalist Papers; Locke, John.

See: polity

REPUBLIC. A commonwealth; that form of government in which the administration of affairs is open to all the citizens. In another sense, it signifies the state, independently of its form of government. 1 Toull. n. 28, and n. 202, note. In this sense, it is used by Ben Johnson. Those that, by their deeds make it known, whose dignity they do sustain; And life, state, glory, all they gain, Count the Republic's, not their own, Vide Body Politic; Nation; State.

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