February 21, 2018
A Question of Sovereignty
America: home of the free and land of the brave, or so that is what we are taught about the nation in which we live. But just how far has this nation come in order to become “free”? What we may take for granted today, was perhaps the most amazing thing to happen in English and American history then. Democracy, or commonly known as the voice of the people, was met with much hesitation initially. When it comes to the idea of popular sovereignty, our nation took a long time to get there, and the freedoms we enjoy today came at a hefty price for our predecessors.
It was in the 17th century that the initial birth of resistance of the people was born. With the Glorious Revolution, which served as the overthrow of a Catholic and anarchist King, James II, the people placed William and Mary at the thrown, but not without first creating a set of conditions known as the Declaration of Rights. The Declaration of rights was in short, “a set of limitations and conditions imposed on William and Mary.” (Lecture, 01/24). However, the people were not necessarily pushing towards any new political ideals, they just wanted a Protestant King to rule fairly and not infringe on what they considered to be “ancient rights”.
The first hint of popular sovereignty, then, is seen in John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government. In his work, we see he says “This makes him willing to quit a condition, which,however free is full of fears and continual dangers.” This was an explanation of why people would even allow themselves to be governed to any degree, by someone else: for the preservation of their freedoms. Locke goes on to list conditions by which the government must adhere to, including governing only by established laws, that laws should have the sole interest of the good of the people, no taxation on the people without their consent, that they cannot transfer the power of making laws anywhere else other than where the people have placed it, and lastly that is this trust was violated the people had the right to replace the government. Though John Locke was not seen as particularly radical, his ideas were the beginning of the democracy which exists today.
We next see a step towards democracy with the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration of Independence, however freeing it may have been, still did not place sovereignty on the people. Rather, The Declaration focuses more on giving the states their own freedom, after the tyrannical rule of British parliament, we can see how this makes sense. It mentions “these United colonies” but still says “free and independent states” (lecture 01/29) proving that central government was not the goal of the authors of the Declaration. The Articles of Confederation further solidify the idea of states retaining sovereignty, but exposes a weakness: lack of unity. Without unity they had no real power against foreign threats, nor could much be d...