A Republic is a country where the people rule, as opposed to one controlled by a monarchy or aristocracy or dictatorship. The people are citizens, as opposed to a monarchy, where the people are called "subjects."
The dominant political philosophy is republicanism. Although the concept of republicanism goes back to the Roman republic and to some Italian city-states in the 15th century, modern republics follow the model of the United States (which became a republic in the American Revolution, or France (which became a republic in the French Revolution).
The body of the state in a republic is derived from the people rather that from a monarch, and thus the law is enacted and enforced in the name of the people or of the state its self rather than in the name of the monarch. What defines a republic is not representation. The world's first republic, in Rome, had no representation. All citizens sat in the people's assembly. What defines a republic is, to put it very simply, is no powerful king, no powerful aristocracy, no hereditary power. The citizens rule. A monarchy locates rule in one person who inherits the position. A republic distributes rule in a plurality of persons, offices, and bodies, all of them broadly representative of the various parts of the society, hence the res publica, public thing, the republic. It is separation of powers and checks and balances that define a republic, not representation. Representation can and does play a republican role, by separating legislative deliberation from popular passions. But it is not central to the definition of republic.
Most Republics subscribe to one or more of the following principals:
Modern constitutional monarchies resemble republics in all but name, since the monarch has no real power; they include Britain, Canada, Australia, the Scandinavian countries (Denmark, Norway, Sweden), the Low Countries (Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxemburg), and Japan. Some monarchies are NOT republics because the king has power; Spain and Thailand have moderately powerful kings. Morocco and Saudi Arabia have very powerful kings (as does Kuwait under a different title).
The United States as a Republic
The Constitution of the United States of America, in Article IV, guarantees to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government, however the courts have generally resisted challenges to state governments based on this guarantee, stating that this is a matter for the congress rather than for the courts.
Under this article of the Constitution, it rests with Congress to decide what government is the established one in a State. For as the United States guarantee to each State a republican government, Congress must necessarily decide what government is established in the State before it can determine whether it is republican or not. And when the senators and representatives of a State are admitted into the councils of the Union, the authority of the government under which they are appointed, as well as its republican character, is recognized by the proper constitutional authority. And its decision is binding on every other department of the government, and could not be questioned in a judicial tribunal. ... Yet the right to decide is placed there, and not in the courts.
In the Federalist Papers #10, James Madison discusses the concept of a republic as opposed to a pure democracy. His concept of a republic is a representative democracy and this meaning has become a very commonly cited definition of the word in the United States, though not internationally. It also should be noted that this definition of republic has not been seen by the US courts as being binding on the states. The United States is often referred to as a "constitutional republic," in that one written instrument, embodying a compact between the people and the government, is binding on all levels of government.
Many American popular themes also self-define America as a republic. The "Battle Hymn of the Republic" (a popular fight song for the Union during the Civil War) describes America, in its title, as a republic. The song also connects the concept of American republicanism to the unique role of God in directing the Republic, a concept affirmed in the more modern Pledge of Allegiance, which also connects republicanism to God in its text.
- Luther v. Borden, 48 U.S. 1 (1849).
- Note that "republicanism" is referred to here as denuded of any political party context.
- As the Battle Hymn reads, "as He died to make us holy, let us die to make men free.