The Vitality of the American Sovereign

The proposition that “the people” are the preeminent sovereign in the United States has long been a tenet of American public life. The authors of the Declaration of Independence characterized the American people’s sovereignty as a “self-evident” truth when announcing the colonies’ decision to sever their ties with Great Britain, the delegates to the Philadelphia Convention in 1787 invoked the people’s sovereignty when framing the nation’s Constitution, and Americans today exercise their sovereignty each time they cast their ballots on Election Day. Yet what prerogatives, precisely, does the people’s sovereignty entail? In modern America, where neither a bloody revolution nor an entirely new constitution is in the offing, can the people’s sovereignty manifest itself in ways other than through participation in the nation’s elections?