Popular sovereignty

Popular sovereignty

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Popular sovereignty or the sovereignty of the people is the political principle that the legitimacy of the state
Sovereign state
A sovereign state, or simply, state, is a state with a defined territory on which it exercises internal and external sovereignty, a permanent population, a government, and the capacity to enter into relations with other sovereign states. It is also normally understood to be a state which is neither...

 is created and sustained by the will or consent of its people
Consent of the governed
"Consent of the governed" is a phrase synonymous with a political theory wherein a government's legitimacy and moral right to use state power is only justified and legal when derived from the people or society over which that political power is exercised...

, who are the source of all political power
Political power
Political power is a type of power held by a group in a society which allows administration of some or all of public resources, including labour, and wealth. There are many ways to obtain possession of such power. At the nation-state level political legitimacy for political power is held by the...

. It is closely associated with Republicanism
Republicanism
Republicanism is the ideology of governing a nation as a republic, where the head of state is appointed by means other than heredity, often elections. The exact meaning of republicanism varies depending on the cultural and historical context...

 and the social contract
Social contract
The social contract is an intellectual device intended to explain the appropriate relationship between individuals and their governments. Social contract arguments assert that individuals unite into political societies by a process of mutual consent, agreeing to abide by common rules and accept...

 philosophers, among whom are Thomas Hobbes
Thomas Hobbes
Thomas Hobbes of Malmesbury , in some older texts Thomas Hobbs of Malmsbury, was an English philosopher, best known today for his work on political philosophy...

, John Locke
John Locke
John Locke FRS , widely known as the Father of Liberalism, was an English philosopher and physician regarded as one of the most influential of Enlightenment thinkers. Considered one of the first of the British empiricists, following the tradition of Francis Bacon, he is equally important to social...

 and Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a Genevan philosopher, writer, and composer of 18th-century Romanticism. His political philosophy influenced the French Revolution as well as the overall development of modern political, sociological and educational thought.His novel Émile: or, On Education is a treatise...

. Popular sovereignty expresses a concept and does not necessarily reflect or describe a political reality. It is often contrasted with the concept of parliamentary sovereignty
Parliamentary sovereignty
Parliamentary sovereignty is a concept in the constitutional law of some parliamentary democracies. In the concept of parliamentary sovereignty, a legislative body has absolute sovereignty, meaning it is supreme to all other government institutions—including any executive or judicial bodies...

, and with individual sovereignty.

Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin
Dr. Benjamin Franklin was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. A noted polymath, Franklin was a leading author, printer, political theorist, politician, postmaster, scientist, musician, inventor, satirist, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat...

 expressed the concept when he wrote, "In free governments, the rulers are the servants and the people their superiors and sovereigns."

The term "squatter sovereignty" is used by Jefferson Davis in his book A Short History of the Confederate States of America
A Short History of the Confederate States of America
A Short History of the Confederate States of America is a memoir written by Jefferson Davis, completed shortly before his death in 1889. Davis wrote most of this book while staying at Beauvoir along the Mississippi Gulf Coast near Biloxi, Mississippi....

. This term referred to the influx of new citizens in order to manipulate the ultimate sovereign votes.

Popular sovereignty also can be described as the voice of the people
Vox populi
Vox populi , a Latin phrase that literally means voice of the people, is a term often used in broadcasting for interviews with members of the "general public".-Vox pop, the man on the street:...

.

History


The Declaration of Arbroath
Declaration of Arbroath
The Declaration of Arbroath is a declaration of Scottish independence, made in 1320. It is in the form of a letter submitted to Pope John XXII, dated 6 April 1320, intended to confirm Scotland's status as an independent, sovereign state and defending Scotland's right to use military action when...

 of 1320 makes clear that the King of Scots at the time, Robert the Bruce, only held his position as monarch subject to him resisting English
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 attempts to control Scotland
Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

 and makes it clear that another king would be chosen if he failed to live up to this responsibility. This has been viewed as a suggestion of popular sovereignty
Sovereignty
Sovereignty is the quality of having supreme, independent authority over a geographic area, such as a territory. It can be found in a power to rule and make law that rests on a political fact for which no purely legal explanation can be provided...

 - especially at a time when 'the Divine right of Kings
Divine Right of Kings
The divine right of kings or divine-right theory of kingship is a political and religious doctrine of royal and political legitimacy. It asserts that a monarch is subject to no earthly authority, deriving his right to rule directly from the will of God...

' was widely accepted, though the reality was that it would have been nobles
Nobility
Nobility is a social class which possesses more acknowledged privileges or eminence than members of most other classes in a society, membership therein typically being hereditary. The privileges associated with nobility may constitute substantial advantages over or relative to non-nobles, or may be...

 rather than the people at large who would have done any choosing.

Popular sovereignty is an idea that also dates to the social contracts school (mid-17th to mid-18th centuries), represented by Thomas Hobbes
Thomas Hobbes
Thomas Hobbes of Malmesbury , in some older texts Thomas Hobbs of Malmsbury, was an English philosopher, best known today for his work on political philosophy...

