What Article 4 of the U.S. Constitution Means

How States Get Along With Each Other and the Federal Government's Role

Constitutional Convention
Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States. U.S. Government

Article IV of the U.S. Constitution is a relatively uncontroversial section that establishes the relationship between states and their disparate laws. It also details the mechanism by which new states are permitted to enter the nation and the federal government's obligation to maintain law and order in the event of an "invasion" or other breakdown of a peaceful union.

There are four subsections to Article IV of the U.S. Constitution, which was signed in convention on Sept. 17, 1787, and ratified by the states on June 21, 1788. 

Subsection I: Full Faith and Credit

Summary: This subsection establishes that states are required to recognize the laws passed by other states and accept certain records such as drivers' licenses. It also requires states to enforce the rights of citizens from other states. 

"In early America — a time before copy machines, when nothing moved faster than a horse — courts rarely knew which handwritten document was actually another state’s statute, or which half-illegible wax seal actually belonged to some county court many weeks’ travel away. To avoid conflict, Article IV of the Articles of Confederation said that each state’s documents should get 'Full Faith and Credit' elsewhere," wrote Stephen E. Sachs, a Duke University Law School professor.

The section states:

"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."

Subsection II: Privileges and Immunities

This subsection requires that each state must treat citizens of any state equally. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel F. Miller in 1873 wrote that the sole purpose of this subsection was to "declare to the several States that whatever those rights, as you grant or establish them to your own citizens, or as you limit or qualify, or impose restrictions on their exercise, the same, neither more nor less, shall be the measure of the rights of citizens of other States within your jurisdiction."

The second statement requires states to which fugitives flee to return them to the state demanding custody.

The subsection states:

"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."

A portion of this section was made obsolete by the 13th Amendment, which abolished enslavement in the U.S. The provision stricken from Section II prohibited free states from protecting enslaved people, described as persons "held to Service or Labour," who freed themselves from their enslavers. The obsolete provision directed those enslaved people to "be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such Service or Labour may be due."

Subsection III: New States

This subsection allows Congress to admit new states into the union. It also allows for the creation of a new state from parts of an existing state. "New states may be formed out of an existing state provided all parties consent: the new state, the existing state, and the Congress," wrote Cleveland-Marshall College of Law professor David F. Forte. "In that way, Kentucky, Tennessee, Maine, West Virginia, and arguably Vermont came into the Union."

The section states:

"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.
"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."

Subsection IV: Republican Form of Government

Summary: This subsection allows presidents to send federal law enforcement officials into states to maintain law and order. It also promises a republican form of government.

"The Founders believed that for government to be republican, political decisions had to be made by a majority (or in some cases, a plurality) of voting citizens. The citizenry might act either directly or through elected representatives. Either way, republican government was government accountable to the citizenry," wrote Robert G. Natelson, a senior fellow in constitutional jurisprudence for the Independence Institute.

The section states:

"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."


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Murse, Tom. "What Article 4 of the U.S. Constitution Means." ThoughtCo, Sep. 16, 2020, thoughtco.com/article-iv-constitution-4159588. Murse, Tom. (2020, September 16). What Article 4 of the U.S. Constitution Means. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/article-iv-constitution-4159588 Murse, Tom. "What Article 4 of the U.S. Constitution Means." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/article-iv-constitution-4159588 (accessed December 5, 2022).