A Constitution's Constitution?
Cartoon image of the Constitution wagging its finger at the US.

Much of the language related to the states in the seven articles of the original U.S. Constitution addresses either matters of procedure (say, electing members of Congress), or specific policies (e.g., banning the importation of slaves after 1808). However, Article IV establishes two fundamental principles that must be reflected in the very essence of state governments and their constitutions – citizen rights and republican government.

Specifically, Article IV, Section 2, states that: "The Citizens of each State shall be entitled to all Privileges and Immunities of Citizens in the several States." This provision compels each state to guarantee a certain uniform set of rights enjoyed by all citizens of the United States.

Though the language is vague with regard to the specific rights that must be guaranteed to all citizens, the requirement itself is powerful because it speaks to the fundamental relationship between the people and their state government. The list of rights identified in the Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments which were adopted after the U.S. Constitution was ratified) adds to the power of this general requirement for uniform rights by providing specific details.

With regard to republican (i.e., democratic) government, Article IV, Section 4 states that: "The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government, ...."

This requirement also lacks specificity. It does not say, for instance, that the state governments must have a bicameral legislature (indeed, Nebraska has a unicameral legislature, unique among the fifty states). Nor does it mean that, say, the members of state courts must be chosen in a specific way. Nevertheless, the broad requirement of democratic governance determines the fundamental nature of government created by each state constitution.

The U.S. Constitution's Article IV also requires Congress to approve the admission of any new states. Consequently, candidates for statehood must make a convincing demonstration that they are serious about individual rights and republican government.

If these requirements seem obvious today, in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, the former Confederate states resisted the principles of universal citizens' rights and democracy when they resisted allowing social equality and political participation for former slaves. This prompted the Republican-controlled Congress to impose additional requirements in the form of the so-called Civil War amendments, which the former Confederate states were required to incorporate in their constitutions in order to be readmitted to the Union.