What is the historical significance of popular sovereignty?

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The idea of popular sovereignty is historically significant because it helped to lead to the Civil War.

In historical terms, popular sovereignty refers to the idea that each territory could decide for itself whether it wanted to have slaves or not.  That gave the people (thus the word “popular”) the power to decide for themselves rather than being told what to do (sovereignty).

This may seem like a good idea.  However, it upset policies that had already been created and more or less accepted by both the North and the South.  The idea of popular sovereignty was first put forth in the Kansas-Nebraska Act.  This act gave these two territories popular sovereignty even though the Missouri Compromise had said they would not be able to have slaves.  This meant that the issue was reopened.  When the issue was reopened, violence erupted as both sides tried to ensure that they would win the vote over whether to have slavery.   This violence, often called “Bleeding Kansas,” helped to make the North and South more angry at one another and, thus, to bring on the Civil War.

Yojana_Thapa's profile pic

Yojana_Thapa | Student, Grade 10 | (Level 1) Valedictorian

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Popular Sovereignty was a political doctrine that the United States subscribed during the mid-nineteenth century, which stated that the settlers of a given territory would have the sole right to decide whether or not slavery would be permitted there. The First proponent of this principle was Senator Lewis, who put the idea forward opposing the Wilmot Proviso. But, Senator Stephen A. Douglas was the leading proponent of popular sovereignty in 1854 because he popularized it. The principle Popular Sovereignty was conjured in the Compromise of 1850 and later in the Kansas Nebraska Act that took place in 1854. The events in “Bleeding Kansas” exposed the weakness of the doctrine.

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