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Part II

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 November 2023

Ewa Atanassow
Bard College, Berlin
Thomas Bartscherer
Bard College, New York
David A. Bateman
Cornell University, New York
When the People Rule
Popular Sovereignty in Theory and Practice
, pp. 111 - 254
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2023
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This content is Open Access and distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence CC-BY-NC 4.0

6 “As God Rules the Universe” Reflections on the People and the State in Early America

Ira Katznelson Footnote 1

This essay considers popular sovereignty as a philosophical and practical governing creed within the instructive irregularity of early America. On the understanding that “attention to the most burning and urgent of contemporary problems cannot be dissociated from the meticulous reconstruction of their origins,” I should like, to “tell the old story for modern times,” as the first stanza of The Odyssey proposes, by pursuing Homer’s advice, “Find the beginning.”Footnote 2


To celebrate the bicentennial, the American Philosophical Society gathered eminent scholars to reflect on the country’s long-standing political order. The address by the historian Edmund Morgan, “The Problem of Popular Sovereignty,” considered inherent challenges when rule by the people becomes the dominant source of political authority.Footnote 3

Morgan’s focus was not on the formation of “We the People.” Instead, looking inside out, he underscored endemic problems of political participation, including public rationality, electoral volatility, and the instability of opinion. Logically and historically, these significant concerns are preceded by the first theme of this essay regarding how a commanding American “people” was designed and established despite a remarkably diverse population.

Popular sovereignty achieved a significant degree of steadiness in the United States based on a constellation of ideas, institutions, sectional agreements, and borderland arrangements. During the country’s first half-century, inherent sources of moral and practical tension were managed with dexterity by compromises, practical and ethical, grounded in a significant lineage of political thought and institutional arrangements. The achievement did not last. Understanding when and how, from the late 1820s, the existing equilibrium dissolved and a new basis for balance proved to be out of reach comprises this essay’s second theme, a subject that will return us to the range of questions posed by Morgan.


These considerations are motivated by the provocative claim Alexis de Tocqueville announced in the fourth chapter of Democracy in America’s initial volume, published in France at a key point of inflection, in 1835: “Le peuple règne sur le monde politique américain comme Dieu sur l’univers.”

Unlike “countries in which a power in some sense external to the social body acts on it and forces it to march in a certain direction,” he explained in a reference to monarchy and divine right, and unlike “other countries in which force is divided, being placed at once inside society and outside it,” a reference to parliamentary sovereignty, “nothing of the kind exists in the United States.” There, he wrote,Footnote 4

society acts by itself and on itself. No power exists but within its bosom. Virtually no one is to be found who dares to conceive, much less to express, the idea of seeking power from another source … It is fair to say that the people govern themselves. The people reign over the American political world as God rules over the universe. They are the cause and end of all things; everything proceeds from them, and to them, everything returns.

Tocqueville’s recognition of popular sovereignty as America’s “law of laws”Footnote 5 had already become a rhetorical truism by the time the country marked its Jubilee on July 4, 1826, signifying a people sovereign over itself either directly, as with white men, or indirectly, as with white women, who were said to be represented in political life by their fathers and husbands. Of the many commemorative speeches marking the occasion, one of the most memorable was delivered by George Bancroft in Northampton, Massachusetts. Then just twenty-five years old, Bancroft had graduated Harvard College at age seventeen, and swiftly earned a doctorate in history from the University of Göttingen three years later. Not shy, he managed soon afterward to discuss politics and philosophy with Hegel and Schleiermacher, Humboldt, and Goethe, Manzoni and Constant. Bancroft later emerged, as it were, as America’s Tocqueville: the author of a ten-volume epic History of the United States,Footnote 6 the leader of diplomatic missions in London and Berlin, and the founder of the US Naval Academy at Annapolis during his service as President James Polk’s Secretary of the Navy.

At Northampton, Bancroft characterized the nation’s “festival of freedom” as “essentially radical.” About the circumstances of slaves and the indigenous population he said not a word. Rather, combining an analysis of the American regime with a vivid summary of the founding mythos of “We the People,” he identified a diverse (white) political family that had bonded within a Union framed by “self-evident truths” about human equality and rights, and he contrasted this American experience with how “the doctrine of the divine right has been revived” across the Atlantic. Noting that he could not be sure that “popular sovereignty will finally prevail in Europe,” Bancroft celebrated the United States for having “established a government on entirely liberal principles such as the world had never beheld in practice,” a system for which “the sovereignty of the people is the basis of the system. With the people,” he emphasized, “the power resides, both theoretically and practically,” adding that in America “we believe the sovereign power should reside equally among the people.” In terms that presaged Tocqueville, he averred that only “the people governs and solely; it does not divide its power with a hierarchy, a nobility, or a king,” and that “the popular voice is all powerful with us; this is our oracle; this, we acknowledge, is the voice of God.”Footnote 7

Popular sovereignty as the core principle of constitutionalism was early America’s boundary condition; a term I use the way it was defined by the political scientist J. David Greenstone as “a set of relatively permanent features of a particular context that affect causal relationships within it.”Footnote 8 “The United States,” the legal scholar Larry Kramer has written, “was then the only country in the world with a government founded explicitly on the consent of its people, given in a distinct and identifiable act, and the people who gave that consent were intensely, profoundly conscious of the fact. And proud.”Footnote 9 There was nothing like it anywhere else, certainly not a population active politically at each of three distinct levels: as proper-named natural individuals with distinct identities, groupings, preferences, and mores, seeking influence or access; as citizens, the subset who qualify to participate as equals within the institutions of representative democracy; and as a majestic people – abstract and bodiless – authorized as the commanding source of political creativity and legitimacy.

Characterizing the American Revolution in 1788 at Virginia’s convention called to ratify the constitution, James Madison proclaimed about his country’s popular sovereignty that “It is in a manner unprecedented. We cannot find one express example in the experience of the world.”Footnote 10 Fifteen years later, in an Appendix to Blackstone’s Commentaries, St. George Tucker, a Virginia lawyer, judge, and academic scholar, celebrated “the new epoch in world history” fashioned in America by “an original compact formed by the free and deliberate voices of the individuals disposed to unite in the same social bonds.” Rulers face limits that “cannot be transgressed without offending against the greater power from whom all authority among us, is derived; to wit, the PEOPLE.”Footnote 11 No wonder Jonathan Israel’s history of the Enlightenment considers America, from the eve of the Revolution to 1848, to have been “astonishingly” radical, as distinct from Bancroft’s more accurate “essentially.”Footnote 12

Astonishing in another way as well, at the new country’s frequently violent internal human and physical borderlands. This American feature is given extended treatment, often wry and dystopian, in the chapter that concluded Democracy’s first volume, “Some Considerations on the Present State and Probable Future of the Three Races That Inhabit the Territory of the United States.” Witnessing how “in one blow oppression has deprived the descendants of the Africans almost all the privileges of humanity,” Tocqueville projected an ever-stronger North–South regional division, noting that slavery had nearly been brought to an end outside the South. With African slaves “held in a state near that of the brute, indigenous Americans,” and with “the Europeans, having scattered the Indian tribes far into the wilderness, condemned them to a wandering vagabond life full of inexpressible afflictions,” the “two unlucky races,” slave and “savage,” were deemed not qualified to enter the ken of popular sovereignty.”Footnote 13

Both Virginians thus might have underlined the acute encounters in early America between popular freedom and mass dispossession, both of persons and land. The excluded persons experienced popular sovereignty as nearly unlimited despotism. The justification for these barriers was understood by white Americans not just anthropologically as based on civilizational judgments, though more so for the indigenous population thought by some citizens to be potential rational Christians, but also biologically as racial. The era’s blunt exclusions were much more impermeable than other extant divisions based on faith or status hierarchies. In or out, all or nothing. As Tocqueville observed, “Between the extreme inequality created by slavery and the complete equality to which independence naturally leads, there is no durable intermediate state.”Footnote 14

“We the People” developed as an instrument of the common good inside these tightly policed boundaries, hardwired from the beginning. Not just Union nationalists talked of a godlike people. The country’s leading antebellum proslavery intellectual and political leader, John C. Calhoun, a person who found “not a word of truth in the whole proposition” that “all men are created equal,” similarly maintained how “The whole system … has for its fundamental principle, the great cardinal maxim, that the people are the source of all power.”Footnote 15 Among the free white population, such language became pervasive and uncontested. But, of course, not everyone intuited precisely the same meaning, certainly not strong opponents or proponents of slavery.Footnote 16

Just the values advanced in the 1820s by Bancroft and summarized in the 1830s by Tocqueville were articulated by President Abraham Lincoln on November 19, 1863, nearly eleven months following the emancipation of the confederacy’s slaves and some four months following the Union success at Gettysburg on July 4. His three-minute speech at an uncertain moment for the contours and limits of popular sovereignty famously enunciated the expectation, indeed the faith “that government of the people by the people for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Unlike Bancroft, who celebrated popular sovereignty in a peaceful town at a moment of high prosperity, Lincoln consecrated the Gettysburg burial ground four and a half months after the Union’s pivotal Independence Day battlefield victory. Fully two-thirds of the recorded 3,155 dead from General George Gordon Meade’s Union Army of the Potomac and the 3,903 Confederate dead from General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia remained unburied on that blood-soaked Pennsylvania field. When General Lee surrendered at Appomattox in western Virginia some seventeen months later, in April 1865, the internecine war had cost no fewer than 650,000 lives, perhaps as many as 850,000, and had left more than 1,000,000 injured in a population recorded by the census of 1860 as some 31 million; a devastating record wrought in considerable measure by disputes about popular sovereignty.Footnote 17

The haunting contrast between Northampton on July 4, 1826, and Gettysburg on July 4, 1863, and the disparity between Bancroft’s silence about race and membership and Tocqueville’s naming this field of tension for popular sovereignty orients my reflections about the construction of a people in the globe’s first political regime to have transcended then more familiar bases for political and governing authority.


