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What Is Popular Sovereignty?

Why is the idea of popular sovereignty so important in the American system of government? Professor Kurt Lash explains this unique American concept and its ramifications. The will of the people manifests itself in a written Constitution which supersedes any government activity. The Constitution is designed to maintain the delicate balance between the national government and the state governments. The popular sovereignty of the people is thus preserved at both the local and national levels. https://youtube.com/watch?v=YltCT2f2oqk


Popular sovereignty is a unique American idea. That the people exist independent from their institutions of government. The people communicate their will and communicate their ideas by way of a written Constitution. Under this kind of system of popular sovereignty, the government can never claim to speak with the voice of the people. The voice of the people is only found in a written constitution and government institutions can only exercise those powers which were actually given into the hands of that particular government by way of their written constitution. What's interesting about the American system is that it's this complicated machine, that includes not only government institutions on a state level, but also a government institution on a national level. This is a federalist system, so that you have people- both the national, unified people of the United States, and then the independent people of Virginia or of Massachusetts-who continue to have their own sovereign, independent governments. This retained sovereign independence was actually promised by the Federalists during the debates over the original Constitution. You had people like Alexander Hamilton and Federalist 81 insisting that states would continue to retain their sovereign existence. And in the debates throughout Virginia, up and down the Eastern Seaboard, this was a particular concern, and it was insisted over and over again that although we were creating a new national people through the adoption of this American Constitution, we were also preserving aspects of sovereignty on a local level. It's a complicated machine, and one that had never been tried before. And it was going to create a delicate balance between these cultures on a local level and this newly emergent national culture. It's a responsibility of the courts, therefore, to preserve and maintain this delicate balance. One that keeps an eye on the responsibilities of a national government that represents all of us as an American people, but also preserves the retained powers and rights of the peoples in the several states.

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