The Federalist's Vision of Popular Sovereignty in the New American Republic

The Federalist's Vision of Popular Sovereignty in the New American Republic

The Federalist's Vision of Popular Sovereignty in the New American Republic

The Federalist's Vision of Popular Sovereignty in the New American Republic

Synopsis

In reconstructing the theory of The Federalist Papers, Potter shows how its authors present the Constitution as a social compact that embraces a stronger version of popular sovereignty than that expressed in the consent theories of Hobbes or Locke. The Federalist: (1) recognizes complexity in the first stage of the compact that requires more from the people than mere consent; (2) introduces a formal constitution and procedure for obtaining popular consent into the second stage; (3) extends the compact beyond the founding moment by including a formal amendment procedure and provisions for "wholly popular" government; and (4) addresses the responsibilities of the people and, therefore, the requirement for virtue.

Excerpt

We the People of the United States … do ordain and
establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Popular sovereignty is the core principle of American constitutionalism. Almost every American knows that our republic was designed to be of, by, and for the people and that we the people hold the ultimate authority and responsibility for that republic. Or do we?

The concept of popular sovereignty, as it relates to the U. S. constitutional system, is not fully explained in American government textbooks, nor is it adequately explored in the academic literature. Indeed, an influential genus of scholarship challenges, on various grounds, the very idea that the American republic was founded on popular principles. For example, Beard (1913) questions the motives of the framers; Dahl (1955) claims that the constitutional design lacks broad-based representation; Schattschneider ([1960]1975) charges that the Constitution has a conservative and elitist orientation; and Laswell (1936) faults the system not on its processes but on policy outcomes. the pervasive, though not exclusive, view of political scientists is that the constitutional grounds of popular government in America are more myth than reality. This perspective, suggesting that both the framers and the constitution they drafted are either anti-democratic or not democratic enough, is illustrated by a passage from a recent U. S. government textbook:

Although America is often said to be one of the most
democratic societies in the world, the Constitution itself is
rarely described as democratic. This is hardly surprising,
considering the political philosophies of the men who
wrote it.

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.