Popular sovereignty as we know it originated in the seventeenth century.Footnote 18 To be sure, there is an older lineage that includes the Roman law tradition and aspects of medieval law.Footnote 19 Moving beyond the confines of city-states to which it had been bound among the ancients and in some small medieval republics, its modern beginning is often associated with the ideas and demands in the 1640s of the Levellers, who organized their movement “around the idea of popular sovereignty.”Footnote 20 But it was in North America, from the first English and Dutch settlements to the Revolution and beyond that popular sovereignty “acquired a concreteness and importance that was wholly new and wholly different,” with “the people” authorized and capable to create and superintend, act and enforce, what Kramer calls popular constitutionalism.Footnote 21

A quarter century before the Levellers, forty-one religious dissenters composed and signed the Mayflower Compact on November 11, 1620. These men had arrived in Massachusetts a year after the White Lion, an English warship, had docked in Jamestown, Virginia, carrying “twenty and odd” African captives removed by force from a Portuguese slave ship. By the 1630s, Virginian documents record the “customary practice to hold some Negroes in a form of life service.”Footnote 22 Almost immediately, a contest between the newcomers and the indigenous population for control of land and water erupted.Footnote 23 Free and slave, settler and native, America was launched with its fundamental conundrums of popular sovereignty.

The Mayflower Compact was executed well before Thomas Hobbes and John Locke identified the founding of a body politic with social contracts. Having arrived after two months at sea with nineteen women, thirty-three children, and nine other men, the signatories self-organized as a unified constituent power to establish a government within which they would be active and to which they pledged compliance, declaring how they “solemnly and mutually, in the presence of God, and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic.”Footnote 24

This tiny community of Separatist Puritans was rigidly homogeneous. When America’s founders sought to apply the Compact’s principles of self-government and those of the settlements both Puritans and non-Puritans had founded in the following century and a half, they faced daunting odds, not only from matters of physical security, including slave insurrections and assaults by resisting indigenous populations, but also from divisions within the new country’s remarkably heterogeneous free white population.

“By the time of the Revolution,” Richard Hofstadter remarked in America at 1750, “white immigration was probably as large or larger than the entire colonial population of 1700, and the English homogeneity of the colonies had been decisively broken.”Footnote 25 Even as early as 1700, the colonies exhibited a striking degree of human variety. New York state’s Hudson Valley alone was composed of poorly integrated and often mutually hostile white newcomers – English, Scot, Irish, Welsh, Swiss, Dutch, French (Catholic but mostly Huguenot), Walloon, Palatine. There were Anglicans and Catholics (far more concentrated in Maryland and Pennsylvania), Puritans, Sabbatarians, anti-Sabbatarians, singing Quakers and ranting Quakers, Anabaptists, including Mennonites and Amish, and a smattering of Jews. There also were black slaves, about 15 percent of the population even in this northern location, and a diverse native population – Algonquin, Lenape, Mohican, Iroquois, Wappinger, and other Native Americans. These indigenous groups soon were locked into a terrible game with the newcomers, the one side experiencing expropriation, sometimes violent, and recurring deceit; the other experiencing physical insecurity and bewilderment at rejection. These were the stress lines in just one place in one colony.Footnote 26

In Federalist 2, John Jay famously took “notice that Providence has been pleased to give this one connected country to one united people – a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion,”Footnote 27 but this assertion was rather more a wish than reality. The English colonies were not uniformly English, let alone uniformly Anglican. Proportions varied. Nearly nine in ten residents of Connecticut were English (yet still diverse given the geographical and religious sources from which they were drawn), but only one in four in Pennsylvania, by contrast to four in ten who were German. In all, as much as half the population did not have English roots; as measured by the census of 1790, some 9 percent were German and 16 percent Irish. “The sense of variety,” Aristide Zolberg commented, “was heightened by the uneven distribution of the various groups among the colonies and their differing relationships, reflecting different modes of social organization.”Footnote 28

Moreover, the colonies were rife with xenophobic and nativist tendencies. The harsh treatment of Palatines in 1709 drove them out of New York to Pennsylvania. Concurrently, Huguenots were put under pressure in South Carolina and Rhode Island, and Moravians were the objects of punitive 1713 legislation in Connecticut.Footnote 29 Writing in his 1751 essay, “Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind,” Benjamin Franklin expressed doubt about the desirability not only of importing black slaves but the presence of Europeans with “what we call a swarthy complexion,” a list of non-Anglo-Saxon undesirables that, for Franklin, included most Germans, Italians, Russians, Spaniards, and, quite remarkably, Swedes. By the eve of independence, noted Zolberg, “the American colonies constituted an assemblage of diverse communities that, if brought together into a single state, would constitute a uniquely heterogeneous mosaic.”Footnote 30

Moreover, this complex human patterning overlay northern, southern, and western sectional units, “three major groupings of population, differentiated by physiographical conditions, economic interests and political ideals.” These divisions, Arthur Meier Schlesinger wrote, represented divergences in “modes of living and attitudes of mind much more fundamental than those indicated by arbitrary political boundaries” that separated the thirteen states.Footnote 31 There were class divisions as well among the white settlers, who ranged from owners of plantations and commercial elites to indentured servants, persons cultivating isolated small farm holdings, and unpropertied urban majorities.Footnote 32

The challenge of such diversity in an extended polity was profound; one might have thought insurmountable. Constituting an American people, even if exclusively white and in the majority English and Christian, was no simple matter, not least because two significant bases for peoplehood claims – shared religious identity and a claim to be an autochthonous population – were absent.

To be sure, there were important integrating currents. The colonial historian Jack Greene emphasized how white Americans had become more alike by 1776 as a result of sharing a common grievance, a deep feeling of being second-class Britons. Tocqueville stressed the hegemony of shared English rule and the experience of English mores. Both concurred that the colonists’ robust patterns of self-government, features intensified by a great distance from the mother country and the absence of a native population eligible for mobilization as subjects of the crown, facilitated the people’s emergence as the core political actor.Footnote 33

Though noteworthy, these factors were not sufficient to create a common people. At least equally necessary was the availability of rigorous and compelling political thought about the role of the people in politics, together with designs for institutions that could galvanize, in the language of John Rawls, an overlapping political consensus amidst exceptional human diversity.Footnote 34


The global pioneer that Bancroft celebrated and Tocqueville viewed as a forerunner rested on a palimpsest of ideas, composed by distinct and diverse layers that shaped the contours and established the mechanisms that first supported and later destabilized popular sovereignty in America.

Making a godlike civic and patriotic people would not have been possible without the existence of political leaders who knew quite a lot about the sometimes complementary but often competing ideas of Bodin and Grotius, Pufendorf and Rousseau, Montesquieu and Blackstone, and especially Hobbes and Locke.

As critics of parliamentary sovereignty, the founders had come to believe that the subjection of the king to parliament had gone wrong, and that, as Hobbes had articulated, the choice of a regime belongs to the people.Footnote 35 Notwithstanding his preference for monarchy, Hobbes had emphasized how, when exiting the state of nature, the emergent people was free to choose any form of government, not just monarchy, but also aristocracy or democracy. “The differences between commonwealths,” he wrote in De Cive, “are derived from the difference in the persons to whom sovereign power is committed.”Footnote 36

From this then-novel vantage, all regimes are inherently popular: “The People rules in all Governments, for even in Monarchies the People Commands; for the People wills by the will of one man; but the Multitude are Citizens, that is to say, Subjects. In a Democracy, and Aristocracy, the Citizens are the Multitude, but the Court is the People. And in a Monarchy, the Subjects are the Multitude, and (however it seemed a Paradox) the King is the People.”Footnote 37

Americans embraced this theory of authorization.Footnote 38 “When right and exercise are separated,” Hobbes argued, “the government of the commonwealth is like the ordinary government of the world, in which God the first mover of all things, produces natural effects through the order of secondary causes.”Footnote 39 Not God but the people as God – sovereign, united, and acting within an unusually capacious designation of natural law – could authorize and fashion governments to escape fear-creating states of nature.

In this sense, America’s founding was Hobbesian. Richard Tuck has recorded many instances in which the people exerted direct popular control over the adoption of state constitutions and the federal constitution. In the early republic, such constituent power was based on a nearly universal white male franchise. “Between 1778 and the beginning of the Civil War, almost all American states moved to a plebiscitary basis for their constitutions, with a particular rush occurring (unsurprisingly) in the heyday of Jacksonian democracy. At the start of 1861 only five states out of a Union of thirty-four did not use the plebiscite.”Footnote 40 We can see this density of participation prior to the First Continental Congress in the popular conventions called for ratification. There, “the people from the back-country were, for the first time, admitted to the full measure of representation which had long been denied them by the unjust system of representation in the colonial assemblies.”Footnote 41

For Hobbes, this is where the people’s role must decisively terminate.Footnote 42 American popular sovereignty, however, did not stop here. After exercising their constituent power, the people must not sleep. With this conceptual and practical move, the founding became Lockean. To be sure, the rebel leaders read Locke with an emphasis, arguably a distorting emphasis that glossed over his support for the parliamentary sovereignty they wished to reject. What did draw them to Locke was his endorsement of how the people should persistently be a hands-on sovereign. They were to play an active and continuing role within the politics of representation, with “one rule for Rich and Poor, for the Favourite at Court and the Country Man at Plough,” based on the rule of law, individual and collective rights, political representation, the separation of powers, a free press, and free civil society, each a key feature of America’s expansive popular sovereignty.Footnote 43 With this Lockean tilt, as Alexander Hamilton insisted, “no laws have any validity or binding force without the consent and approbation of the people, given in the persons of their representatives, periodically elected by themselves.”Footnote 44

Madison and his constitution-making colleagues propelled selections from this empowering body of thought to craft an institutional liberalism that gave expression to popular sovereignty in wholly novel and thickly inscribed ways under modern conditions, circumstances that included the enlargement of scale, the rise of commercial capitalist societies, and the increasing plurality of groups, interests, and geographies.Footnote 45

To canalize popular action, they were not willing to rely exclusively on internal restraints or social norms. As institutionalists, they devised hardwired barriers to straightforward popular rule: separated powers, an indirectly elected Senate, the Electoral College, constraints on simple majorities, the globe’s first constitutional court, and a robust federalism that did not wholly erase state-level sovereignty. Sovereignty of the people, yes, but with a key caveat, as Robert Dahl wrote in his Preface to Democratic Theory: “The Madisonian argument asserts, as an ethical inference from its basic assumptions, that accordance with the preferences of the greater number of citizens ought to be a necessary condition but not a sufficient condition for government policy.”Footnote 46 Organized this way, the constitution sought to curb both minority and majority forms of tyranny.

