Ellen Latane Tabb's insights [Letter, “Federal Republic,” Sept. 13] into American history are always enlightening, even when one takes a different interpretation. The Constitution's central failure (among a host of others) is that never does it clearly specify what kind of government the United States is.
Deep into the document, Article IV references a "Republican Form of Government", but in reference to the kind of governments the states are required to have ["... guarantee to every state in this union a republican form of government..."]. This phrase arrogates to the federal government the power to force the states to have republican forms of government, but nowhere binds the federal government to be one. ["Protecting Republican Government from Itself: The Guarantee Clause of Article Iv, Section 4" by Jonathan Toren www.law.nyu.edu/sites/default/files/ECM_PRO_060952.pdf explores the variety of interpretations arising from this clause.]
Nowhere does the Constitution apply terms like "democracy", "republic" (except this one oblique mention), "empire", etc. to the government it is creating, and certainly not in the places such as the preamble where one would first look. The closest it comes is the word "union" (whatever that might mean) in the preamble and several other instances. That is the term, during the secession crisis leading to the American Civil War, to which the invading North, and its "Grand Army of the Republic" clung (even though the Confederate government was structured similarly to the northern government).
Jefferson referred to the nascent United States under its new Constitution as an "Empire of Liberty" and, in fact, the United States is most like the Roman Republic, both of which morphed into empires. Soon the United States was buying, bullying, and outright seizing a continent (constrained from taking Canada too, despite several attempts, because it was militarily beaten back) just as Rome's "Veni, Vidi, Vici" legions subjugated the entire Greater Mediterranean only stopped from grabbing Germany by Arminius. The sun never sets on the places the U.S. has military bases, alliances in which we are the dominant partner, or "boots on the ground" in other people's lands.
Like ancient Rome, at one time Americans reaped the fruits of empire, but now its demands drain our resources in an unsustainable paradigm, all because our Constitution shackles our states, but not itself, to a republican model.