Article 4 Obligations

Last week we promised to fill you in on the obligations created by Article 4 of the U.S. Constitution. Here you go:

  • Section 4 of Article 4 (known as the Republican Guarantee Clause) limits each state to a republican form of government.[1]  Alexander Hamilton and James Madison interpreted elections as the essential characteristic of republican government (Federalist 52 and Federalist 57).  Thus, no state can be governed by a king, a dictator, or military officers.[2]  If any of these were tried, Section 4 would require the federal government to restore a republican form of government. For the same reason, the federal government cannot depose a duly elected state republican government.

  • Section 1 of the Article requires each state to give a measure of respect to the laws and institutions of the other states. This article is often referred to as the Full Faith and Credit Clause. The Article requires that the laws, public records, and court decisions – from each state – should receive the same full faith and credit – in every state – that they have in the state they came from. What it means in practice can be complicated. See this link for a good discussion. 

  • Section 2 of the Article says, “The Citizens of each State shall be entitled to all Privileges and Immunities of Citizens in the several States.”  The intention is to prohibit states from discriminating against people who are from “out of state.” Even so, the states remain free to discriminate in favor of their own citizens with regard to voting rights and some activities like recreational hunting and fishing. The Privileges and Immunities Clause is not controversial today, but it was highly debated when slavery was legal because, among other things, it could determine whether a slave owner could expect to keep his slaves when crossing with them into a free state. For more on the history of this clause, click here and here.

  • Section 2 also requires that “A Person charged in any State with Treason, Felony, or other Crime, who shall flee from Justice, and be found in another State, shall on Demand of the executive Authority of the State from which he fled, be delivered up, to be removed to the State having Jurisdiction of the Crime.”  In addition, “No Person held to Service or Labor in one State, under the Laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in Consequence of any Law or Regulation therein, be discharged from such Service or Labor, but shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such Service or Labor may be due.”  Until the Thirteenth Amendment was ratified in 1865, the last clause of Article 4, Section 2, was used to require the return of escaped enslaved people.

[1] Rozell & Wilcox (2019) point out that the requirement for a republican form of government would not rule out a state wishing to establish a parliamentary system. In fact, the Constitution allows a wide variety of institutional differences in how state governments are structured and function (see pp. 43-47). 

[2] As James Madison noted in Federalist 43, The Guarantee Clause does not require any particular form of republican governmental structure.  In Pacific States Telephone & Telegraph Co. v. Oregon (1912), the Supreme Court has refused to invalidate various forms of partial direct democracy permitted by state law, such as popular initiative and referendum.  For more discussion on Article 4, Section 4, see

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