The story does not stop here. Hobbes, Locke, and Madison each underwrote three further elements without which the difficult task of forming an American people on a shared civic basis likely would have failed.

Hobbes’s state of nature, a state of perpetual threat, impelled humans to create governments and civil societies; actions they would not take “in the absence of fear,” which he defined as the “anticipation of future evil.” Unlike Locke’s comparatively more irenic, though not entirely peaceful, state of nature, that of Hobbes was dramatically of “War; and not simply war, but a war of every man against every man.” This circumstance, he insisted, was not merely speculative, as “the present century presents an example of this in the Americans,” referring to North American native Indians, whose lives he described as so fraught that even “the victors themselves are so constantly threatened by danger that it must be regarded as a miracle if even the strongest survives to die of years and old age.”Footnote 47

This is precisely how that population was denoted in the Declaration of Independence, “merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.” Alexander Hamilton reprised this source of danger in Federalist 24. Enumerating threats to the new republic, he included “the savage tribes on our western frontier.” These insecurities together with worries about dangerous overseas foes with possessions in the New World confronted Americans with Hobbesian concerns about physical danger. A source of constitutional creativity in Philadelphia, these anxieties helped generate a common American identity.Footnote 48

Crucial, as well, was Locke’s formula for religious coexistence. “Above all things,” his Letter Concerning Toleration counselled, it is “necessary to distinguish exactly the business of Civil Government from that of Religion.” This institutional recommendation had been motivated by how post-Reformation religious diversity had “produced all the Bustles and Wars, that have been in the Christian World, upon account of Religion.”Footnote 49 Over and again, key founders adopted this position. Virginia’s January 1786 Statute for Religious Freedom, written by Thomas Jefferson and guided to passage by Madison, averred that “to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency is a dangerous fallacy, which at once destroys all religious liberty.”Footnote 50

The importance of the First Amendment stipulation that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” must not be underestimated. Certainly, Tocqueville took notice. Unlike France, he argued, the separation of church and state in America had made it possible for religion and freedom to coexist.Footnote 51 Equally important was the absence of religious tests for office, thus permitting the admission to public life of Catholics and Jews many decades before such entry in Britain. Moreover, the 1790 “Bill to Establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization” limited to “any alien, other than an alien enemy, being a free white person,”Footnote 52 did not impose any tests of language or religion for potential white citizens, an openness and announced a form of confident toleration not yet found on that scale anywhere else.

Further, like Hobbes, for Locke “in the beginning of the World was America,” an emblematic site for the pre-civil society state of nature.Footnote 53 As Barbara Arneil shows convincingly, Locke’s liberal imagination in his Second Treatise, especially his consideration of property as justified and secured by labor, validated taking land from Indian nations despite their prior possession of the given territory, a set of actions that advanced white solidarity.Footnote 54

A third condition, primarily arranged by Madison, underpinned the constellation of thoughts and institutional suggestions on which the founders relied, without which the South never would have entered the Union.Footnote 55 Effectively, the constitution functioned as a federal treaty whose supra-state institutions did not require individual states to relinquish key rights, including the right to sanction chattel slavery. Without protections for the South’s human and economic racial system – the fugitive slave clause, the international slave trade clause, the organization of the Senate, which, down to 1850, granted no less than parity for the slave states, a “comity clause” that effectively guaranteed that non-slave states would respect southern judgments about the institution, and especially the 3/5 rule guaranteeing numerical advantages in the House of Representatives and the Electoral College – a single (white) American people based on a union between slave and non-slave states would have been impossible.Footnote 56

With some 700,000 enslaved Africans, the vast majority in the South (constituting just over 60 percent of the population in South Carolina and fully one-fifth of the country’s total population), the institution of chattel slavery was placed out of reach in the Philadelphia document, a view that all but the most radical abolitionists came to share.Footnote 57 Certainly this was Abraham Lincoln’s understanding. As he wrote to Albert G. Hodges, the proprietor of Kentucky’s Frankfort Commonwealth, on April 4, 1864,Footnote 58

I am naturally anti-slavery. If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong. I can not remember when I did not so think, and feel. And yet I have never understood that the Presidency conferred upon me an unrestricted right to act officially upon this judgment and feeling. It was in the oath I took that I would, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States … .I understood, too, that in ordinary civil administration this oath even forbade me to practically indulge my primary abstract judgment on the moral question of slavery.

Of the many motions tabled at the Constitutional Convention, not one concerned abolition. “Great as the evil is,” said Madison, “dismemberment of the Union would be worse.”Footnote 59

The appeal of Hobbesian constituent power and Lockean rights-based active political participation; the Madisonian rules to check the excesses of popular sovereignty; the fear of insecurity; the religious toleration that offered each faith a stake in the republic; and the arrangements that reassured the South that freedom and slavery could coexist helped bring about Bancroft’s and Tocqueville’s godlike people.


At the time, the promise of future westward expansion facilitated this agreement by advancing white borders of belonging.Footnote 60 The thirteen states at the founding occupied some 430,000 square miles, many inhabited by the country’s indigenous population of approximately 600,000 (a population reduced to just under 340,000 by 1860). During the last decade of the eighteenth century and the first decade of the nineteenth, treaties transferred some 170,000 square miles – three and a half times the size of England – from native nations to the United States.Footnote 61 Following the Louisiana Purchase from France in 1803, the United States claimed a huge tract of new territory, 814,000 square miles.Footnote 62 Even earlier, but certainly accelerated by this massive expansion, the country experienced a mighty westward surge driven by dramatic population growth and economic opportunities, not least for plantation-based chattel slavery.

Most of these lands possessed only pockets of settler presence in an environment largely controlled by native nations. From the start, the goal was indigenous land cessions and settler migration. As in the example of the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, at no time did plans to incorporate new territories “outline a place for native peoples in the American nation.”Footnote 63 The dominant ambition was clear. Whether by negotiation or force, land should be cleared for European American farmers and settler sovereignty.Footnote 64 President George Washington’s robust policies of dispossession earned him the Native Seneca name “Destroyer of Villages” during the War for Independence when “he ordered General John Sullivan … to undertake a scorched earth policy against the people and lands (today west-central New York state) of the Six Nations, as well as authorizing an independent secondary strike on Seneca villages in northwestern Pennsylvania.”Footnote 65 Commenting on Washington’s avowal that “It is for us a matter of honor to treat them with kindness and even generosity,” Tocqueville dryly noted, “This virtuous and noble policy has not been adhered to.”Footnote 66 The overarching objective was native exit and white entry, with occasional, and quite exceptional, efforts to “civilize” the tribes to make them eligible for inclusion in the young republic. By way of formal treaties and federal laws, the United States found ways to extinguish “in an orderly way the Indian title to the land so that expanding settlements might find unencumbered room” as the classic treatment of American Indian policy between 1790 and 1834 by Francis Paul Prucha records.Footnote 67

But across this period, Indian policies were not uniform. During and just after the Revolution, half of the land claimed by US sovereignty was located in the Gulf Coast and the trans-Appalachian West up to the Mississippi Valley, each a site of intense imperial conflicts and chronic violence. When placed under American control, these western borderlands were broadly governed in concert with the existing law of nations. Declaring “good faith” and announcing friendship as the goal, the Ordinance that specified how areas carved out of the Northwest Territory could become US states guaranteed that the lands of the present nations could only be alienated by their consent or by conquest “in just and lawful wars authorized by Congress.”Footnote 68

Before independence and well into the country’s first half-century, tribal relations continued to be understood to be aspects of international relations recognizing the tribes as sovereign nations who possessed territorial rights, distinguishing them from deracinated rights-less slaves. Concurrently, however, the native tribes, labeled as “savage,” were not placed on a par with “civilized” European nations. Inside this inherently unsettled situation, there were many “middle grounds,” borderland balances backed by law and geared to manage points of contact with a degree, if only a modest degree, of attention to Indian interests.Footnote 69 As an example, legislation in the very first American Congress established penalties for trading on the frontier without a license, and invalidated the purchase of Indian lands unless made by a public treaty with the United States. This law was strengthened at Washington’s request in 1793, with the goal, as the president put things, to “render tranquillity with the savages permanent by creating ties of interest.”Footnote 70 A series of comparable laws followed well into the 1820s.


Unlike God, popular sovereignty in America proved vulnerable. Its balance of ideas and institutions, policies and practices, was undermined with the introduction of two not quite new but increasingly insistent persuasions, starkly delimited to the white subset of the population, that were promoted by President Andrew Jackson and Vice President John C. Calhoun. Each extended popular sovereignty in the name of democracy. Each attempted to deepen and extend eligible citizen freedom in tandem with evermore absolute distinctions between persons thought to be suitable for American citizenship and others, African and native, who by virtue of race and civilization were designated as unqualified. Together, these interventions sharpened and accelerated already existing conflicts between North and South and between proslavery supporters and abolitionists, generating debates about the future of the West that turned, above all, on disputes about white liberty that put the era’s sharp advances for democracy in tension with existing patterns of popular sovereignty. Membership questions that had been present in British North America and the early United States took new, indeed incendiary, form.

No doubt, the positions taken by Jackson and Calhoun were popular with much of the electorate. No doubt, too, both believed their perspectives about westward expansion, Indian removal, and the expansion of slavery were consistent with the constitutional arrangements on which popular rule rested. Yet, in retrospect, we can see that the judgments and assertive actions of Jackson and Calhoun made it impossible to maintain the fragile equilibrium that, at the time of their election, was continuing to sustain a collective sovereign people. With these initiatives, ever-sharper and ultimately irreconcilable divisions among white male citizens were put into play.

