Popular Sovereignty

AuthorWilliam M. Wiecek

Page 1962

"Popular sovereignty" was a solution proposed by some northern Democrats to the problem of slavery's access to the TERRITORIES. As an alternative to the WILMOT PROVISO, Michigan Senator Lewis Cass proposed in 1847 that slavery be left "to the people inhabiting [the territories] to regulate their internal concerns their own way." He later concluded that congressional prohibition of SLAVERY IN THE TERRITORIES was unconstitutional. Popular sovereignty was a radical innovation: never before had residents of the territories been thought to be invested with SOVEREIGNTY, let alone a territorial sovereignty implying that the federal government lacked substantive regulatory power over the territories.

Illinois Senator STEPHEN A. DOUGLAS took up popular sovereignty in 1854, recommending that the MISSOURI COMPROMISE be jettisoned in order to get the slavery question out of Congress and leave it to the settlers of the territories. Though adopted in the KANSAS-NEBRASKA ACT, popular sovereignty soon fell into disfavor in both the North and the South. Douglas and other northern Democrats rejected the travesty made of it by President JAMES BUCHANAN in his attempt to force slavery into Kansas, while southern leaders abandoned it in favor of a constitutional program that...

To continue reading

Request your trial