Republican form of government

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The republican form of government is one in which the powers of sovereignty are vested in the people who exercise them through elected representatives. Unlike direct democracy or the democratic form of government, in which the powers of sovereignty are vested directly in the whole body of free citizens, the republican form of government is a representative democracy. The Founders of the United States strongly opposed a direct democracy, or lawmaking directly by the people themselves.

The U.S. Constitution guarantees a republican form of government to the states. (See Art. IV, Sec. 4)

Basic concept

The Republican form is based on the foundation that people are supreme, and governments are instituted to help secure their rights to life, liberty and property. Examples of sovereign prerogatives are the right to defend private property with deadly force, right of locomotion (freedom to travel) upon public roads and waterways, and free exercise of rights and powers. The source and origin of the republican form is found in the Declaration of Independence, wherein all men have Creator endowed rights that governments were instituted to secure. All state constitutions restate the Declaration's self evident truths.

Philosophical foundations

The political philosophy of the classical republics, such as The Roman republic, Icelandic Commonwealth, and the Carthaginian Republic, has had a central influence on republican thought throughout the subsequent centuries. A number of classical writers discussed forms of government alternative to monarchies and later writers have treated these as foundational works on the nature of republics. Philosophers and politicians advocating for republics, such as Machiavelli, Montesquieu, Adams, and Madison, relied heavily on these sources.

Case law

More than 2,300 judicial decisions refer to the "republican form of government," roughly half from federal courts and the other half from state courts.


As of November 2023, a total of 34 decisions in Ohio state court refer to a "republican form of government." Here are some examples:

"It is a well settled general doctrine that the courts are incompetent to rule upon questions which are political in their nature rather than judicial. In regard to political questions, the legislature has full power to act unless prohibited by constitutional provisions.

"The question whether a state has a republican form of government is a political one. So also, generally speaking, are matters relating to elections . . ."

16 O. Jur. 3d, Constitutional Law, Section 344.

See also Pacific States T&T v. Oregon, 223 U.S. 118, holding that the provisions of Article IV, Section 4 of the constitution do not authorize the judiciary to substitute its judgment as to a matter purely politica.

Huenergardt -vs- Canton, No. CA-6066, 1983 Ohio App. LEXIS 13094, at *10-11 (Ct. App. Feb. 11, 1983).

3. To the extent that the contention urges that to include the referendum within state legislative power for the purpose of apportionment is repugnant to § 4 of Article I of the Constitution, and hence void even if sanctioned by Congress because beyond the constitutional authority of that body, and hence that it is the duty of the judicial power so to declare, we again think the contention is plainly without substance for the following reasons: It must rest upon the assumption that to include the referendum in the scope of the legislative power is to introduce a virus which destroys that power, which in effect annihilates representative government and causes a State where such condition exists to be not republican in form in violation of the guarantee of the Constitution. Const., § 4, Art. IV. But the proposition and the argument disregard the settled rule that the question of whether that guarantee of the Constitution has been disregarded presents no justiciable controversy but involves the exercise by Congress of the authority vested in it by the Constitution. Pacific Telephone Co. v. Oregon, 223 U.S. 118. In so far as the proposition challenges the power of Congress as manifested by the clause in the act of 1911 treating the referendum as a part of the legislative power for the purpose of apportionment where so ordained by the state constitutions and laws, the argument but asserts, on the one hand, that Congress had no power to do that which from the point of view of § 4 of Article I, previously considered, the Constitution expressly gave the right to do. In so far as the proposition may be considered as asserting, on the other hand, that any attempt by Congress to recognize the referendum as a part of the legislative authority of a State is obnoxious to a republican form of government as provided by § 4 of Article IV, the contention necessarily but reasserts the proposition on that subject previously adversely disposed of. And that this is the inevitable result of the contention is plainly manifest, since at best the proposition comes to the assertion that because Congress, upon whom the Constitution has conferred the exclusive authority to uphold the guarantee of a republican form of government, has done something which it is deemed is repugnant to that guarantee, therefore there was automatically created judicial authority to go beyond the limits of judicial power and in doing so to usurp congressional power on the ground that Congress had mistakenly dealt with a subject which was within its exclusive control free from judicial interference.

Ohio ex rel. Davis v. Hildebrant, 241 U.S. 565, 569-70, 36 S. Ct. 708, 710 (1916)

Common misconceptions

It is a common error to assume that a republic is synonymous with a republican form of government. Many are misled to assume that the republican form is merely a populist democracy limited by a constitution. In fact, exercising political liberty (voting and holding office) requires one to step down in status, changing from the republican form to the democratic form. American citizens are assumed to have voluntarily accepted obligations and duties associated with democracy that are inapplicable to the people at large. For example, conscription, if compulsory, would be a violation of liberty and life. However, in American law, sovereign people are not subjects to or objects of such impositions - only citizens are obligated.

Another misconception is that elected officials in the legislature are representatives of the people at large. In fact, they can only represent constituents, i.e., citizens / voters who gave consent, thus power of attorney to bind them to obedience. In a republican form, the individual's delegated representative who exercises power on his behalf, in defense of his life, liberty or property rights is not the legislature but the appropriate executive officer. A sheriff, if within a county, is his representative. Or an ambassador is his representative, if within a foreign nation.

Essential elements

Since property and sovereignty are inseparable, one without property cannot exercise dominion (sovereignty). Absolute ownership by an individual of land, houses, and chattels, characterizes private property. Private property is protected from being taken for public use without just compensation (see U.S. Constitution, Fifth Amendment). To exercise natural liberty, a domicile (legal permanent home) is essential. Powers and rights are the prerogatives of a sovereign, while privileges and immunities are the prerogatives of a citizen.

Current Trends

Due to the widespread enrollment into Social Security (national socialism), private property ownership has been practically eradicated within the U.S.A. In its place, qualified ownership has superseded it. Socialism (and Communism) abolish absolute ownership by individuals, and replace it with collective ownership by society, as a whole. Thus it would appear that the republican form has been supplanted by the democratic form of government.


REPUBLICAN GOVERNMENT. One in which the powers of sovereignty are vested in the people and are exercised by the people, either directly, or through representatives chosen by the people, to whom those powers are specially delegated. In re Duncan, 139 U.S. 449, 11 S.Ct. 573, 35 L.Ed. 219; Minor v. Happersett, 88 U.S. (21 Wall.) 162, 22 L.Ed. 627.

"What I do say is that no man is good enough to govern another man without that other's consent. I say this is the leading principle, the sheet-anchor of American republicanism. Our Declaration of Independence says: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." —Abraham Lincoln, Speech at Peoria, Illinois (1854)