The Democratic victory in 1828 signaled an alliance between yeoman farmers, northern workers, southern planters, and other supporters of the region’s slave system (Figure 6.1). Jackson, a plain-spoken backwoodsman and popular military hero from Tennessee, unified this electoral coalition. He was joined for a second term as vice president (having been elected in 1824, serving during the presidency of John Quincy Adams) by his fellow Democrat, Calhoun of South Carolina. In this unusual combination of two southerners holding the country’s top offices, they allied with Martin Van Buren, governor of New York, the political virtuoso who followed Jackson into the White House in 1837. In conjunction with the virtual elimination of property requirements for voting, restrictions that had existed in ten of the thirteen states in 1790,Footnote 71 these Democrats forged a new kind of mass party, “responsible to a broad white male electorate and a party rank and file of ordinary voters, led by professional politicians.” This was the innovative type of party that Max Weber, nearly a century later, placed at the heart of his essay on “politics as a vocation.” A half-century later, the political scientist Samuel Huntington saluted such parties as the “distinctive organization of modern politics.” Managing participation and aggregating interests, the institution resolutely links the people to the state.Footnote 72

Figure 6.1 “President’s Levee, or all creation going to the White House,” by Robert Cruikshank

America soon discovered that such parties – the institutional heart and soul of competitive democratic politics – are good at organizing peaceful competitions for leadership positions and crafting provisional policy arrangements for matters that are divisible, subject to compromise. But when constitutional values and fundamental moral issues become the stuff of dispute, a whirlwind threatens. In such situations, political parties can mobilize popular sovereignty to support illiberal orientations that undermine ethical political standards.

Jackson was especially interested in opportunities on the frontier’s vast incorporated territories. He sought to secure white dominion as quickly as possible. Before assuming the presidency, Jackson had “speculated in Indian lands while pursuing commercial ventures throughout American, Spanish, and Native jurisdictions.” With a fierce Hobbesian concern for security after the Middle Tennessee Indian Wars of the 1790s, Jackson began to develop a perspective on popular sovereignty at the edge, where persons styled as civilized collided with “a cruel state of nature.”Footnote 73 This situation, he believed, required “a new ‘protection covenant,’ whereby the people themselves … retained full sovereignty to deploy violence,” with sovereignty defined “as the power to use force without asking anyone.”Footnote 74 When, in 1818, he led a complement of 3,000 that captured Florida from Spain and subdued the Seminole, serving three years later as the territory’s military governor, Jackson made Indian removal and the capture of fugitive slaves top priorities, announcing that his efforts had protected the United States not only from the Spanish and British Empires, but also from “Negroes and Indians,” persons he termed “savage foes.”Footnote 75

On this account, the federal government never should impede the movement of free white people into western territory, constrain battles by settlers to displace native peoples, or, for that matter, resist decisions to purchase and utilize black slaves. Specifically, Jackson rejected the idea that the movement of white people on the continent should be delimited. Free-born Americans, he insisted, should be able to go anywhere on the continent, whether for business or settlement, unimpeded by public authority.

Before the Jackson presidency, white movement had been regulated. Some aggressive trans-legal forays into Indian territory by frontiersmen were restrained, not entirely without efforts to protect Indian life. Authorities sometimes resisted what they called white intrusion, a term utilized to refer to unofficial attempts at expansion and settlement in areas allocated, often by treaty, as Indian. In 1816, Secretary of War William H. Crawford declared that “Intrusions upon the lands of the friendly Indian tribes, is not only a violation of the laws, but in direct opposition to the policy of the government towards its savage neighbors.” Should such intrusions be reported, he continued, “the President requires that [the settlers] be removed, and their houses and improvements destroyed by military force; and that every attempt to return, shall be repressed in the same manner.”Footnote 76

“When Meriwether Lewis and William Clark were spinning yarns of a continent crossed,” between 1803 and 1806, Samuel Truett has written, “the United States was an archipelago of settler islands, strung on a weak web of roads and the aqueous spaces of the Ohio River, the Mississippi River, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.” These borderlands, he stressed, were multifaceted, with ultimate outcomes impossible to predict.Footnote 77 At the start of the Jackson presidency, much American territory still was distinguished by such geographically constrained settlements surrounded by more powerful indigenous nations, producing much insecurity.

President Jackson detested such unpredictability, both as a personal and policy matter. As a high priority, in tune with much popular opinion and pent-up demand by prospective colonizers, he sought to liberate white settlement from restraints by inaugurating a more aggressive framework for expulsion and continental expansion, soon to be accelerated by the conquest of more than half of Mexico in the 1840s. The once-dominant treaty process was superseded both by accelerated violations and evermore insistent policies of Indian removal based on large land swaps that moved native people westward into Indian territory. Initially established in 1822, this zone was radically expanded in 1834 to include the immense area that would become Kansas and Nebraska, as well as Oklahoma, Colorado, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, and Wyoming.Footnote 78 As these policies were developing and taking hold, Tocqueville was projecting “that the Indian race in the United States is doomed.”Footnote 79 A decade later, Jackson boasted to Moses Dawson of Alabama that “We have labored for many years to free the States of our Union of the Indian population within our limits, and may be said to have just succeeded in the accomplishment of this human policy.”Footnote 80

During and after Jackson’s two-term presidency, free settler movement was accompanied by policies of removal that shifted the Potawatomi, the Sauk, the Fox, the Creek, the Cherokee, the Chickasaw, and the Choctaw, some 80,000, to the west of the Mississippi under the auspices of the Indian Removal Act of 1830, a law upheld as rational and humane, but that certainly proved otherwise.Footnote 81 At the time of its passage, even after prior dispossessions “Native Americans still controlled millions of acres east of the Mississippi, particularly in the South. In the 1820s, Creek Indians owned a fifth of present-day Alabama; Choctaw and Chickasaw, half of Mississippi,” living on richly-fertile, valuable land.Footnote 82

These original inhabitants no longer were defined as sovereign and independent, but as “domestic dependent nations” in the terminology of the Supreme Court’s 1831 Cherokee Nation v. Georgia. The national state now backed the mobility decisions of individual white settlers by ordering land surveys, reorganizing former Indian lands, extending postal routes, and erecting military forts at key transportation locations, thus accelerating dramatic demographic changes.Footnote 83 This rush to the West soon brought a dramatic quickening to the period’s growing crisis about the expansion of slavery.

An anxious Calhoun was concerned, one might say obsessed, with this issue and, with it, the security of the slave system. Slavery, for Calhoun, was a public good, not a necessary evil. The future production of cotton, rice, tobacco, and sugar by enslaved people within this felicitous system, he believed, depended on territorial expansion. Indian removal, he understood, thus also enhanced the security of the South’s social order. Just as white population growth in the North was fast outrunning that of the South, threatening to upend the region’s long-existing political veto capacities, the West, if opened to slavery, might keep alive the national balance of sectional power.

Slavery, in fact, moved from strength to strength during the three decades before the Civil War. From Georgia to Texas, an enlarged arena for plantation slavery was displacing the Caribbean as the main source of North American commodity production, and the enslaved population grew to some 4 million. With national state power applied “to protect slavery, to bolster slaveholders’ claims of mastery, to strengthen claims of sovereignty in borderlands, and to conquer new territory to protect slavery, … the United States became the preeminent North American and Atlantic world empire for slavery.”Footnote 84 With these developments, Lincoln, in a letter to William H. Seward one month before his inauguration, designated the United States as “a slave empire,” when explaining why he would refuse any efforts to further expand slavery under federal protection. Using local popular sovereignty to do just that, he argued, was an immoral “trick.” There must not be, he argued, any further compromises.Footnote 85

This sensibility, together with growing and often effective abolitionist mobilizations, assertive efforts by free blacks to claim the full rights of citizenship, the demographic tilt favoring northern representation in Washington, and the central role slavery came to play in the era’s borderland disputes, all animated growing anxieties among southern leaders, not least Calhoun.Footnote 86 His late life treatise, A Discourse on the Constitution and Government of the United States, insisted that because the United States was not more than a federation of states, popular sovereignty had never signified a single national people – a “theory of the nationality of the government,” he wrote, “of recent origin” that was “founded on fiction,” thus opening the door to future secession as a constitutional right.Footnote 87 To defend slavery, he famously outlined constitutional instruments to infirm potential antislavery majorities as he watched abolitionist and anti-expansionist ideas enter the political mainstream. These included requirements for concurrent cross-region majorities based on the nullification of objectionable federal statutes, a veto by individual states, each considered sovereign and independent, as well as the more fanciful idea of a dual presidency, with each acting to forestall the inherent right to secede by promoting cross-sectional compromises.

Jackson did not agree. Though proslavery, he was a nationalist who had no interest in diluting the federal government’s powers or the capacities of the president. Trying to strengthen federal authority by resting it on popular sentiments and populist causes, he utterly rejected nullification when South Carolina declared the Tariff Acts of 1828 and 1832, passed by Congress and signed by Adams and Jackson, respectively, to be unconstitutional.

Nullification unraveled the constitution’s deliberate ambiguity about the location of popular sovereignty and the qualities of the American people. The United States, as Max Edling has observed, was founded as “a union of semi-sovereign state-republics” coupled with “a sovereign nation … The national government,” quite uniquely, thus “was simultaneously a forum for the negotiation and settlement of member-state interests and conflicts in Congress and a central government … that existed independently from the member-states,” and which governed through congressional legislation directed to the citizenry as a whole.Footnote 88 In this regime, states on one side of the Mason–Dixon line had abolished slavery; on the other, slavery had expanded within state-organized legal codes. Not surprisingly, the hardest questions arose in territories not yet states, still under national control, concerning future terms of transition.

