Popular Sovereignty

Constitutional Principle - By Sarah/Lizzy/Katy/November

What is Popular Sovereignty?

Popular Sovereignty is defined as "the government is created by and the subject to the will of the people" (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). That basically means that the people get to participate in political decisions and they get a say in government decisions, too. Popular Sovereignty is associated with the social contract theory and it's philosophers, such as Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Popular Sovereignty has also been around for centuries. Abraham Lincoln talked about popular sovereignty in The Gettysburg Address, when he said, "government of the people, by the people, for the people" (Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln).

Significance and Purpose

Popular Sovereignty is important because it gives the people the right to help make decisions on laws, documents, and other political subjects to help create a better nation. The purpose for this was to get the people involved, so the government does not take over the nation, and this democracy does not becomes a dictatorship.


Popular Sovereignty has influenced many decisions in history. Lewis Cass of Michigan used popular sovereignty to let the people decide whether slavery should be allowed or not (U.S. History.org). The United States Constitution is based on popular sovereignty because the first three words that start the Constitution are, " We, the people". In the Constitution, there are laws, articles, and amendments that say who can vote, make decisions, and participate in politics and the government, and they all say that the people have the right to be involved in the government. John Locke, an Enlightenment philosopher, believed in life, liberty, and property, and that the government's job is to protect these rights that we have as citizens. The Framers of the Constitution took Locke's idea, and changed it to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and today we follow Locke's idea of the government protecting our rights, and letting us have our say in government.

Historical Examples

Popular Sovereignty has been around for a long time, and there are many examples in history that help us understand it. The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 is a historical example because the people wanted to bring their property with them to the new territory, and they considered slaves property, but this caused tension between Lincoln and Southern senators. The Southern senators wanted people to be allowed to bring slaves to the new territory, but Lincoln disagreed. (The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854)

A current event of popular sovereignty is the civil war happening in Syria between those who want the dictatorship idea to stay and those who want a more democratic system in place. http://www.cnn.com/2013/08/27/world/meast/syria-civil-war-fast-facts/

Direct Quotes on Popular Sovereignty from the Constitution

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

If a majority are capable of preferring their own private interest, or that of their families, counties, and party, to that of the nation collectively, some provision must be made in the constitution, in favor of justice, to compel all to respect the common right.- John Adams

Popular Sovereignty