Sovereignty refers to the independent legal authority of a population in a particular territory, based on the recognized right to self-determination. Among the powers exercised by every sovereign nation is the right to control its own borders, including trade, tariffs, emigration, and immigration.
By sovereignty, in its largest sense is meant supreme, absolute, uncontrollable power, the absolute right to govern. For example, God has sovereignty over all creation. "He Who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords" (1 Timothy 6:15). In Islamic teaching, Allah alone is sovereign ("alone without partner", meaning a denial of the divine nature of the Trinity) and does not delegate power to Jesus or any civil government.
From the 1400s to around 1960, most lands were classified as either sovereign nations or colonies. Sovereign nations were free standing and practiced self-government. (Each nation's separate government was a democracy, a dictatorship, a monarchy, or something else.) Colonies were governed and controlled by a separate nation. Since 1960, most colonies have been granted independence, with rare exceptions where a lack of resources prevent the colony from surviving as a viable independent nation.
A major issue in the American Civil War was the question of whether each state had sovereignty or whether the United States ("Union") government exercised sovereignty over the individual states. As the European Union continues to evolve, similar debates arise over the rights of the member nations in that union.
- Almond, Gabriel A. Comparative Politics Today: A World View. New York: Pearson, 2004.
- Black's Law Dictionary, Sixth Edition, p. 1396.