Jackson’s version of popular sovereignty helped propel already demanding pressures at the frontier. Notwithstanding their differences, Calhoun contributed mightily to emplacing popular sovereignty at the very heart of the territorial slavery dispute, hoping to engineer the nation’s racial composition by popular white design.Footnote 89 Further, the entwined perspectives of Jackson and Calhoun, which dominated American dispositions and policies until the election of Lincoln, transformed the articulated meaning of the American Revolution. Well into the 1820s, independence movements in Latin America were enthusiastically welcomed in the United States as liberal and democratic progeny, consistent with a godlike American people. With the Jackson–Calhoun turn, however, and with slavery retreating in all the South American republics but monarchical Brazil, the hemisphere’s regimes became foils, places where dark-skinned radicals were perceived as confining slavery and crossing racial boundaries, and characterized as distinct from the more mature and exceptional white republic in the United States, a country, like most of the colonial Caribbean, not hostile to the expansion of slavery.Footnote 90


The Missouri Compromise of 1820 had demarcated the line between free and slave territory acquired by Jefferson in the Louisiana Purchase. The question, having been reopened by the vast new lands acquired in the Mexican War by the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo – fully 60 percent of the land that previously had composed Mexico – now seemed settled by the Compromise of 1850 (Lincoln believed it had been settled “forever”). That set of five statutes, drafted by Henry Clay of Kentucky, a Whig, and Stephen Douglas of Illinois, a Democrat, specified which lands would be open to slavery and which would not, together with a draconian Fugitive Slave Act that required escaped slaves to be returned to their masters even after entering states that banned slavery.Footnote 91 In the interest of keeping the Union intact, Lincoln had accepted the Compromise of 1850, notwithstanding, as he wrote to his proslavery Kentucky friend Joshua Speed on August 24, 1855, “I hate to see the poor creatures hunted down,” but “I also acknowledge your rights and my obligations, under the constitution, in regard to your slaves.”Footnote 92

The 1850 agreements did not survive. Stability was upended four years later by the Kansas–Nebraska Act, also authored by Senator Douglas. Substituting popular sovereignty for the prior demarcation of slavery’s remit, the law created a vast new ground, carved from Indian territory, north of the line that had been closed to slavery under the Missouri Compromise. “Let the people decide,” Douglas famously announced, as the bill authorized decisions by settlers about the existence of slavery under the rubric of popular sovereignty. The subsequent controversy gave rise to the Republican Party’s birth, and to Lincoln’s shift of political allegiance. And it was the issue of popular sovereignty – more specifically Lincoln’s opposition to it regarding the extension of slavery – that launched his spectacular ascent to the presidency.Footnote 93

Douglas argued that it was for white men to judge whether to approve the existence of slavery in a free vote. Lincoln answered with an ethical retort. Popular rule, he argued, is not unlimited. Moral codes must not be made or unmade by majorities. The people is not a God.

Such “a moral, social, and political evil,” language he used in Bloomington, Illinois, in September 1854, and a “monstrous injustice,” the term he applied in Peoria, Illinois, the next month, must not be decided by the people. Unlike issues appropriately settled by voting, the outcome here would not be provisional; the evil would persist even if majorities were to change. And who was “the people”? The humanity of black Americans would be denied by authorizing settlers to bring their human property to the new territory. “When the white man governs himself that is self-government, but when he governs himself, and also governs another man,” Lincoln stated at Peoria, “that is more than self-government – that is despotism.”Footnote 94

There was a vote, boycotted by free-state voters. The result elected delegates who wrote the Lecompton Constitution, which in 1857, became the basis for the request by Kansas for admission to the Union as a slave state. President James Buchanan backed the proposal, and submitted it to Congress. By then, however, the Jackson–Calhoun version of popular sovereignty had been confirmed. In March of that year, the Supreme Court, in Dred Scott v. Sanford, banned any limits on the westward expansion of slavery and denied American citizenship to any black person.Footnote 95

During this decade, the popular sovereignty that had attracted Bancroft and keenly interested Tocqueville lost its unifying constitutive standing. The concerns Edmund Morgan raised at the bicentennial became incendiary. “How,” he asked, “to discover the will of the people? How to get them to express it? How to know whether there was any will to express? How to make government responsive to it when it was expressed? And what to do when the apparent will of the people ran counter to what their representatives thought good and right for them?”Footnote 96 With disputes about slave-bearing westward movement, these questions collided with considerations of race, civilization, and rules for belonging. In that context, America’s white peoplehood, a formation that overcame great diversity by combining Hobbesian, Lockean, and Madisonian ideas and institutions, could not be sustained.

During the Kansas–Nebraska conflict, the combined standpoints and achievements of Jackson and Calhoun exposed long-latent but previously managed tensions. With an acceleration of popular participation, a more agonistic democracy, hurried westward motion, and an evermore vibrant defense of an expanding slave system, popular sovereignty’s cohesion became increasingly provisional and instrumental. Two months after Dred Scott, the proslavery Democrat Francis W. Pickens, soon to lead South Carolina’s secession as governor, wrote this to Benjamin Perry, another future governor and then a pro-Union nationalist member of the state’s House of Representatives: “As long as the Government is on our side, I am for sustaining it and using its power for our benefit.” But if “our opponents reverse the present state of things then I am for war.”Footnote 97

“If there is any country in the world,” Tocqueville had asserted, “where one may hope to assess the true value of the dogma of popular sovereignty to study its application to the affairs of society and judge its benefits and dangers, that country is surely America.” Godlike popular capacity, he understood, did not necessarily portend a happy outcome. In France, he lamented, “rather than gradually taking control of society so as to rule in peace,” democracy “marches on through the chaos and tumult of battle.”Footnote 98 The United States did not prove exempt.


As Tocqueville urgently understood, popular sovereignty is protean. The animating idea that a ruling people makes binding lawful judgments in the first and last instance has become omnipresent irrespective of a given regime’s form or the degree to which the political order is premised on openness, pluralism, and liberty. An abstract people can sanction the full spectrum.Footnote 99 Popular sovereignty, moreover, extends from the noble to the terrible not only in illiberal regimes. There are no guarantees that citizens in democratic civil society will direct egalitarian and warmly welcoming, or even tolerant, preferences to their representatives, or that their leaders will opt to promote human pluralism.

Persisting questions – Morgan’s questions – about the character, formation, stability, distribution, content, and influence of the will of the people, its connection to the central institutions of liberal democracies, and the ways popular sovereignty directs and constrains the actions of rulers and in turn is shaped by them, oriented the classic analytical study by the political scientist V.O. Key, Jr., Public Opinion and American Democracy, and offers a guide to how we might continue to engage with questions of popular sovereignty. Seeking to place “knowledge about public opinion in a political context,” Key was motivated to understand how “the preferences, aspirations, and prejudices of the public … [are] connected with the workings of the governmental system” in determinate historical situations. Like Morgan, Key wished to discern “what critical circumstances, beliefs, outlooks, faiths, and conditions are conducive to the maintenance of regimes under which public opinion is controlling, at least in principle, and is, in fact, highly influential.”Footnote 100

Key concluded with the designation of a problem, and a forceful contention, each germane to the story of American beginnings. The problem concerns the formation of a people with “a sense of the collectivity” in circumstances where the population, by choice and by imposition, is divided into “segments, each with its own sense of separateness.” The contention concerns the qualities and duties of individuals who lead and govern, the values and sense of responsibility they possess, the frames of choice they offer, and the discretion they exercise. On the understanding that the will of the people is never entirely free-standing but correspondingly directed, Key closed with this claimFootnote 101:

The masses do not corrupt themselves; if they are corrupt, they have been corrupted. If this hypothesis has a substantial strain of validity, the critical element for the health of a democratic order consists in the beliefs, standards, and competence of those who constitute the influentials, the opinion-leaders, the political activists …. If a democracy tends toward indecision, decay, and disaster, the responsibility rests here, not in the mass of the people.

The early American story of popular sovereignty not only signifies the importance of this perspective, but also suggests that it is too simple. To be stable or even possible, governments must be popular. What if the preferences of the greater number are in tension with humanity and justice? How should leaders govern that multitude?

Key was more confident than I about ascertaining the proper balance between responsiveness and leadership, but his strong assertion about leadership has shaped the way I have pursued answers to my questions concerning how a coherent political people managed to emerge despite demographic and sectional diversity, and why this ethically complicated revolutionary achievement collapsed despite a supportive matrix of ideas, institutions, and policy compromises. With an emphasis similar to Key’s, I have tasked Jackson and Calhoun for the content of their exaggerations of popular sovereignty. As they facilitated a proslavery drive to settle the West, in part a response to mass pressures for land, opportunity, and racial hierarchy, their political guidance proved fateful by “unleashing popular prejudice in a new and politically potent direction.”Footnote 102

There is no gainsaying the short-term successes of Jackson and Calhoun. They enlarged white participation and won popular mandates. They altered the rhetoric of popular sovereignty to fit mass deportations and chattel slavery, and achieved policymaking by Congress and the Supreme Court that furthered the continental expansion they desired. For some decades, as a result, they helped secure slavery against the institution’s growing adversaries and thus kept the South in the Union. These very achievements, however, produced a great collision between the endemic issues of participation and representation identified by Morgan and an ever fiercer contest inside the trenches that long had guarded membership in the country’s godlike people.

Comparable challenges currently persist. As in antebellum America, popular sovereignty continues to provoke dilemmas that demand moral judgment, institutional imagination, and necessary restraint. “Perhaps,” as Morgan wrote, “the questions are unanswerable.” Yet, as he also added, “we dare not” give up “the quest for better answers.”Footnote 103

7 The Sovereign People and the Liberal Democratic State

David A. Bateman
Popular Principles and Liberal Principles

During a debate over an 1847 bill to extend the right to vote in English elections, a liberal member of parliament (MP) rose to contest Benjamin Disraeli’s claim that expanding the electorate would enfranchise voters with opinions opposed to the liberalism that then held sway in parliament. William Clay scoffed at Disraeli’s distinction between “popular principles and liberal principles.” Instead, he confidently asserted that “no principle, in his opinion, could be popular without being liberal, and every liberal principle would sooner or later be popular.”Footnote 1 Clay saw little to fear in democratization, and fully expected that expanding the influence of “the people” in political affairs would be wholly compatible with his other substantive commitments.

With hindsight, Clay’s confidence might seem misplaced. Throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, democracy – an institutional configuration in which “the people” is recognized as the legitimate source of political authority – and liberalism – an account of political and social life that treats these as derivative of the individual and its possessive claims, with implied limits on the ends and exercise of political authority – were regularly pitched as incongruous alternatives, whether in the form of “illiberal” democracies or explicitly non- and anti-democratic liberalisms.Footnote 2 The post-World War II era, by contrast, had seen a synthesis of the two, worked out at a theoretical level in social scientific understandings of the freedoms needed for a democratic system to function, and embodied in ideal-type institutional arrangements that were promoted through international and national charters. The result of this synthesis was that for much of the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, liberalism and democracy seemed to enjoy the deeper congruence that Clay anticipated.

