The Idea of Popular Sovereignty and the Declaration of Independence
The idea and concept of Popular Sovereignty is the belief that the authority, legality and legitimacy of the government is created by the will or consent of its people. The American people are the source of all political power. John Locke (1632 1704) was an English philosopher whose ideas had a significant influence on American revolutionaries. In 1690 he published the 'Second Treatise of Government' in which he expressed the political doctrine that the government was only empowered to legislate for the public good and if this trust was violated, the people had the power to replace the government with a new legislative. John Locke was one of the first to express the idea of Popular Sovereignty and the concept was developed by Benjamin Franklin and used as the foundation for the act of separation from the tyrannical British monarchy. The Declaration of Independence, written by Thomas Jefferson, abolished the British rule and replaced it with the American government. The Declaration of Independence is based on the idea of Popular Sovereignty stating that all men are equal and have unalienable Rights such as Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. It goes on to say that:
"Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,
That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends,
it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government."
The words in the Declaration of Independence replaced government by the rule of Hereditary Monarchy with that of a Sovereign State government based on the principle of Popular Sovereignty. The American Revolutionaries exchanged the rule of King George III with a rule composed of the people. "Governments...derive their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed."
Examples of Popular Sovereignty in the Constitution: One of the 7 Principles of the Constitution
The idea of Popular Sovereignty was used by the framers of the Constitution as a founding principle of the government of the United States of America. Popular sovereignty is the first of the 7 Principles of the Constitution but each of the principles of the Constitution contain elements of the concept of Popular Sovereignty and the belief that the power to govern flows upward from the people, rather than downward from the rulers.
1. Popular sovereigntyPopular sovereignty meaning rule by the people
2. RepublicanismRepublicanism, meaning the right of the people to vote for representatives
3. Federalism Federalism meaning power is shared between the national and state governments
4. Separation of PowerSeparation of Power relating to the three separate branches of government
5. Balance of PowerBalance of Power relating to the checks and balances that can be made on the other branches
6. Limited governmentMeaning that everyone is bound by the US Constitution
7. Individual rightsIndividual rights of people and their personal freedoms that are guaranteed by the Bill of Rights
Examples of Popular Sovereignty in the Constitution: Preamble and Articles
The Preamble to the Constitution of the United States proclaimed the idea of Popular Sovereignty in capital letters:
WE THE PEOPLE of the United States...do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
The concept of Popular Sovereignty is expressed in Article V of the Constitution to ensure that constitutional amendments can only be passed by a majority vote. The idea of Popular Sovereignty was also expressed in Article VII of the Constitution, which required that 9 states had to approve the framework of government before it could become the supreme law of the land.
Examples of Popular Sovereignty in the Constitution: Amendments
The amendments to the Constitution also reflect the idea of Popular Sovereignty. Examples of Popular Sovereignty are found in the 9th Amendment which is about rights kept by the people and the 10th Amendment which is about powers kept by the states and the people.
Popular Sovereignty and Slavery
The idea of Popular Sovereignty was also used a Pre-Civil War doctrine that asserted the right of the people living in a new territory to decide by vote of their territorial legislature whether or not slavery would be permitted.
Popular Sovereignty - Video of the US Presidents
The article on the History of the Popular Sovereignty provides a fast overview of the history of the US Government. The following Presidents of the USA video enables you to sit back and listen to the history of all the Presidents of the USA - a useful educational resource for kids, children and schools that complements the information found in the History of the Popular Sovereignty.