Article IV of the US Constitution: Obligations of the States & Federal Government

Articles I, II and III define the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government respectively. The US Constitution’s Article Four defines relationships among the governments regarding the following: recognition of each government’s official acts, how a State treats the citizens of another state, extradition of criminal fugitives, return of slaves, admission of new States, and defense of the country from invasion and domestic violence. This Article provides legal definitions for parts of American federalism.

Article IV, Section 1, The Full Faith and Credit Clause

Article IV begins with this sentence: “Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State.”

When a United States citizen resolves an issue within one of the States that resolution must be recognized by all other States. The Full Faith and Credit Clause guarantees this. Without that clause Illinois might not recognize a marriage, divorce, driver’s license, birth record, civil judgment or other actions resolved in Florida. This clause requires recognition of each State’s official acts.

The Full Faith and Credit Clause is relevant to current social issues. Several States have legalized same-sex marriage. Currently the majority of States do not allow this. An open question is whether the Clause will require States to recognize such marriages.

Article IV, Section 2, Privileges, Immunities, Extradition & Fugitive Slaves

The first part of Article IV, Section 2 reads as follows: “The Citizens of each State shall be entitled to all Privileges and Immunities of Citizens in the several States.” This requires a State to treat citizens of other States as it treats its own citizens. The Supreme Court has held that this treatment shall include:

  • protection by the Government
  • the enjoyment of life and liberty
  • the right of a citizen of one State to pass through
  • residence in any other State, for purposes of trade, agriculture, or professional pursuits
  • the benefits of the writ of habeas corpus
  • pursuing lawsuits of any kind in the courts of the State
  • owning and disposing of property, either real or personal
  • exemption from higher taxes than are paid by the citizens of the State

It should be noted this clause differs in meaning and purpose from the Fourteenth Amendment‘s Privileges OR Immunities clause.

The next part of Section 2 deals with the return of criminal fugitives or extradition: “A Person charged in any State with Treason, Felony, or other Crime, who shall flee from Justice, and be found in another State, shall … be delivered up, to be removed to the State having Jurisdiction of the Crime.” Laws based on this clause make warrants of arrest issued by one State effective in another, and for the return of persons committing a crime and fleeing prior to the issuance of a warrant.

The final part of Section 2 was made obsolete by the passage of the 13th Amendment in 1865 abolishing slavery. Slavery was legal when the Constitution was adopted, and Free States were required to return slaves to their owners when the slave had escaped from a Slave State.

Article IV, Section 3, Admission of New States, Governing Federal Property

The Constitution was effective upon the ratification of nine of the then thirteen states. New Hampshire became the ninth on June 21, 1788. The first Constitutional government took office March 4, 1789. At that time neither North Carolina nor Rhode Island had ratified. They did on November 21, 1789 and May 29, 1790 respectively becoming part of the Union. Section 3 provided the basis for the growth to the 50 states of today.

Section 3, Clause 1 gives Congress the power to admit new States. The only limitations were that there could be no new State formed within the borders of an existing State or by combining two States without legislative approval of the States involved. This provision came into play when West Virginia was formed from part of Virginia during the Civil War.

Section 3, Clause 2 gives the Federal Government power over the territory and property of the United States. It is this clause that allows for territories such as Puerto Rico, but it is also this clause that causes problems to the current day regarding the political status of Puerto Ricans.

Article IV, Section 4, Republican Form of Government, Invasion and Insurrection

While Section 3 gives Congress wide latitude in admitting new states to the Union, Article IV, Section 4 commands: “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government,” This means a government that is made up of representatives, rather than the alternative of “direct democracy”. Direct democracy is when all eligible citizens vote on every law. For a State to be admitted to the Union, it must establish a representative or republican government.

This clause was relied upon after the Civil War when Congress delayed “readmission” of many Confederate States and refused to seat their Representatives and Senators.  It was argued that tactics used in those States to limit voting by newly freed black males created “unrepresentative” results, and therefore the governments were not republican.

Under Section 4, the Federal Government is to protect the States from invasion and when requested to assist in quelling insurrection: “The United States … shall protect … against Invasion; … and, against domestic Violence. “

International Law Principles Applied to State Relations

While Article IV gave definition to the relationship of one State to another, it did not address every issue.  The States had delegated certain duties and powers to the central government, but while doing so retained their sovereignty.  This sovereignty had preceded creation of the federal government, being recognized by Britain in the Treaty of Paris which ended the Revolutionary War.  The treaty names each individual State and acknowledges them “to be free sovereign and Independent States”.

International Law developed to regularize relations among sovereigns.  To the extent obligations of the States to each other were not addressed by Article IV, principles of International Law have been applied.




For Further Reading



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