The recent crystallization of “populism” as a contemporary form of illiberal politics has made this comforting fiction harder to sustain.Footnote 3 Today’s illiberals regularly invoke “popular principles,” popular authorization, and populist democracy in their assault on liberal institutions. Critics in the academy and in public commentary often reinforce such a framing, locating the threat to liberal institutions and commitments in practices of democratic authorization and inviting not just their analytical separation but their juxtaposition.

This can be jarring, but it is not surprising. Whenever the legitimation of governing authority draws on two or more distinct sets of principles – for example, liberalism and popular sovereignty – there will inevitably be circumstances in which these diverge, demanding trade-offs and choices about which should be accorded priority. Navigating such conflicts and reestablishing some harmony or logical ordering between them is usually the self-assigned task of jurists, lawmakers, and intellectuals attached to or supportive of the regime. When one of the legitimating principles is popular sovereignty, as is true of nearly every actually existing democracy, the task is especially complicated. If a regime even roughly embodies this principle, it will in some way assign a power to make authoritative decisions to “the people.” This body, however composed or assembled, will inevitably differ from the much smaller group of persons who can be said to constitute the regime and its social base, those officeholders or individuals and classes most directly invested in its continued rule, and most attracted to participating in its rituals and in upholding its public philosophy.Footnote 4 “The people” may or may not be interested in working out a reconciliation between competing principles, or in validating the syntheses worked out by others. The course of political events might even present the issue both to “the people” and to the governing classes as a stark choice between contending principles.

The history of democracy provides a chronicle of such moments, when the potential voice of “the people” was deemed by the persons in control of the state to be too egalitarian, too socialistic, too liberal, too conservative, too religious, too intolerant, too atheistic, too illiberal, too capitalistic, to be trusted with a determining authority. This was most bluntly stated by those who opposed popular sovereignty, such as the conservatives of Disraeli’s party and many of the Whigs and Liberals he was taunting. But it can also be traced in the discourse of those who saw themselves as its champions. “The Jacobin dictatorship,” writes Christopher Hill, “and the Bolshevik dictatorship of the proletariat, justified themselves as covering the period in which the sovereign people were being educated up to their new responsibilities.”Footnote 5 French republicans came to doubt whether “the people” could be fully trusted with sovereignty after the popular vote validated the coup of Louis–Napoleon, while the drafters of the US Constitution believed republicanism required protection of popular sovereignty from its supposed excesses and vices.Footnote 6 “Something remains untranslateable about popular sovereignty,” writes Judith Butler. “As much as popular sovereignty legitimates parliamentary forms of power, it also retains the power to delegitimate those same forms. If parliamentary forms of power require popular sovereignty, they also surely fear it, for there is something about popular sovereignty that runs counter to, and exceeds, every parliamentary form that it institutes.”Footnote 7 It is not that popular sovereignty is unique in being uneasily combined with other principles. But even on its own terms, it promises no ultimate resolution or stable utopia. It is defined by a seemingly inalienable capacity to overthrow any settled notion or governing arrangement, even to the paradoxical extreme, an autogolpe of a sovereign people rejecting the practices of popular sovereignty itself. Any seeming congruence between it and other principles is likely to be fleeting.

That this disruptive power might be aimed against liberal principles should be worrying. Some such principles have been essential in bringing the ideal of democracy closer to its realization, of imposing an empowering constraint on popular sovereignty that rendered it more equal, deliberate, and regular.Footnote 8 Actually existing democracy has made liberalism more bearable. The smoothing of some of liberalism’s hard edges – the partial prying open of its fist – count among the great achievements of the twentieth century. We should not gloss over the extraordinary flaws of liberal democracies, nor forgive their crimes. But so long as democratic principles modulated liberal ones, and vice versa, the result was a more humane and decent liberalism and a more inclusive and deliberate democracy. The rise of illiberal populism threatens to dissolve the ideological and institutional ties that had achieved this, with little promise of improving democracy in the process.

The animating concern of this chapter is how to respond. The practices and rhetoric of illiberal populism, as well as the recommendations of some of its critics, seem to invite a choice between the two, or at least to think of our responses as involving a zero-sum recalibration in favor of one or the other: to respect the “voice of the people,” however harassed, or to empower and insulate liberal elites and liberal policies, however haughty or wrong, against the injudicious involvement of this people.

Are these really the only options? Politically viable syntheses have been crafted before. Were they simply recalibrating the balance between the two – a bit more liberalism here, a bit less democracy there? Or, were they more genuinely creative, generating new possibilities for enriching both? This chapter offers a comparative history of two instances when liberalism and democracy were pitched as alternatives: Victorian-era Britain and the pre-Civil War United States. By the time mass democratization appeared on the British horizon, liberalism was already firmly entrenched as the public philosophy of the state and regime. British liberals, of all parties, accordingly sought to limit the authority of “the people” that would be gaining power through the vote, by slowing the pace of democratization, by pursuing targeted incorporations paired with new exclusions, by constructing an insulated state that could overpower any democratizing movement, and eventually by endorsing disciplinary solutions to remake public preferences in line with liberalism. In the antebellum United States, liberalism was less doctrinaire, even if more broadly diffused.Footnote 9 It was also less clearly stamped in the public philosophy of the state and its governing classes: It was popular sovereignty that emerged out of the revolution as the authorizing principle of the regime. This would pose a problem for what was perhaps the most active and organized movement of liberals in the United States, the multi-racial and multi-gendered writers and orators, often in dialogue with liberals across the Atlantic, who provided much of the justification for the abolition of slavery. These liberals were, with famous exceptions, devoted to the US regime, though many believed it had been subverted from its original aims. They all recognized that the regime’s foundation on popular sovereignty gave it broad and deep public support. Rather than insulate liberalism from democracy, a growing body of abolitionists sought instead to advance liberal principles by expanding and redefining “the people.”

The comparison that follows will magnify certain tendencies over others and exaggerate contrasts at the expense of deeper similarities. My goal is not to provide a causal account of the countries’ respective democratizations. As Gregory Conti has described it, “historical inquiry often provides, from the perspective of the present, a sense of mismatch” that “can be productive of fresh thinking about the nature of our political structures.”Footnote 10 My hope is that this stylized comparison might unsettle our notions about how liberalism and democracy have been synthesized in the past, and in doing so spark more creative thinking about how the most important values of each can be recombined today and established, however temporarily, on a more popular basis.

The Exclusions of Liberalism and Democracy

While both liberal and democratic principles contain within them a logic of inclusion, they also justify respective and characteristic exclusions.Footnote 11 One of the most important ways liberalism has been invoked to exclude categories of persons from equal treatment and standing has been through ascribing deficiency to this group, whether in the varyingly thick set of anthropological or sociological criteria held to be required of the liberal subject or in some supposed hostility of the to-be-excluded group to liberal principles.Footnote 12 Distinctions that did not rest on some “real” foundation in the distribution of talents or capacities or principles, however, were generally considered to be “odious.”Footnote 13

Democratic principles lend themselves less well to baroque subdivisions of fitness. Democracy’s characteristic exclusions instead tend to rest on how a group is conceived relative to the particular “people” invested with sovereign authority: Those who are not members of “the people,” regardless of their fitness or ability to perceive and commit themselves to a set of principles, are illegitimate participants in public affairs.Footnote 14

Neither the United States nor the United Kingdom was a liberal democracy by the mid-nineteenth century. But the principal exclusions of each, and their philosophical justification, followed these basic lines. In the Victorian-era United Kingdom, the franchise was restricted on explicitly “liberal” grounds of fitness.Footnote 15 The justification for one of the United States’ most prominent forms of exclusion – persons of African descent, whether enslaved or free – was characteristically “democratic.”Footnote 16 Persons of color were defined as outside the pale of the “people,” a definition that was often retrospectively claimed to have been implicit in the country’s acceptance and protection of slavery, and which was made explicit in a series of federal statutes and state constitutions from 1790 through to the 1850s. But unlike the United Kingdom, where doctrinaire liberals were empowered, the minority of politically enfranchised or active Americans who opposed illiberal distinctions of race were confronted not by an ascendant liberalism but by an ascendant democracy, one in which the legitimate community that authorized the state was increasingly understood as “we, the white people.”Footnote 17 This illiberal construction of “the people” was embedded and entrenched in American institutions and public opinion. These differences would shape the choices and syntheses they pursued.

“An Apprenticeship to Liberty”

Between 1828 and 1832 the constitution of the United Kingdom was radically refashioned, with laws passed repealing the exclusion of non-Anglicans from public offices, granting Catholics the right to most public offices, including sitting in parliament, and modernizing aspects of the electoral system to enfranchise the country’s growing middle classes while disenfranchising “ancient right” voters from the working classes. These reforms began the process of dismantling what contemporaries had called the Protestant Constitution, a narrative about the historical development of England that attributed the “peculiar excellence” of the English political system to anti-Catholicism and the nation-defining struggle against “Popery.”Footnote 18

English liberalism defined itself in large part through its opposition to this particularistic vision of British political community. Reform of the country’s electoral system and civil rights was envisioned partly as a means for pushing this vision of liberalism forward and partly as necessary for sustaining it in the future. Starting in 1828, a broadly liberal reform coalition passed legislation that abolished most disabilities on Catholics and nonconformists, enfranchised tens of thousands of men in the burgeoning (and largely nonconforming) middle classes, and disenfranchised a large number of voters whose bribery and intimidation had sustained the sectarian Protestant Constitution and the landed gentry and aristocrats who were its social base. The “reform electorate” that took shape over the following decades undergirded a new era in which the public philosophy of the British regime was, if never perfectly, clearly identified with liberal principles.

Governments backed by this electorate undertook a remarkable liberalization of British institutions, empowering local property owners in municipal government against the former self-appointed and sectarian cartels; altering the principles of public relief along the lines desired by liberal economics (i.e., punitive regulation of those who could not maintain the foundational fiction of self-sufficiency); repealing or lowering taxes on the free circulation of ideas and debate;Footnote 19 and restricting the tithing authority of the churches of England and Ireland. Perhaps the crowning achievement was the gradual abolition of slavery throughout the British Empire. Liberals would further use their authority to demand that colonial legislation be amended to remove all explicit distinctions of race and religion, a cause pursued with more energy in parliament than in the colonies or colonial offices.

