The casual student of Western political history encounters sovereignty in a number of guises. In the stage of absolute monarchy, it was a personal endowment of princes; in the stage of democracy, it seems to be a collective endowment of the “nation” or the “people.” In the latter period, moreover, a definition of law as the command of a sovereign becomes increasingly popular.
These various contexts for sovereignty will already have suggested the protean possibilities of the general conception, but the student will have had little difficulty in sensing its generally anti-constitutional influence. Even popular sovereignty, which sounds the least dangerous, has had to be offset by opposing institutions in accounting for the relatively high constitutional morality of the democratic system.
While, therefore, it is not surprising to find sovereignty again (and in a still different guise) when we examine the leading conceptions of American public law, one well may marvel to find it accorded a key position among them. For, strange to say, the sovereignty of the state is widely accepted as the cornerstone of a legal edifice which the lawyers themselves appear to have laid.