 (1588–1679), John Locke
John Locke
John Locke FRS , widely known as the Father of Liberalism, was an English philosopher and physician regarded as one of the most influential of Enlightenment thinkers. Considered one of the first of the British empiricists, following the tradition of Francis Bacon, he is equally important to social...

 (1632–1704), and Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a Genevan philosopher, writer, and composer of 18th-century Romanticism. His political philosophy influenced the French Revolution as well as the overall development of modern political, sociological and educational thought.His novel Émile: or, On Education is a treatise...

 (1712–1778), author of The Social Contract, a prominent literary work that clearly highlighted the ideals of "general will" and further matured the idea of popular sovereignty. The central tenet is that legitimacy of rule or of law
Law
Law is a system of rules and guidelines which are enforced through social institutions to govern behavior, wherever possible. It shapes politics, economics and society in numerous ways and serves as a social mediator of relations between people. Contract law regulates everything from buying a bus...

 is based on the consent of the governed
Consent of the governed
"Consent of the governed" is a phrase synonymous with a political theory wherein a government's legitimacy and moral right to use state power is only justified and legal when derived from the people or society over which that political power is exercised...

. Popular sovereignty is thus a basic tenet of most democracies
Democracy
Democracy is generally defined as a form of government in which all adult citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives. Ideally, this includes equal participation in the proposal, development and passage of legislation into law...

. Hobbes and Rousseau were the most influential thinkers of this school, all postulating that individuals choose to enter into a social contract with one another, thus voluntarily giving up some rights in return for protection from the dangers.

A parallel development of a theory of popular sovereignty can be found among the School of Salamanca (see e.g. Francisco de Vitoria
Francisco de Vitoria
Francisco de Vitoria, OP was a Spanish Renaissance Roman Catholic philosopher, theologian and jurist, founder of the tradition in philosophy known as the School of Salamanca, noted especially for his contributions to the theory of just war and international law...

 (1483–1546) or Francisco Suarez
Francisco Suárez
Francisco Suárez was a Spanish Jesuit priest, philosopher and theologian, one of the leading figures of the School of Salamanca movement, and generally regarded among the greatest scholastics after Thomas Aquinas....

 (1548–1617)), who (like the theorists of the divine right
Divine Right
Divine Right may refer to:* The Divine right of kings, the doctrine that a monarch derives his or her power directly from God* Episcopal polity, the doctrine that is required in the church jure divino, i.e...

 of kings) saw sovereignty as emanating originally from God
God
God is the English name given to a singular being in theistic and deistic religions who is either the sole deity in monotheism, or a single deity in polytheism....

, but (unlike those theorists) passing from God
God
God is the English name given to a singular being in theistic and deistic religions who is either the sole deity in monotheism, or a single deity in polytheism....

 to all people equally, not only to monarch
Monarch
A monarch is the person who heads a monarchy. This is a form of government in which a state or polity is ruled or controlled by an individual who typically inherits the throne by birth and occasionally rules for life or until abdication...

s.

Republic
Republic
A republic is a form of government in which the people, or some significant portion of them, have supreme control over the government and where offices of state are elected or chosen by elected people. In modern times, a common simplified definition of a republic is a government where the head of...

s and popular monarchies are theoretically based on popular sovereignty. However, a legalistic notion of popular sovereignty does not necessarily imply an effective, functioning democracy
Democracy
Democracy is generally defined as a form of government in which all adult citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives. Ideally, this includes equal participation in the proposal, development and passage of legislation into law...

: a party or even an individual dictator
Dictator
A dictator is a ruler who assumes sole and absolute power but without hereditary ascension such as an absolute monarch. When other states call the head of state of a particular state a dictator, that state is called a dictatorship...

 may claim to represent the will of the people, and rule in its name, pretending to detain auctoritas
Auctoritas
Auctoritas is a Latin word and is the origin of English "authority." While historically its use in English was restricted to discussions of the political history of Rome, the beginning of phenomenological philosophy in the twentieth century expanded the use of the word.In ancient Rome, Auctoritas...

.

Popular sovereignty in the United States



The application of the doctrine of popular sovereignty receives particular emphasis in American history, notes historian Christian G. Fritz's American Sovereigns: The People and America's Constitutional Tradition Before the Civil War, a study of the early history of American constitutionalism. In describing how Americans attempted to apply this doctrine prior to the territorial struggle over slavery that led to the Civil War, political scientist Donald S. Lutz noted the variety of American applications:
The American Revolution marked a departure in the concept of popular sovereignty as it had been discussed and employed in the European historical context. With their Revolution, Americans substituted the sovereignty in the person of King George III, with a collective sovereign—composed of the people. Thenceforth, American revolutionaries generally agreed and were committed to the principle that governments were legitimate only if they rested on popular sovereignty – that is, the sovereignty of the people. This idea—often linked with the notion of the consent of the governed—was not invented by the American revolutionaries. Rather, the consent of the governed and the idea of the people as a sovereign had clear 17th and 18th century intellectual roots in English history.