When a liberal leader in 1847 requested the Commons remove the most important civil disabilities imposed on Jewish subjects, he denied the legitimacy of using race or religion to allocate political rights, concluding that “there is no part of the human race, however divided from us by feeling or by colour, which does not yet belong to the family of man, and who ought not to be received into one universal brotherhood.”Footnote 20 Most liberals continued to associate Protestantism with civilization and liberty, but they argued that the Christian ideal was best manifested in liberal ideals. “Perfect Christianity,” declared one MP, “is perfect liberality.”Footnote 21 Christianity was expressed not through “the enforcement of opinions,” but through, “knocking off the fetters of the slave; it has been in respecting the rights of poverty and industry; it has been in measures which, by stimulating free and fair intercourse between different nations, bind them together in the bonds of peace. It has been not by exclusiveness, but by expansion.”Footnote 22 The exclusion of Jewish subjects from equal rights and privileges was “a partial law, and I think, therefore, an infringement of Christ’s law.”Footnote 23 Bills repealing all or some of the restrictions against Jewish subjects were passed repeatedly by liberal House of Commons, only to be defeated by the House of Lords, where the ironically more “popular” than “liberal” position – stressing political community over liberal principles – that doing so would enfranchise “an alien and a stranger” dominated.Footnote 24 Still, by 1858, the most important disabilities had been abolished, a capstone to thirty years of liberalizing reforms.

As William Gladstone declared in 1884, in the fifty years since the Reform Act of 1832 liberalism had been the “solid and permanent conviction of the nation.”Footnote 25 There was a solid “domination of liberal principles,” notes historian Jonathan Sperber, sustained by the broad liberal majorities in the electorate.Footnote 26 It was, in Matthew Arnold’s formulation, the “great middle-class liberalism, which had for the cardinal points of its belief the Reform Bill of 1832, and local self-government, in politics; in the social sphere, free-trade, unrestricted competition, and the making of large industrial fortunes; in the religious sphere, the Dissidence of Dissent and the Protestantism of the Protestant religion.” For a time, this liberalism had been “the paramount force in [the] country, and … in possession of the future.”Footnote 27 The liberal electorate had been defined by its inclusions and exclusions, by the removal of “odious” distinctions against conscience and by the erection and maintenance of supposedly non-odious one based on property.

Within a few years after the passage of the Reform Act of 1832, a new movement for political democratization was organized. The People’s Charter it mobilized around demanded manhood suffrage (proposals for women’s suffrage were sidelined), the secret ballot, no property qualification for parliamentary office, equally apportioned constituencies, and annual elections. Chartists argued that the Reform Act had done little more than effect “a transfer of power from one domineering faction to another, and left the people as helpless as before.” Attacking one of the liberal government’s proudest achievements, the Chartist petition then invoked another: “our slavery has been exchanged for an apprenticeship to liberty,” it stated, referencing the period of apprenticeship imposed on formerly enslaved persons by the 1833 abolition act.Footnote 28 The liberal government announced its opposition and the petition was rejected 235 to 46. Riots broke out throughout the country, uprisings in Wales and Yorkshire were put down by the military, and several Chartist leaders were convicted of high treason.

Liberals, in the post-Reform United Kingdom, confronted the state not as outsiders but as its core ideological constituency. Their response was not univocal, but the central tendency of most elite liberals was to support some further reforms but to oppose mass democratization on the grounds that it was a threat to liberalism. An “unlimited extension of the franchise,” argued Charles Wood, “would be an evil and an obstacle to liberal and enlightened legislation.” He argued that had the English working classes been enfranchised, the Irish would still be suffering under religious oppressions. (A few years later, as Chancellor of the Exchequer during the Irish Famine, Wood could take solace in knowing that he had refused to break with liberal economic orthodoxy even as the bodies piled higher.)Footnote 29 Democratization was a choice “between progress and retrogression” from liberal principles.Footnote 30 Lord Russell asked whether, “with respect to many subjects in relation to religious liberty, as to the Roman Catholics particularly, [if] any one believe[d] that universal suffrage would produce less feeling of religious bitterness and animosity than existed among Members of this House? My belief is, that Members of this House are far more liberal than the community in general are disposed to be.”Footnote 31 Liberals regularly complained that the working classes did not understand the harmonious operation of liberal economics, that their “political economy is not that of Adam Smith.” Conservatives, such as Disraeli, would often point out the tension between popular representation and liberal policies, asking whether liberal measures “would ever pass if the Parliament had been returned by universal suffrage?”Footnote 32 Clay and a few others excepted, most believed the answer was no. Only by excluding the ostensibly illiberal elements of the population, and concentrating political power in constituencies that intuitively saw liberalism as the expression of their values and interests, could liberalism be secured.

Confronted with the choice of democratization or repression, both Conservative and Liberal MPs chose repression, in 1839 and then again in 1842.Footnote 33 The government also reinforced its ability to secure order through coercion, passing the Rural Constabulary Act in 1839 and the Parish Constables Act in 1842, both of which were intended to establish or modernize local police forces and make them more responsive to direction from the Home Office. The Home Office itself was transformed from an inefficient and laconic agency to a centralized and effective arm of the national government. Even as the Chartist petition was being presented to parliament for a second time in 1842, the House of Commons was debating the Crown and Government Security Act, which made anything resembling a seditious utterance an offence punishable by transportation overseas. “There must be something more than mere government to make men what one could wish them,” noted The Spectator in defense of the new police establishment. “Still there must be government; and when we say that, we say that there must be a certain amount of coercion.”Footnote 34

When a new round of Chartist agitation erupted in 1848, the coercive power of the British state was no longer as reliant on antiquated local authorities or the overbearing force of the army. The repression was more effective, and entailed “a more fundamental abridgement of the constitutional rights of ‘freeborn Englishmen’,” than anything seen in the United Kingdom outside of Ireland (or those other colonies not formally constitutive of the Union) since the eighteenth century. The Duke of Wellington was given military control over London. More importantly, over 170,000 members, drawn largely from the enfranchised middle classes, were sworn in as special constables under the new police authority (their ranks included the exiled Louis–Napoleon Bonaparte, soon to crush democracy in France).Footnote 35 After the petition was rejected, a series of riots and uprisings flared in parts of the country; all were put down. The government preemptively suspended habeas corpus in Ireland, and after a brief uprising in South Tipperary the leaders of the Young Ireland movement were defeated, executed, or transported. The Chartists, writes one historian, “faced a governing class confident in the exercise of its power, secured by the reform settlement of 1832, and the loyalty of the military.”Footnote 36

The comprehensive defeat of the Chartists gave liberals space to pursue a strategy of progressive but controlled enfranchisement, supporting the targeted and partial extension of voting rights to those members of the working class who had sufficiently progressed in “civilization” and in the recognition of liberal principles.Footnote 37 In doing so, they hoped to fortify liberalism’s status as the public philosophy of the country, by winning the adherence of what they anticipated could be made into a liberal constituency. Still, in 1866 a very modest reform was defeated by a coalition of Conservatives and Liberals who argued that it went too far, destroying the liberal influence of the middle-class electorate. Robert Lowe, the leader of the Liberal opposition to reform, argued instead for an alternative strategy. “The middle class Parliament,” he argued, had not adopted in response to the Chartists a program for a reduction in working hours, or cut back payments to bondholders, or expanded the monetary supply, but “struck off the shackles from trade, meeting, while doing so, with every possible opposition from the working classes.” Liberals, he argued, had given the people what they needed, by ignoring what they wanted. He opposed the transfer of “power from the hands of property and intelligence” to the working classes precisely because he looked “forward to and hope[d] for [the] amelioration of society – because I am a Liberal.”Footnote 38 The bill was defeated.

The next year, a combination of parliamentary maneuvering, public pressure, and administrative difficulties resulted in a reform bill that went even further.Footnote 39 For decades, liberals had been arguing that the working classes should not be enfranchised until they had progressed in property, education, and the scale of civilization.Footnote 40 Liberalism needed “to fit the people for the use of political power before it was granted to them.”Footnote 41 Education provided a critical metric and solution to the problem of political authority within liberalism, since education self-evidently meant the dissemination of liberal principles. But liberal commitments to voluntarism in education had impeded its further expansion. However desirable education might be, liberals were generally committed to the principle that its expansion must come about through the natural operation and progress of society, rather than being imposed on families, taxpayers, and employers.

Seeing a democratizing bill likely to pass, Lowe and like-minded liberals now announced a reversal of their positions. Those who had been opposed to “forcing education on people” were “completely changed.” “I was opposed to [centralizing an educational system and curriculum],” declared one; “I am ready to accept centralization; I was opposed to an education rate, I am ready now to accept it; I objected to inspection, I am now willing to create crowds of inspectors …. You have placed the government in the hands of the masses, and you must therefore give them education.”Footnote 42 Confronted by a growing pressure for democratization, to which they had contributed with their emphasis on gradual, piecemeal reforms, liberals now recognized the possibility that liberalism itself would have to make more far-reaching accommodations. They had already fortified the coercive power and central authority of the state. They would now support a program of mass education that was explicitly understood as having the purpose of disciplining the working classes and training them in liberal principles. The priorities of liberalism were being redefined, some of its more libertarian features abandoned, in order to retain what Lowe and others now decided was its essential core, a liberal economic order.

“To Abolish Odious Distinctions”

The tensions between democracy and liberalism appeared in a different form in the United States. The successive crises that culminated in the revolutionary war had separated a large portion of the population from their attachment to “England” as an imagined community. Perhaps paradoxically, for such an agglomeration of disparate communities and interests, by the end of the revolution popular sovereignty had emerged as a central principle by which a broad cross-section of US political life could define the terms of their independence and provide a legitimating principle to underlie their new governments.Footnote 43

This was still a protean concept, with neither the boundaries of the “people” nor the appropriate scope and practice of its “sovereignty” having an agreed upon meaning. All of the new republics debated the proper ways in which popular sovereignty should be exercised.Footnote 44 But disagreement on form coexisted alongside widespread agreement on foundations: Even the US Constitution, which checked some of the more democratic tendencies of the state constitutions, established the broad state electorates as the authorizing voice of the new nation and was defended as securing popular sovereignty at the base of all of its institutions. The rule of the people was accepted, eventually by conservative and egalitarian republicans alike, as the legitimating principle and public philosophy of the new country.Footnote 45

With this settled, the definition of “the people” took on new importance. Some insisted that former loyalists, or those who had not taken the wartime oaths of allegiance, were not included. Others envisioned “the people” in almost wholly local terms, at the level of the state or a peripheral village. The “people” could be synonymous with the laboring portion of the population. For some, it had obvious religious and ethnic connotations – usually English, with the growing number of Scots-Irish viewed with more ambivalence. For others, the very language of “the people” promised an amalgamation of the country’s polyglot reality.

