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Popular Sovereignty


USA, Columbia, Washington DC, Capitol Building
Tetra Images - Henryk Sadura/ Brand X Pictures/ Getty Images
Definition: This principle states that the source of governmental power lies with the people. This belief stems from the concept of the social contract and the idea that government should be for the benefit of its citizens. If the government is not protecting the people, it should be dissolved. The theory evolved from the writings of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean Jacques Rousseau.

Popular sovereignty is one of the six foundational principles upon which the US Constitution is built. The other five principles are: limited government, separation of powers, checks and balances, judicial review, and federalism. Each of gives the Constitution a basis for authority and legitimacy.

Popular sovereignty was often cited before the US Civil War as a reason why individuals in a newly organized territory should have the right to decide whether or not slavery should be allowed. The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 was based on this idea. It set the stage for a situation that became known as Bleeding Kansas.

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