Sunday, September 18, 2011

James Wilson, On the Nature and Origin of Sovereignty

In his lectures on the laws of the United States, former Supreme Court Justice (and American Founder) James Wilson discusses whether a nation's sovereignty is lodged in its government or in its people:

"Let us trace this matter a little farther: let us endeavour to form some just conceptions concerning this supreme and sovereign power, concerning which so much has been said, and concerning which so little has been said justly. Let us turn our eyes, for a while, from books and systems: let us fix them upon men and things.

"While those, who were about to form a society, continued separate and independent men, they possessed separate and independent powers and rights. When the society was formed, it possessed jointly all the previously separate and independent powers and rights of the individuals who formed it, and all the other powers and rights, which result from the social union. The aggregate of these powers and these rights composes the sovereignty of the society or nation. In the society or nation this sovereignty originally exists.

"For whose benefit does it exist? For the benefit of the society or nation. Is it necessary for the benefit of the society or nation, that, the moment it exists, it should be transferred?—This question ought, undoubtedly, to be seriously considered, and, on the most solid grounds, to be resolved in the affirmative, before the transfer is made.

"Has this ever been done?"

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