A republic is a form of government in which the citizens elect representatives, who make all of the decisions for them. This is different from a democracy, in which the people make their own decisions on important issues by voting. This form of government does not have a monarch, but an elected leader. The first republic may have originated in Carthage, North Africa. To explore this concept, consider the following republic definition.

Definition of Republic


  1. A form of government in which the power is held by the people, and exercised by representatives that they choose to e
  2. A nation that is governed by elected representatives, and an elected ruler.


1595-1605       French république

What is a Republic

A republic is a system of government wherein the people elect representatives to make their decisions for them, such as Congress in the United States. This type of government does not have a king or queen, or any inherited monarchy. Rather, the leader of a republic is elected, as is the U.S. President. This is the different from a democracy, which is a system of government wherein people make their own decisions on important issues by voting for or against them.

A republic is the exact opposite of a monarchy, in which one person rises to, or inherits power to rule over the nation. The definition of “people,” however, insofar as who is granted the opportunity to vote has been scrutinized throughout the course of history. Women and minorities, for instance, have been historically denied the right to vote in republican societies. The term “republic” can also refer to any form of government not headed up by a monarch.

History of the Republic

The first known republic may have been established in Carthage in North Africa. Carthage’s republic actually started with two kings who were elected by the senate, which was composed of several hundred wealthy men who served the entirety of their lives. The operation of the government slowly evolved until the senators began electing generals to command the nation’s armies, leaving the kings to run domestic affairs.

Eventually, the people of Carthage began electing leaders known as “shopfets” to run the city. These men were also chosen from the wealthiest of families. Some time later, the citizens became even more involved in the operation of their government, voting on which generals they wanted to have seats in the Senate. Additionally, a group of over 100 judges served as an early form of checks and balances, in that they were positioned to supervise the generals and shopfets, to ensure they remained honest in their dealings.

The history of the republic is similar to that of modern republics, in that they vary widely in both their ideals and their configuration. In classical and medieval Europe, many states were ruled by kings and emperors. Examples of republics such as these had a democratic angle to them, even if they were not considered equal to classical democracies like those which had existed in Athens at the time. More republics began popping up in the Western world beginning in the late 18th century, eventually overtaking absolute monarchy, which was Europe’s most popular system of government, entirely.

Classical Republic

The republic, as it is known in modern times, is entirely different from any of the states in the classical world. There are states from the classical world that are still considered classical republics today, such as Athens and Sparta. Ultimately, the classical republics were either seized by empires, or turned into empires themselves. An example of a republic to which this occurred, was the Roman Republic. The Republic became the Roman Empire after it expanded to the point that it was able to conquer other classical republics in the Mediterranean.

Mercantile Republic Examples

Mercantile republics were smaller states in which the merchant class, which favored a republican style government, became dominant during the late Middle Ages. These states were the wealthier states, despite being small, and they specialized in trade. Examples of republics considered to be mercantile republics, include the city-states of the Italian peninsula, and the Hanseatic League of the Baltic trade route. By the time the Renaissance rolled around, Europe was essentially divided into both monarch states and republic states.

Interestingly, despite the fact that these mercantile republics were significantly wealthier, they were virtually powerless in feudal systems run by rural land owners. For this reason, the mercantile republics began to fight for their own privileges across Europe. The villages of Alpine Switzerland remained free from control by these feudal barons, primarily because they were difficult to access.

Italy had the highest population in Europe at that time, but it also had the weakest central government in all of Europe. The Italian city-states that were not under feudal control were able to expand, and the republics of Venice and Genoa became two of the country’s most powerful city-states insofar as trading and naval power.

Calvinist Republic

Theologian John Calvin was responsible for the Calvinist republic form of government. As head of the Calvinist branch of Protestantism, Calvin preached that the faithful were responsible for overthrowing godless monarchs. Calvinist theology really took off in the Swiss Confederacy, which ended up becoming not only a Calvinist republic, but also one of the biggest and most powerful of all of the medieval republics.

While Calvin did not call for the end of monarchy as a whole, Calvinism was a catalyst influencing republican revolts in England and the Netherlands, among other places. English writers like John Milton and James Harrington called for citizens to reject monarchy and embrace a more republican form of government.

Liberal Republic

The Liberal republic began evolving in response to those liberal and republican writers of the Calvinist republic era. Interestingly, those early republican uprisings ran alongside an up rise in power among the remaining monarchs of early modern Europe. Still, popular writers of the time pushed a philosophy of liberalism, based on ideals of liberty and equality.

Eventually, republican ideas began to spread, particularly in Asia after the United States began to have more of an influence on East Asia in the latter part of the 19th century. This, coupled with the Confucian-inspired political philosophy, which argued in favor of rejecting an unjust government, led to the creation of the liberal republic. America embraced these philosophies, as the Founding Fathers used them to author the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution – which is called the “Bill of Rights.”


After World War II, most of the surviving European colonies were able to gain their independence and become republics. At the time, the two most powerful colonies were those of France and the United Kingdom. While republican France encouraged the establishment of republics in its former colonies, the United Kingdom tried to return to the practice it had followed for its earlier settler colonies: creating independent Commonwealth realms that were all still connected by the same monarchy.

Most of the settler colonies and smaller states within the Caribbean kept this system, but it was ultimately rejected by Africa and Asia. These continents had recently become independent republics, and had already made revisions to their constitutions in doing so. This resulted in their decolonization from the United Kingdom.

The United Kingdom went a different route in the Middle East, and placing local monarchies in such areas as Iraq, Yemen, and Kuwait. However, over time revolutions and coups have resulted in decolonization, and the ultimate overthrow of several monarchs, which were then replaced with republics. To this day, many monarchies still exist, and the Middle East is the only area in the world where many large states continue to be ruled by absolute monarchies.

The Founding Fathers and the Republic

When the Founding Fathers were brainstorming the kind of government they wanted for America, they studied the histories of other nations to determine what worked and what didn’t. Of particular interest to them was the Roman Republic’s government, which had been around a full 2,000 years before the American revolution. The Founding Fathers decided that a republican government was the best possible government for America.

The decision to create a republic was largely influenced by the ideas that the Roman Republic incorporated into its rule. The most attractive principles to which the Founding Fathers were drawn include:

  • Government power is held by the people.
  • The people elect the leaders they want representing them and, in doing so, invest their power in their representatives.
  • The representatives are tasked with helping every citizen in the country they serve, not a select few.

Some of the ideals that guided the Founding Fathers’ choice for a republic included:

  • Fairness – The Founders believed that the elected representatives should create fair laws and, if they did not, they could be easily replaced by other representatives who would.
  • Common Welfare – The laws that those representatives created would benefit everyone in the country, rather than one person in particular, or even a select few.
  • Freedom and Prosperity – The Founders liked the idea of their people being afforded the freedom to live prosperous lives.

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Absolute monarchyA monarch wherein the ruler has absolute and unrestricted power over the citizens of that particular country.
  • Founding Fathers – Those men who created the United States government and drafted its Constitution.
  • Monarchy – A form of government that is run by a monarch.