Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Republic Definition:

A form of government where the law-makers and administrators are chosen by the people and not king or queen, or chosen thereby.

Related Terms: Democracy, Federalism, Government, Congress

The term originally came into being to contrast the monarchy form of government where law-making authority vested in a king or queen.

John Bouvier’s 1856 American Law Dictionary described republic as follows:

"… government in which there exists an organism by which the opinion of the people … passes over into the public will, that is, law, but in which also the supreme power, or the executive power, returns, either periodically or at stated times, to the people…."

The Constitution of the United States, at Article 4, says:

"The United States shall guarantee to every state in this union a republican form of government, and shall protect each of them against invasion; and on application of the legislature, or of the executive (when the legislature cannot be convened) against domestic violence."

In Pacific State Telephone, Chief Justice White of the Supreme Court of United States wrote of the distiction between a republic and a democracy as follows, at footnote #2:

"Difference between a republic and democracy. In ascertaining the meaning of the phrase "republican form of government" the debates of the constitutional conventions and the federalist papers are of great importance, if not conclusive. The framers of the Constitution recognized the distinction between the republican and democratic form of government, and carefully avoided the latter. The extent of territory of the States alone sufficed, in the judgment of the framers of the Constitution, to condemn the establishment of a democratic form of government. The form of state government perpetuated by the Constitution was the republican form with the three departments of government, in force in all the States at the time of the adoption of the Constitution. The history of other nations does not furnish the definition of the phrase "republican form of government" as those words were used by the framers of the Constitution. They distinguish the American from all other republics by the introduction of the principle of representation. Initiative legislation is invalid because government by the people directly is inconsistent with our form of government. The well-known practices of (a) adopting state constitutions by popular vote, and of (b) local legislation in "town meetings," furnish no precedent for the lodgment of legislative power in the ballot-box."


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