Popular sovereignty is the doctrine that government is created by and subject to the will of the people, who are the source of all political power.
Popular sovereignty is an idea that dates to the social contract school (mid-1600s to mid 1700s). The central tenet is that legitimacy of rule or of law is based on the consent of the governed. Popular sovereignty is thus a basic tenet of most democracies.
Most republics and many constitutional monarchies are theoretically based on popular sovereignty. However, a legalistic notion of popular sovereignty does not necessarily imply an effective, functioning democracy: a party or even an individual dictator may claim to represent the will of the people, and rule in its name.
Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Jean-Jacques 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 and hazards of a state of nature.
A parallel development of a theory of popular sovereignty can be found among the School of Salamanca, who (like the theorists of the divine right of kings) saw sovereignty as emanating originally from God, but (unlike those theorists) passing from God to all people equally, not only to monarchs.
In U.S. history, the terms popular sovereignty and the equivalent but more disparaging squatter sovereignty refer generally to the right claimed by the squatters, or actual residents, of a territory of the United States to make their own laws, and in particular to the idea championed by Stephen A. Douglas that the residents of each territory were allowed to determine whether it would accept or reject the practice of slavery.
Squatter sovereignty from volume II of Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, embracing events, institutions, industries, counties, cities, towns, prominent persons, etc.
Last updated: 10-18-2005 10:02:24