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What Is Popular Sovereignty?

In the ancient Greek city state of Athens, every adult male citizen had a direct vote on political matters.
The composition of the House of Representatives, which meets in the U.S. Capitol, is voted on by the public every two years.
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  • Written By: Ken Black
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Images By: Dimitris Karkanis, Piers Fearick
  • Last Modified Date: 23 July 2014
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Popular sovereignty is the basic premise of government that all power, particularly legislative and executive power, rests in the will of the people. The concept is fundamental to any people who claim to be self governing. The power may rest in the people through one of several means, such as direct representation or representative representation, and the way this is done may vary from one country to another, but the basic premise remains the same.

The people rein supreme under this philosophy because the individuals that make up the country have the ultimate power in deciding who the decision makers are. Even those who have elected representation still, in the end, have the power to hire or fire those that they think are not appropriately representing them. This means that all power rests in the hands of the voting majority.

Governmental systems that have operated under the concept of popular sovereignty go back many thousands of years. Greeks and Romans had representative republics that in many ways echoed the more important parts of the movement. At the same time, these governments also excluded a significant portion of the people, such as women, slaves, and others who were not deemed to be citizens with full rights.

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If a country has a government in place under this philosophy, the government may experience big, sweeping changes from time to time. It can lead to a great deal of uncertainty and a lack of job security for those in at least some factions of the government. At the same time, those who make choices popular with the electorate often get re-elected multiple times. Even with the risk of uncertainty, popular sovereignty remains a common form of government, being used by many of the world’s countries in various forms.

In the United States, the representative republic is a type of popular sovereignty. Elections are held every two years for members of the U.S. Congress serving in the House of Representatives and every six years for those serving in the Senate. The United States president is elected to four-year terms. The election of the U.S. House every two years tends to give it the reputation of being a little more accountable and responsive to the people.

Great Britain also uses this type of system, but the actual practice is much different from the U.S. There, members of parliament elect the prime minister, assuring the majority party will always have the prime minister’s seat. It is still representative in the fact that the electorate chooses who will represent them in the House of Commons and, therefore, who will ultimately have the say on who the country’s chief executive is.

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Discuss this Article

Crispety
Post 4

Latte31-I wanted to say that I also read that Stephen Douglas, also passed the Kansas Nebraska Act which let people in those areas decide if they wanted slavery.

This was another popular sovereignty message as Stephan Douglas was a strong advocate of popular sovereignty.

He also believed that the Dred Scott Supreme Court case that ruled against the Southern States idea of expanding slavery to the Northern states that did not want it was the right decision.

He said that a law could not work if the people living there do not support it. This would be the equivalent of the Supreme Court ruling against the health care bill which would be a win for popular sovereignty today.

There is a growing court challenge to this legislation, so maybe the American people will prevail and allow popular sovereignty to reign once again. This is a great case to teach popular sovereignty for kids so that they could truly understand.

latte31
Post 3

Suntan12-I feel the same way. It is really easy to see how popular sovereignty and limited government are related. The people are the ones with the actually power not the government.

The leaders that recognize this often face little opposition in elections because they are representing the will of the people, not their own personal agenda.

The compromise of 1850 involved popular sovereignty. This was the signature piece of legislation that was created by Stephen Douglas, the father of popular sovereignty.

It allowed popular sovereignty to reign in New Mexico and Utah. Here these states could decide for themselves if they wanted slavery or not. It also abolished slavery in Washington D.C., but also had the Fugitive Slave Act attached to this legislation which imposed a fine if the slave was not arrested.

suntan12
Post 2

Cupcake15-I think that popular sovereignty today is even more important than ever before.

In no time in our history have we been so close to going into to Socialist territory with all of the ever increasing governmental control and regulation.

More people are exercising popular sovereignty in America. The American people are more alert on the issues and the previous election demonstrated above average voter turnout.

The American people are now realizing how powerful their voices can be in shaping the political landscape of America.

This is why you are seeing the Tea Party movement continue to grow and exert more power because people want to go back to a limited form of government because they feel the President and the Democrat congress have overstepped their boundaries. When someone asks, "How are popular sovereignty and limited government related?" This is often a prime example.

cupcake15
Post 1

Many people ask “What’s popular sovereignty?” Popular sovereignty in America allows us to have a free republic that does not allow for a totalitarian dictatorship.

Popular sovereignty meant that the people are the ones giving our congressman and President Power and if they do not govern according to our wishes when the candidate is up for reelection we tend to vote against this politician in favor of someone else.

This is exactly what happened in the mid term congressional elections. The American people do not feel that their voices are being heard because despite significant opposition to the health care bill, it was signed into law which went against the will of the people.

This government takeover of health care also imposed fines for those that did not buy their own healthcare that offered government approved provisions. The Democrats voted for this bill and as a result, they lost 63 seats in the House of Representatives and six seats in the Senate.

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