Document Type


Publication Date

January 2011


The concept of “popular sovereignty” is not a simple, singular, unified concept; instead, as it has developed in the United States, popular sovereignty embraces the following seven fundamental principles:

1. The Rule of Law. The people are sovereign and their will is expressed through law.

2. Limited Government. The people are sovereign, not the government. By adopting the Constitution the people created the government, imposed limits upon its power, and divided that power among different levels and branches.

3. Inalienable Rights. Every individual person is sovereign in the sense that he or she retains certain inalienable rights, which the government is bound to respect.

4. Equal Political Rights. Each person is a sovereign political actor; therefore each person has an equal right to participate in government.

5. Separation of Church and State. The people are sovereign, not God. Laws reflect the will of the people, not the presumed will of God.

6. The Power of the National Government Over the States. The American people are sovereign, not the states. No state has the power to secede from the union or to nullify any federal law.

7. National Independence and the Limited Authority of International Law. The American people as a whole are sovereign and independent and are not subject to any foreign law or power.

Over the centuries since the founding each of these constitutional ideals has blossomed and borne fruit. The principle of popular sovereignty in all of its manifestations has continued to grow and develop, resulting in profound changes in the interpretation of the Constitution.

Publication Title

William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal