Popular Sovereignty

Popular sovereignty was invoked in the Compromise of 1850 and later in the Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854). The tragic events in “Bleeding Kansas" exposed the doctrine's shortcomings, as pro- and anti-slavery forces battled each other to effect the outcome they wished.

Popular sovereignty was first termed “squatter sovereignty" by John C. Calhoun and that designation was adopted by its critics, which included proslavery Southerners and many New Englanders.

The concept was widely popularized by Stephen A. Douglas in 1854. Douglas, who coined the term, thought the settlers should vote on their status early in territorial development. Other supporters adopted a somewhat different stance, arguing that the status should be determined by a vote taken when the territory was fully prepared for statehood.


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