Article 4 of the Constitution

Article 4
Article 4 of the constitution protects citizens and states by the federal government.

Click here or scroll down for a summary of Article 4 of the Constitution.

Article IV (Article 4 – States’ Relations)

Article 4, Section 1

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.

Article 4, Section 2

  1. The Citizens of each State shall be entitled to all Privileges and Immunities of Citizens in the several States.
  2. 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.
  3. 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. note 11

Article 4, Section 3

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Article 4, 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 United States Constitution is the oldest constitution in the world still in active use. It was written in 1787 and officially ratified in 1788.

Article 4 of the Constitution Summary

Article 4 of the United States Constitution addresses the roles and responsibilities of the states. This was a topic of great importance when it was written, given the increased power states enjoyed in the pre-Civil War era.

The Article contains four different sections. Each section describes various aspects of states and their duties. Some of the sections are further divided into separate clauses.

Article 4, Section 1

Article 4, Section 1 requires all states to respect and accept each others’ public acts, records, and judicial proceedings.

It further gives Congress the authority to create general legislation to describe how the public acts, records, and judicial proceedings are honored across state lines.

What overall problem did Article 4, Section 1 solve?

This was a vital provision. There had been discord and disunity among states under the original Articles of Confederation until that time. This disunity was especially noticeable during the early stages of the Revolutionary War.

Previously, each state would print money, operate under forms of government contrary to one another, and have vastly different cultures and economies.

The union of states would only work if the states cooperated under the guiding hand of a centralized government, specifically the legislative branch.

Article 4, Section 2

Clause 1

Article 4, Section 2, Clause 1 guaranteed that citizens would have the same privileges and immunities in every state. This promised individual citizens the same basic rights and freedoms as they traveled to other states.

In addition, it prevented states from discriminating against people from other states.

Clause 2

Article 4, Section 2, Clause 2 is an extradition provision for states, requiring a criminal to be returned from the state to which they fled to the jurisdiction of the state where they committed their crimes.

The state where the person fled could not refuse to give up the criminal. This was a necessary provision to maintain a level of law and order in an otherwise free society.

US States
Map showing the states and their flags.

Clause 3

Article 4, Section 2, Clause 3 is the Fugitive Slave Clause. The Fugitive Slave Clause prohibits slaves from escaping their servitude by fleeing to another state, even if the state they fled to prohibits slavery. 

The state government where the slave ran were obligated to return them to their original owner.

The 13th Amendment, passed in 1865, has rendered this clause obsolete by abolishing slavery and any form of involuntary servitude. The exception is the case of punishment for a convicted criminal.

Section 3

Clause 1

Article 4, Section 3, Clause 1 allows for new states into the United States. This was necessary as there was a westward expansion of many American colonies.

Section 3 dealt with the United States’ expansionist ambitions.

If a new state formed from within the boundary of another state or states, both Congress and state legislatures would have to approve the measure.

This process has largely been followed with the formation of all the states of the United States. However, it was tenuously applied when West Virginia was formed from the existing state of Virginia in 1863.

Formation of West Virginia

Amid the Civil War, residents of the western mountainous region of Virginia petitioned Abraham Lincoln to form a separate state from Virginia. Part of the reason is that they were staunchly against slavery.

Photo of Lincoln Memorial
Lincoln was petitioned to form a new state in Virginia.

Unfortunately, while the measure gained approval from what was left of Congress after the Confederate states seceded, it had no chance of getting approval from the Virginia legislature, currently in rebellion.

A hastily formed provisional “Virginia” state legislature was assembled in Wheeling, Virginia.

It approved the formation of that particular state, technically fulfilling the requirements of the constitution that both the state and Congress had to approve a measure to form a new state within its boundary. 

Whether or not this fulfilled the requirements outlined in the clause is still a topic of debate.

welcome to west virginia
The creation of Western Virginia as a state was done slightly different than other states as it was part of Virginia.

Clause 2

Article 4, Section 3, Clause 2 gives Congress the legislative power over any territory or other property owned by the United States, with the right to pass laws and regulations for their governance.

Congress is also given the right to dispose of any territory or property owned by the United States.

For example, if the United States had desired to sell the territory they purchased from Napoleon Bonaparte of France in the Louisiana Purchase to another foreign state, they would have every right to do so.

Section 4

Article 4, Section 4 requires Congress to guarantee every state in the country a republican form of government.

Photo of the United States Capitol
United States Congress.

Both existing and newly formed states were protected from the takeover of a potentially tyrannical government that would oppress their rights at the state level.

It is important to note that Section 4 is a broad provision and that no specific guidelines are given about how Congress would accomplish this, implying that it is the responsibility of the individual states to formulate their government.

On the other hand, Congress would play a more indirect role of simply verifying that the state government is indeed a republican form of government and then approving and admitting that particular state into the union.

Federal Government guarantees the safety of states from a foreign state

Section 4 also ensures the protection of every state from invasion, a necessary provision given the disjointed war effort that characterized the early days of the Revolutionary War.

Revolutionary War reenactment
Section 4 was conceived to prevent a repeat of the disjointed war effort of the Revolutionary War.

Many New England colonies (Massachusetts in particular) found themselves in a state of war in 1775 with the Battles of Lexington, Concord, and Bunker Hill. 

However, many of the other colonies insisted that they were not at war with England, refusing to recognize the conflict of Massachusetts as a legitimate war shared by all the colonies.

If the union of 13 colonies, now states, were to survive in times of war, the federal government would have to unify and guarantee the safety of all of them.

Federal jurisdiction and needful rules to guarantee security

Finally, Section 4 guarantees the safety of individual states from domestic violence upon the legislative branch’s authority, or the executive branch, if the legislative branch could not meet in time to diffuse the situation.

Martin Luther King Jr.
Section 4 was used by the federal government to introduce certain measures during the Civil Rights era of the 1960s.

This portion of Section 4 is the basis of the federal government interfering in the civil unrest characteristic of the Civil Rights era of the 1960s.

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