What are the central tenets of republicanism

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Last updated: March 28, 2019

A radical ideology for the 18th century, republicanism rejected the need for a monarchy and proposed an elective system of government.

From philosophical perspective, the republican thought was based on the idea of the citizens’ social cohesion and dedication to the public good. In a republic, order could be established only if citizens acted morally and virtuously and were ready to give up their personal desires to the common welfare.1Republicans also believed that human beings had natural affection for each other and were benevolent which could make them compassionate and morally responsible for others.

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Human natural love and kindness to others, natural instinct to be sociable were the forces that attracted and pulled people together. For republicans, these qualities had to be discovered and encouraged in citizens in order to hold them together in a moral republican society.2From an economic perspective, land ownership was central to a republic as it guaranteed a citizen’s independence and dedication to the community. Citizens possessing no landed property such as young men and women could not have the right to vote as they were economically dependent, not free, and could “have no wills of their own”.

3Socially, equality was considered the soul and the most revolutionary idea of republicanism meaning that ability was more important than birth. Many republicans believed in the natural equality of humankind, including Indians and black slaves. However, the concept of equality did not mean that all distinctions had to be eliminated. A republic still needed a natural aristocracy which would consist of the best educated, the wisest and the most______________________________1.

Gordon S. Wood. The American Revolution: A History.

(New York: The Modern Library, 2002), 91-94. 2. Ibid, 100-104. 3. Ibid, 94.

  honest and disinterested citizens elected by the common people to lead and govern them.118th century American republicans also tried to apply their liberal ideas to a free exchange of goods on the global arena. International alliances had to be based on trade and commerce which would maintain peace in a global community just like affection and benevolence were supposed to maintain peace within a nation.2By the state constitutions drawn up after the revolutionary war, Americans institutionalized many of the republican ideals. The main goal was to protect their liberties from potential sources of oppression such as rulers or governors who were deprived of the kind of power that royal governors had previously enjoyed. The state constitutions also included the republican principle of an elective system of government. In an attempt to root out tyranny, all appointments to executive and judicial posts were to be made by the popular legislatures. According to the state constitutions, the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of power were to be separated.

3The state legislatures consisted of the lower and the upper houses, the former providing for the popular representation in government and the latter including the wisest and the best educated citizens, or the natural aristocracy. The state senates had to correct the careless measures of the well-intentioned state houses of representatives the whole system working so as to prevent the state legislatures from becoming tyrannical.4The republican principles incorporated into the provisions of the Articles of Confederation proclaimed the social and political equality of citizens in all the states. Citizens______________________________1. Gordon, 100-101.

 2. Ibid, 107. 3. Ibid, 66-68. 4. Ibid, 69-70. were free to leave their states, settle in new territories, and form new republics without losing their liberties, privileges, or immunities.

Any travel or trade restrictions that had previously existed between the states were to be eliminated. Every state was an independent republic with crucial powers being part of a confederation of similar republics. These provisions made the United States a strong republican confederation.

1However, with the final adoption of the United States Constitution the republican ideology incorporated into the states constitutions and the Articles of Confederation was modified to a certain extent. During the first decade after the Revolutionary war it became clear that the state legislatures often passed unjust and controversial laws. Numerous attempts to change the state constitutions were made. The popular narrow-minded representatives were often interested only in their own states and ignored the recommendations or requirements of the national Congress. Under the new Constitution, the Untied States became a single republican state controlling and regulating the diverse interests and groups in various states.

The previous idea that a republic was to be small and homogenous was rejected. This was a solution to the problem of factious movements in states.2The republican ideology now maintained that “sovereignty in America resided and remained in the people at large, and not in any specific institutions of government.”3 In this way, the republicans solved the problem of two legislatures governing simultaneously the same community. Now the national Congress was the only supreme legislative authority. Furthermore, the Constitution was immune from legislative attempts to change it. 4


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