Friday, April 29, 2016

Constitution Series Part 25: Article IV, Sections 3 and 4


Section 3
New States may be admitted by the Congress into this Union; but no new State 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.
This article regards the the addition of states to the Union--an issue that came up quickly, as the Republic of Vermont was admitted to the Union as the 14th state less than a year after the last of the original 13 states ratified the Constitution.

Basically, all it takes to become a state is for Congress to grant a territory statehood. Originally there was language in there that demanded that new states would be equal to other states, not somehow lesser than the original thirteen. This language was dropped through the efforts of several people at the Constitutional Convention, who feared the political power additional states might have in overruling the original colonies. However, despite these efforts, every new state has been granted equal status by Congress upon statehood, and the Supreme Court eventually turned that habit into doctrine.

The process to become a state is as follows:
1) Congress passes an act that explains the process a territory must go through to become a state. Usually this process is simply for them to draft a state constitution, though Congress has thrown in additional conditions on occasion.
2) The state-to-be submits its constitution to Congress for review. Congress may request revisions.
3) Congress approves the state and its constitution. Sometimes the President is involved.

This clause also covers the creation of new states out of the territories of existing states. Basically, it can happen, but only if Congress and the state being divided up agree to it. For example, before 1820 Maine was a territory of Massachusetts, similar to the northern arm of Michigan. After repeated requests to secede from Massachusetts, though, Massachusetts relented. Maine was admitted to the Union as part of the Missouri Compromise, with Maine being a new Free State and Missouri being a new Slave State.
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.
The purpose and reach of this clause is a topic of debate due to the vague language used.

Given that it's in this section of the Constitution, I interpret it to mean that Congress has the power to control U.S. territories before they become states. Presumably, most U.S. territory at the time of the Constitution was expected to eventually become one state or another. In fact, all states except for Vermont and Texas were U.S. territories before being admitted as states. Before that admission, though, the territories needed to be controlled by somebody. According to this clause, that somebody would be Congress, which had the power to determine how the territory would be governed in the meantime.

For a while that seemed to be the case, but Congress's power over the territories was seriously questioned as a result of the Dred Scott case, which basically ruled that Congress could not prohibit slavery in the territories.

On the other hand, some people have used this clause to indicate the federal government's total control over its property within the states, including things like national parks and the like. However, I think that was already covered back in Article I, and it doesn't make sense as a thing to bring up again in this section.

Basically, this clause is an example of the dangers of ambiguity. I think my interpretation makes sense, but since the clause wasn't heavily discussed at the Constitutional Convention, the original intention is lost to time.

Section 4
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.
The last section of Article IV guarantees a few things to the states of the Union: a republican government and protection from violence, both domestic and foreign.

So, first, what's a republican government? The consensus came down to three criteria:
1) The government would be ruled by the people, generally via elections. Electoral decisions would be made through popular vote.
2) No monarchs. Not even constitutional monarchy would suffice--the very existence of a monarch runs counter to the ideals of a republic.
3) No retroactive laws, particularly the ones covered in the first clause in Article I, Section 10. Ex post facto laws, and the like.

The guarantee of protection was important, since it means that a President that, for whatever reason, doesn't like a certain state can not simply allow that state to get attacked. It's the federal government's duty to protect all of the states, for obvious reasons.


That wraps up the Constitution's words on states, their rights, and their interaction with the federal government. All things considered, there isn't much to be said about these things. Most of the relationship between states and the federal government was hammered out over the centuries, and the discussion shows no sign of coming to an end.

To some degree, though, the people have spoken through their votes: more people vote in national elections than local/state elections, which indicates to me that they care more about federal control than state control. Further, more people vote in presidential elections than other national elections, which indicates to me that people want to give more control to the president than Congress. Votes are power.

I'd personally prefer if it were the other way around; I'd prefer people voted more in local and state elections, which involves governments that have or should have more of an effect on your daily life than the federal government does. However, as long as people pay more attention to national and presidential elections, that will not be the case. For better or worse, it's the people who decide; and not voting is itself a decision that has an effect on your life.

Continue to Part 26: Article V

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