Constitutional Origin of the Domestic Violence Clause

The Domestic Violence Clause
in Article IV, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution:

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 U.S. Supreme Court said it’s the people of the states who are guaranteed this protection (Texas v. White, 1868).

Constitutional Origin of the Domestic Violence Clause

Your domestic violence clause was not an afterthought tucked into one of the back sections of the Constitution for a small purpose. It was the very centerpiece of the Constitution.

On May 29, 1787, the very first day of business at the Constitutional Convention, the first speaker’s most vehement point was the need to have a central government strong enough to assure survival in the face of threats both domestic and foreign. (Under the Articles of Confederation, the central government was a toothless tiger.)

Other delegates agreed and decided to go beyond their instructions to simply amend the Articles of Confederation. They then began to construct a new central government – one that had as its main purpose the fulfillment of the obligations imposed by Article IV, Section 4: to protect us against both foreign invasion and domestic violence.

Alexander Hamilton considered domestic dangers “more alarming than the arms and arts of foreign nations,” and that the entire resources of the nation are to be made available to deal with a condition of domestic violence. Spending – for whatever danger was at hand – “ought to know no other bounds than the exigencies of the nation and the resources of the community.”

In James Madison’s Notes of Debates (Ohio Univ. Press, 1984), there is no indication that the framers intended Art. IV, Sec. 4 to be limited to temporary insurrections and massive criminal assaults.

At the convention on August 30, 1787, a motion was made to strike out “domestic violence” and insert in its place the term “insurrections.” That motion was defeated. They did not want to limit the federal obligation to any particular type of event. (Page 560 of the Notes.)

Violence was clearly intended to mean more than just rebellions or physical challenge to government.

We’re left with the generic phrase domestic violence. Isn’t it for us to determine what form the danger has taken? Whether that danger is characterized as slow or fast, or as criminal or legal, is beside the point. Those are distinctions without a difference.

If a bullet is speeding toward your heart, it doesn’t matter whether the trigger was pulled by criminal design or by accident. Action is necessary. Response has to be shaped by the nature of the peril.

“All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined could not by force take a drink from the Ohio or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a trial of a thousand years. At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reaches us, it must spring up amongst us. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher.” – Abraham Lincoln

Domestic Violence Clause