11/26/2019

The Spontaneous Disorder of Kansas-Nebraska

"[P]opular sovereignty was very much a product of the Jacksonian era, for it reflected the democratic anarchy that exalted unrestrained individual initiative over privilege and institutions. Jacksonian intellectuals turned to mass democracy as a means of sweeping away the vestiges of traditional authority because they believed that the common man in his natural, untutored state was a direct recipient of the divine message.

The 1848 Democratic presidential nominee Lewis Cass called popular sovereignty “an inalienable right of the people, consecrated by the blood of our fathers, and hallowed by the effection[sic] of their sons.” Douglas took up Cass’s mantle in the 1850s, becoming identified with the principle. “[W]henever you put a limitation on the right of any people to decide what laws they want, you have destroyed the fundamental principle of self-government,” he declared. Douglas called it “the great fundamental principle that the people are the source of all power.” Popular sovereignty represented boundless confidence in citizens’ ability to shape and define their own lives without restriction."