1850s



In the 1850s, in the runup to the Civil War, Northern Democrats led by Senator Lewis Cass
Lewis Cass
Lewis Cass was an American military officer and politician. During his long political career, Cass served as a governor of the Michigan Territory, an American ambassador, a U.S. Senator representing Michigan, and co-founder as well as first Masonic Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Michigan...

 of Michigan and Stephen A. Douglas
Stephen A. Douglas
Stephen Arnold Douglas was an American politician from the western state of Illinois, and was the Northern Democratic Party nominee for President in 1860. He lost to the Republican Party's candidate, Abraham Lincoln, whom he had defeated two years earlier in a Senate contest following a famed...

 of Illinois promoted popular sovereignty as a middle position on the slavery issue. It said that actual residents of territories should be able to decide by voting whether or not slavery would be allowed in the territory. The federal government did not have to make the decision, and by appealing to democracy Cass and Douglas hoped they could finesse the question of support for or opposition to slavery. Douglas applied popular sovereignty to Kansas in the Kansas Nebraska Act which passed Congress in 1854. The Act had two unexpected results. By dropping the Missouri Compromise of 1820 (which said slavery would never be allowed in Kansas), it was a major boost for the expansion of slavery. Overnight outrage united anti-slavery forces across the North into an "anti-Nebraska" movement that soon was institutionalized as the Republican Party, with its firm commitment to stop the expansion of slavery. Second, pro- and anti-slavery elements moved into Kansas with the intention of voting slavery up or down, leading to a raging civil war, known as "Bleeding Kansas
Bleeding Kansas
Bleeding Kansas, Bloody Kansas or the Border War, was a series of violent events, involving anti-slavery Free-Staters and pro-slavery "Border Ruffian" elements, that took place in the Kansas Territory and the western frontier towns of the U.S. state of Missouri roughly between 1854 and 1858...

." Abraham Lincoln targeted popular sovereignty in the Lincoln-Douglas Debates of 1858, leaving Douglas in a position that alienated Southern pro-slavery Democrats who thought he was too weak in his support of slavery. The Southern Democrats broke off and ran their own candidate against Lincoln and Douglas in 1860.

See also

  • Claim of Right 1989
    Claim of Right 1989
    A Claim of Right for Scotland was a document crafted by the Scottish Constitutional Convention in 1988, declaring the sovereignty of the Scottish people...

  • Consent of the governed
    Consent of the governed
    "Consent of the governed" is a phrase synonymous with a political theory wherein a government's legitimacy and moral right to use state power is only justified and legal when derived from the people or society over which that political power is exercised...

  • Declaration of Arbroath
    Declaration of Arbroath
    The Declaration of Arbroath is a declaration of Scottish independence, made in 1320. It is in the form of a letter submitted to Pope John XXII, dated 6 April 1320, intended to confirm Scotland's status as an independent, sovereign state and defending Scotland's right to use military action when...

  • Philosophical anarchism
    Philosophical anarchism
    Philosophical anarchism is an anarchist school of thought which contends that the state lacks moral legitimacy while not supporting violence to eliminate it...

  • Legitimacy (political)
  • Retroversion of the sovereignty to the people
    Retroversion of the sovereignty to the people
    The Retroversion of the sovereignty to the people, which challenged the legitimacy of the colonial authorities, was the principle underlying the Spanish American Independence processes....

  • Scottish Constitutional Commission
    Scottish Constitutional Commission
    The Scottish Constitutional Commission is an independent and non-partisan think-tank founded in 2005 by John Drummond, Chris Thomson and Canon Kenyon Wright, formerly of the Scottish Constitutional Convention...

  • Sovereign Citizen Movement
    Sovereign citizen movement
    The sovereign citizen movement is a loose network of American litigants, commentators and financial scheme promoters, classified as an "extremist anti-government group" by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation....


Further reading

  • Childers, Christopher. "Interpreting Popular Sovereignty: A Historiographical Essay," Civil War History Volume 57, Number 1, March 2011 pp. 48-70 in Project MUSE
  • Etcheson, Nicole. "The Great Principle of Self-Government: Popular Sovereignty and Bleeding Kansas," Kansas History 27 (Spring-Summer 2004):14-29, links it to Jacksonian Democracy
    Jacksonian democracy
    Jacksonian democracy is the political movement toward greater democracy for the common man typified by American politician Andrew Jackson and his supporters. Jackson's policies followed the era of Jeffersonian democracy which dominated the previous political era. The Democratic-Republican Party of...

  • Morgan, Edmund S. Inventing the People: The Rise of Popular Sovereignty in England and America (1988).
  • Johannsen, Robert W. Stephen A. Douglas (Oxford Univ. Press, 1973), pp 576-613.