The Constitution for Dummies: Article IV

Ok, I’ve harped plenty of times on the importance of knowing and understanding the Constitution in order to keep our government accountable to it, so on occasion I’m going to slip in these more educational posts. Today I’m going to step through and simply break down Article IV of the U.S. Constitution.

How many of you could, off the top of your head, tell me what Article IV of the Constitution says?

Not many I bet.

It’s difficult to know what our government should be doing if we can’t even define our government’s Constitution. Which, my friends, is what I’m here for.

For a little context, Article IV is directed primarily at states and what they are supposed to do, how they are supposed to do what they are supposed to do, and a few details about how the federal government should interact with the states and their governments.

Article IV, Section 1

What It Says:

“Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State. And the Congress may by general Laws prescribe the Manner in which such Acts, Records and Proceedings shall be proved, and the Effect thereof.”

Historical Context:

With the creation of a new Constitution, the founders wanted to give Congress more power to make more laws about more things. This means that there were going to be national laws that applied universally throughout the country. However, the founders made sure that Congress’s lawmaking power was still quite limited, leaving most of the lawmaking and sovereignty to the states.

This, of course, meant then and still means now that some states can have laws that other states do not have. Some states can have laws that are dramatically different from the laws of another state about the same issue. Some states may even have laws that are diametrically opposed to each other. There is no uniform state law, in other words.

This clause attempts to remedy the problems that could arise from these differences.

What It Means:

The clause says that each state is supposed to honor every other states’ public acts, records and legal reports (court proceedings). So, basically, every state is supposed to give credit to or recognize the laws and legal proceedings that occurred in other states, even if their own laws are different.

For example, if citizens of Wyoming marry, divorce, or adopt children in Wyoming, South Carolina has to recognize and respect these actions as legally valid even if the marriage, divorce or adoption wouldn’t have been legal in South Carolina. The situation is the same with court issues. If a court in one state orders a person to pay money or to stop a certain behavior, the courts in other states must recognize and enforce that state’s order. (Annenberg Classroom)

Further, Article IV, Section 1 also gives Congress power to first, make sure states are respecting and honoring each others laws, and then Congress will help determine for states how to recognize and enforce the various conflicting or differing laws if necessary. For example, Congress may pass a federal law that specifies how states must handle child custody disputes when state laws about that subject are different or when state laws differ in how to set out the process by which a person winning a lawsuit in one state can enforce the order in another state.

Article IV, Section 2

What It Says:

The Citizens of each State shall be entitled to all Privileges and Immunities of Citizens in the several States.

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.

No Person held to Service or Labour 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 Labour, But shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such Service or Labour may be due: (This clause has been nullified by the 13th Amendment).

Historical Context:

At the time, since the states considered themselves sovereign and separate “states” equivalent to being their own separate countries, this contributed to the chaos and anarchy under the Articles of Confederation. One state could treat visiting residents of another state terribly while still treating their own residents with dignity and respect. The founders wanted this variation in treatment to be avoided and eliminated under the new Constitution. They wanted to establish a new precedent of universal expectations of respect and honor among the states.

What It Means:

In short, this article means that states cannot discriminate against citizens of other states. When a citizen of another state enters a state’s borders, that state must treat that citizen with the same fundamental rights that it gives its own citizens. So, for example, California cannot prohibit citizens of Arizona from traveling, owning property or working in California.

Essentially, the basic rights of individuals that are guaranteed by one state to its residents cannot be stripped from visiting residents of other states. States also cannot impose substantially different taxes on residents and nonresidents. However, there are a few distinctions between residents and nonresidents which are permitted— such as giving state residents a right to buy a hunting license at a lower cost.

Section 2 also establishes rules for when an alleged criminal flees to another state. It stipulates that the state to which the fugitive has fled must return the fugitive to the state where the crime was initially committed. This is called extradition and was first created by Congress and originally enforced by the governors of each state.

The adoption of Amendment XIII abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, and therefore nullified the provision in the last clause—something that should have been established from the start.

Article IV, Section 3

What It Says:

“New States may be admitted by the Congress into this Union; but no new States shall be formed or erected within the Jurisdiction of any other State; nor any State be formed by the Junction of two or more States, or parts of States, without the Consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned as well as of the Congress.

The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States; and nothing in this Constitution shall be so construed as to Prejudice any Claims of the United States, or of any particular State.”

Historical Context:

Again, the fear the founders had was that states would take too much into their own hands and end up stirring up chaos and turmoil. They did not want states creating new states within themselves, or joining with other states to make mega states— thereby shifting Congressional representatives, Senators, and representation in general. The point of government is to avoid the state of war (as Hobbes and Locke stipulate) and the federal government needed enough power to keep the states out of such a state of war.

What It Means:

So, Congress is given the power to admit new states into the Union but states were not. No single state can decide to create another state within its borders, and no two or more states can join together to become one state, or join portions of one state with portions of another to create a wholly separate state without the consent of the state legislatures and Congress.

Again, the Constitution stipulates here that it is Congress that will regulate and handle any rules or regulations that pertain to U.S. territories, such as Guam or Puerto Rico. It also grants Congress the power to make the rules and regulations for any property owned by the U.S. federal government, such as national parks or national forests. And finally, the founders wanted to be sure that the Anti-Federalists knew this federal power would not harm the rights of the states and their property, so they included the last sentence. This sentence explicitly states that nothing in the Constitution, here or anywhere else, will harm the rights of either the federal government or the states in disputes over property.

Article IV, Section 4

What It 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.”

Historical Context:

My research on this has produced a couple interesting historical conclusions. So, apparently, this clause is attributed directly to James Madison, which doesn’t surprise me in the least. He wanted to guarantee to those who were skeptical of the new Constitution that the new federal government would, by law, (the Constitution) allow each state to have their own governments, and their own laws, rules and regulations. Essentially, every state is afforded their own republican form of government.

And this is where I see Madison’s personality shine through. You see, he could have just written that the United States will guarantee every state in the union their own government, but he didn’t. He said that the United States will guarantee every state in the union their own Republican government. He was an avid believer in the republican form of government (as he writes so brilliantly about in Federalist 10) and therefore slid that little extra dimension in there. He wanted the state governments to emulate the federal government, to take on similar traits and values and principles—principles synonymous with republican government.

What It Means:

Unfortunately, and based upon one source, this clause has not been widely interpreted. As I mentioned above, some think that it ensures that each state be run as a republic (with a representative democracy of sorts), and not as a monarchy (ruled by a King or Queen) or dictatorship. Courts however have been reluctant to specify what exactly a republican form of government means, leaving that decision exclusively to Congress.

Finally, and seemingly unrelated, the next phrase stipulates that Congress has the power (and obligation) to protect states should a foreign invader threaten them. Also, it grants Congress the power to step in and end aid should the state face a violent uprising within the state itself. It also authorizes the legislature of each state (or the executive, if the legislature cannot be assembled in time) to request federal help when the states face riots or other violence within their own borders.


While this information is hopefully not overly complex or mind blowing, it is knowledge building. As American citizens, in this day and age more than ever, we need to know and understand how our government is supposed to function and why. Especially as we’re watching the tensions between state power and federal power hit a new high in the coronavirus era.

Pay attention. Know your facts. And hold on to your liberty like you never have before.

The Liberty Belle

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