“The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government…” ~~Article 4, Section 4, U.S. Constitution
Throughout our history, the one thing all American Patriots have agreed on is that republicanism is the ideal political philosophy for our form of government. The Framers not only believed in this principle, they also knew what it meant.
Like patriotism, freedom, liberty, democracy and deity, republicanism is an abstract term and therefore difficult to precisely define. Most modern nations lay claim to the label of “Republic”, yet few are governed by republican principles. It is obvious that the Soviet Socialist Republics that made up the Soviet Union, The Republic of China, and the United States of America do not have the same form of government. Yet, they all bear the name “Republic”.
If Thomas Jefferson, THE champion of republicanism found its definition elusive, it is no wonder that the average American has difficulty in wrapping their mind around the concept.
“It must be acknowledged that the term republic is of very vague application in every language… Were I to assign to this term a precise and definite idea, I would say purely and simply it means a government by its citizens in mass, acting directly and personally according to rules established by the majority; and that every other government is more or less republican in proportion as it has in its composition more or less of this ingredient of direct action of the citizens. Such a government is evidently restrained to very narrow limits of space and population. I doubt if it would be practicable beyond the extent of a New England township.” –Thomas Jefferson to John Taylor, 1816
In searching the Founding Documents and other writers of the era to discover the idea the Framers had in mind when they wrote Section 4 of Article IV, we come up with two principles that seem to define its core meaning: The rule of law, and representative government. Neither of these is adhered to, in the constitutional sense, by our government today.
The Rule of Law
It is true that the rule of law is necessary for an ordered society. It is equally true that the rule of law has throughout history, been the primary tool of tyranny. Therefore, it is evident that the Founding Fathers did not simply have in mind a “nation ruled by law and not by men” when they devised a republican form of government for our nation. What they meant by “republican government” was a government ruled by laws derived from a Constitution written and approved according to the collective will of all the people, clearly setting forth the authority and duties of government and restricting it to those powers only. Article VI of the Constitution declares it, along with its duly ratified Amendments to be “The Supreme Law of The Land” and “the judges in every state shall be bound thereby”.
In order for a Constitution to be effective as a basis for government it must be (a) written, (b) permanent, and (c) unchangeable other than by lawful amendment procedures. The claim by our present Administration that the Constitution is a “work in progress” to be altered and “perfected” by each succeeding generation is a contradiction of the very meaning of the word itself. It undermines the foundation of republican government and places the liberties of our citizens at the mercy of whatever group of politicians that happens to be in power at any given time.
Article I of the Constitution declares, “ALL legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States…” Through the years, Congress has devised the means for escaping responsibility and accountability for particularly onerous and unpopular laws by establishing bureaucracies and departments within the Executive Branch with “rule making” (legislative) powers. The torrent of regulations and rules flowing from these bureaucratic, regulatory agencies, sometimes by executive order and frequently by judicial mandate, are direct violations of both the letter and spirit of the Constitution which gives ALL legislative powers to the Congress.
Closely associated with the principle of “rule of law”, is that of “representative government“. It was clearly the intent of the Framers that law governing the activities and welfare of the people would be made by representatives chosen by them, to serve in this capacity for a short period of time. While Congress collectively may be said to be elected by the people, individually each member is elected by less than one percent of the total population.
It is this fact, among others, that prompted the Framers to place strict restraints on the powers of Congress, limiting it to matters of national necessity. James Madison summed up the powers of the national government in Federalist No. 41.
“That we may form a correct judgment on this subject, it will be proper to review the several powers conferred on the government of the Union; and that this may be the more conveniently done they may be reduced into different classes as they relate to the following different objects:
- Security against foreign danger;
- Regulation of the intercourse with foreign nations;
- Maintenance of harmony and proper intercourse among the States;
- Certain miscellaneous objects of general utility;
- Restraint of the States from certain injurious acts;
- Provisions for giving due efficacy to all these powers.”
The idea of a federal legislature, not accountable to the collective will of the people, making laws affecting the lives all the people regardless of their unique circumstances and needs, was precisely what the Founders were attempting to avoid when they established a republican form of government with clear boundaries between the powers of the national and state governments.
This principle has been so corrupted over the past century that we now find ourselves in the absurd position where citizens of our poorest states are taxed to fund the profligate spending of those in some of our richest states; Where frugal and productive citizens find the fruits of their labor confiscated from them “by law” to provide luxuries to citizens in other states who are less productive and less frugal than themselves.
That a Congresswoman elected by a fraction of the citizens of one state can dominate legislation and spending affecting the citizens of all states, or that a Senator from one of our least populous states can impose his will by legislation on the most minute details of the lives of more than three hundred millions of citizens would be unthinkable by our Founding Fathers.
It is these perversions of government that have led to revolutions in the past and will again in the future, if allowed to go unchecked. Whether the revolution takes place at the ballot box or in the streets remains to be seen.