What is a Republic?

The government of Armenia, a Republic.
The government of Armenia, a Republic.

What is a Republic?

A republic is a state in which the sovereign power is held, not by a single individual but by citizens of that state through election. Citizenry has the mandate to elect their preferred representatives who are accountable to the citizens. The first republic known was most likely in Carthage, North Africa where the wealthy class (Senate) elected kings to rule throughout their lives. As the government evolved, the participation of citizens in the election of senators increased. In the west, republics that were developed in the 18th century replaced the absolute monarchical system in Europe. Several forms of republics have existed including Classical, Mercantile, Calvinist, and Liberal republics. There were Classical republics that existed in early civilizations such as in Athens and Sparta. In 2017, out of 206 countries and independent territories that use the word republic in their official names, 159 were sovereign states.

Mercantile Republics

Mercantile republics emerged in wealthy trading towns in Italy during the late middle ages. These trading states were controlled by wealthy merchants who despite their wealth, their power remained limited within the feudal system which was dominated by rural landowners. They later aired their grievances fighting for power and more privileges.

Calvinist Republics

During the era of Protestant Reformation, John Calvin advanced the ideology that the ruled had the authority to overthrow irreligious monarchs. Calvinism was later responsible for the revolts in England and the Netherlands.

Liberal Republics

Liberalism was developed in Europe by writers of the Calvinist era, who based their philosophy on liberty and equality. The US founding fathers were influenced by the ideology when formulating the bill of rights for the US.


Most modern republics are headed by the president who has various powers depending on the country’s system. The parliament has governing authority in parliamentary republics reducing the president’s role to a ceremonial and apolitical one. In a semi-presidential system such as in Switzerland, a committee of persons act in the capacity of the head of state. Heads of States in entirely presidential systems have considerable authority and play an active role in politics. The citizenry elects the head of states in most of these countries, except in countries where an electoral college elects the president.

Republic Versus Constitutional Monarchy

A thin line exists between a Republic government and a constitutional monarchy. Constitutional monarchies are similar to republics in that both are under a constitutional framework which controls and holds the head of state accountable. However, a monarchy is hereditary while a republic is led by an elected official of the citizens’ choice. In most constitutional monarchies, the monarch plays a ceremonial role and is in office as a servant of the people.

Modern Republics

In modern times, two common types of republics exist, the federal and unitary republics. A federal republic, such as the US, is one which the country is divided into states or provinces which are autonomous from national governments. A unitary republic, however, is governed by one legislature even though divisions such as provinces may exist. The common feature of most republics is their concern for the welfare of the public. For this purpose, the republics are governed by the rule of law which gives the public a right to participate in issues of governance and enhancing democracy in the process. Some of the modern republics include the US since 1776, Paraguay since 1811, Mexico since 1924, Brazil since 1889, Ethiopia since 1974, Israel since 1948, and Ireland since 1949 among many others.


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