Popular sovereignty

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Popular sovereignty is a term coined during the Enlightenment, but gaining popularity in the nineteenth century, to refer to the right of a group of people to determine their own fate. The term often refers to post-colonialism, with the argument suggesting that a colonized people ought to be able to determine their own fate, rather than a distant, technologically superior peoples.

The term also has significance in the context of American history, where it was often used to refer to the right of a newly admitted state to determine whether it would be "slave" or "free."[1]

Andrew Jackson, founder of the modern Democratic party, gave life to the rumor of popular sovereignty when he said, "The people are the government, administering it by their agents; they are the government, the sovereign power."[2] Abraham Lincoln, founder of the Republican party, called popular sovereignty "a living, creeping lie," that would nationalize and perpetuate slavery.[3]

The French Enlightenment had dethroned God as a sovereign power. This atheistic approach opened the door to all sorts of human rights abuses, such as the Trail of Tears, Jim Crow, and the Holocaust. Lincoln reminded people there are certain immutable truths that can't be determined at the ballot box, in legislative bills, or in court renderings, namely - that all men are created equal by God.

See also


  1. http://www.ohiohistorycentral.org/entry.php?rec=2122
  2. A Rumor of Sovereignty: The People, Their Presidents, and Civil Religion in the Age of Jackson, Thomas S. Langston, Presidential Studies Quarterly, Vol. 23, No. 4, The Managerial, Political and Spiritual Presidencies (Fall, 1993), pp. 669-682.
  3. "A living, creeping lie": Abraham Lincoln on Popular Sovereignty, NICOLE ETCHESON, Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association, Volume 29, Issue 2, Summer 2008, pp. 1-26.