The porous boundaries of the American “people,” however, would come to have an important exception. There had long been an explicit civic hierarchy restricting the rights and privileges available to persons of African descent, most obviously in the civic status of “slave” but extending also to the small population of free Blacks. During the Revolution, political and military leaders had sought to provoke popular passion for the cause by warning about the “internal” enemies of enslaved Blacks and indigenous peoples, disseminating rumors of insurrection that would have long-lasting consequences.Footnote 46 The first meeting of the new US Congress restricted naturalization to “white” persons, a term whose basic content was defined by what it was not. But none of this foreclosed Black citizenship, and the issue would animate political debates and conflicts for decades.

By the 1830s, an explicit discursive and institutional formulation of the boundaries of American peoplehood – the “white man’s republic” – had been fully worked out. State constitutions were gradually amended to disenfranchise all non-whites, while new laws restricting the mobility and rights of free persons of color were passed. While championed by political elites, this narrative was justified by reference to popular sovereignty, both retrospectively by reference to the founding’s constitutive moment and as an ongoing expression of that sovereignty. Proto-originalist arguments held that the country’s founders, desiring a union between slaveholders and non-slaveholders, could never have intended extending the boundaries of “the people” beyond the white population.Footnote 47 As a contemporary matter, the prejudices of “the people” had to be respected as a matter of popular sovereignty. “I stop not to inquire whether [whites’ prejudice] be right or wrong,” argued one legislator, “or whether it spring from the virtues or vices of our nature – the fact is so, and it is the fact, immoveable and unchangeable as it is,” that for him and many others justified the exclusion of Blacks from citizenship. “The prejudices of the white man must be respected – no matter how he came by them. He is the lord of the soil.”Footnote 48 The “white man’s republic” was a rationale for exclusion that rested less on the supposed deficiencies of the group in question than on its supposedly alien character.Footnote 49

This shaped how the different antislavery movements in the United States confronted the tension between democracy and liberalism. For example, a broad and influential coalition of liberal elites supported gradual abolition on the condition that free and freed Blacks be removed from the United States. They argued that racially illiberal laws and conflict were inevitable in a democratic context where whites refused to recognize Blacks as part of “the people.” Insistent that democracy required homogeneity, they argued that liberalism and democracy could be synthesized only by the physical removal of the “discordant” part.Footnote 50 The movement’s most important contribution, given the refusal of slaveholders to consider abolition, was to further solidify this notion that heterogeneity was impossible in a democratic context and to popularize an increasingly “naturalistic” justification that for reasons of “inherent” racial difference and white prejudice, Blacks and whites could never “amalgamate.”

A more positive synthesis would come from the immediatist abolitionist movement. The abolitionists rejected colonization, partly in response to free Blacks demands, and would harshly critique colonizationists for disseminating unchristian and potentially illiberal claims of fundamental difference. Unlike colonizationists, however, active abolitionists were not well represented among the ranks of the regime’s governing classes.Footnote 51 While the threat of illiberalism in the United Kingdom was supposedly found in a disempowered mass public, or in the remaining legacies of Anglican and Protestant sectarianism, illiberalism in the United States was embedded at the core of a powerful political regime that enjoyed popular authorization. A strategy of insulating the state from popular majorities might have facilitated the cause of racial liberalism – as Tocqueville famously speculated – but it was hopelessly utopian in the antebellum United States. Enfranchised elites were largely committed to the “white man’s republic,” while the regime’s democratic institutions meant any state-centric strategy for advancing liberalism would first have to find approval among a public that was deeply illiberal on this issue.

Instead of empowering the state against the people, or claiming that the people’s illiberalism could only be eradicated by removing the object of its hate, abolitionists would work to change the people. At one level this meant changing the attitudes of the white population, pulling it away from illiberal prejudices. But it also meant recognizing the “true” people of the founding, those who were born in the country, who had fought for the country, and who by the republican and egalitarian principles of the revolution were entitled to recognition as such. Instead of insulating liberalism from “the people,” US abolitionists would have to try and make liberal principles truly popular.

Few denied that the white population was deeply prejudiced, though the hostility that confronted the movement led many, such as James McCune Smith, to conclude that whites harbored “a hate deeper than I had imagined.”Footnote 52 But in the pages of their newspapers, and sometimes in their meetings, abolitionists sought to dispel prejudice by encouraging and performing some measure of racial equality. Abolitionists opposed laws or constitutional provisions that imposed disabilities on the basis of color, and beginning in the 1830s they organized state-level lecture and petition campaigns demanding their repeal.Footnote 53 For Black abolitionists, repeal had immediate practical significance; but for both Blacks and whites it also embodied a larger goal. It was a mainstay of abolitionist thought that the legal disabilities and exclusions, rather than being a mere reflection of white prejudice, were critical vehicles for its production. White prejudice emerged from slavery and the racial distinctions it required, and it would be dispelled with emancipation and equal rights. While this optimistic posture – tactical for some, sincerely believed for others – would recede among Black commentators after emancipation, during the antebellum era it was a touchstone of abolitionist faith.Footnote 54

The enfranchisement of Black Americans, however, was believed to do more than reduce white prejudice. It would confirm in law what abolitionists, most crucially Black abolitionists, insisted upon in rhetoric and practice: persons of color were members of “the people,” fully entitled to recognition as such on the basis of the country’s revolution doctrines and founding.Footnote 55 It was in this context that the Declaration of Independence, along with a sometimes exaggerated history of the early egalitarianism of the early Republic, came to be deployed as defining the appropriate interpretation of the Constitution. Black Americans, by this account, had been recognized as part of “the people” at the founding, which had promised an eventual eradication of slavery; they were entitled to equal rights by these founding commitments, by birth, and by their revealed dedication to the country’s highest principles. This was an alternative narrative of political community and an alternative public philosophy, one that denied the validity of the “white man’s republic” and claimed that its establishment had been the product of a “slave power” that had perverted the true republican instincts of the country’s people and institutions.Footnote 56

Abolitionists’ goal of educating the people in liberal principles was similar to the disciplinary education to which British liberals turned after 1867. But the abolitionism of the 1830s and 1840s had little capacity to coercively shape public opinion through state-run educational institutions. It could only rely on persuasion or politics. Moral suasionists disclaimed coercion and, for some, a rejection of the political institutions of the United States; political abolitionists focused on the practical requirements of building local and state coalitions that could exercise power in pursuit of abolitionist aims. For neither was there much basis for imagining, in the short term, an insulated state as an available tool for advancing racial liberalism.Footnote 57 To hope to use the state for this goal, they would first need a governing class invested in their synthesis and a social base who connected it to their own interests and aspirations the way the British middle-class electorate did with English liberalism. One way or another, abolitionism and the eradication of illiberal distinctions would have to start from the bottom-up in a relatively democratic country.

The Republican Party provided the “instrumentality” for achieving this goal.Footnote 58 Its election on an antislavery platform fractured the elite mutual security pact of the US Constitution, and provided abolitionists with a foothold in the state.Footnote 59 As the southern states seceded, abolitionists argued that preserving popular government – sustaining not just the Union but their more expansively understood Republic – required the fulfilment of what they (almost alone) insisted were its true foundational principles. Republican allies could echo these claims, even as they avoided the more liberal implications of the abolitionists’ vision. But war opened the possibility of Black soldiers and of emancipation; control over the territories and the Republican Party’s need for an electoral base in the postwar South opened the possibility of enfranchisement.Footnote 60 Abolitionists who supported Black suffrage did not shy away from arguments invoking political expedience. And Republican politicians could draw on abolitionists’ now well-rehearsed narrative of a political community dedicated to liberty and equality as a public rationale for action, even if electorally motivated. The Republican-led state would invite the loyal North and the emancipated South to rally to this vision of a racially liberal and democratic republic, one that had been substantially developed by abolitionists’ long crusade.


The abolitionists’ synthesis of liberalism and democracy failed to take deep root. The liberal rights established by the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments were never repealed, but their meaning was altered and narrowed. Liberal grounds for disenfranchisement were soon found congruent with the public philosophy of the early twentieth-century US regime.Footnote 61 Why? The Republican Party was never entirely committed to the principles of abolitionist liberalism, and these found even less support in the Democratic Party.Footnote 62 More important was the limited reconstruction of “the people” achieved in the United States. In the United Kingdom, the governing classes were secure in their expectation that the regime’s social bases – especially the “liberal middle classes” enfranchised by the reforms of the 1830s – would support the suppression of mass democracy and gradual expansions of the franchise calibrated to retain liberal hegemony. The potential social basis for abolitionists’ synthesis of liberalism and democracy might have been more contradictory,Footnote 63 and the class most intuitively attracted to it was in an extremely precarious situation. The British middle classes held immense property, and with it a source of independent political power that could not be easily disregarded. Black Americans had very little property, and were concentrated in a region whose political economy was biased toward blunt coercion and where a deep investment in racist hierarchy provided the basis for appeals to white solidarity in defense of this hierarchy.

For abolitionists to fully establish their expansive vision of a liberal democratic people required a state capable of protecting its institutional foundations by supporting persons in the exercise of their civil and political rights, limiting the autonomy of local elites and governments in the process.Footnote 64 It would also require a redistribution of property to secure some of the material underpinnings for liberty and to blunt the most coercive possibilities of the region and country’s political economy. It can be difficult to appreciate how close they came, and how remarkable this feat was given that their allies in government were mostly lukewarm on the principles. Their failure had many causes, one of which was the choice of a large subset of liberals, including many erstwhile abolitionists, to break with Republican radicals, and to oppose the continuation of Reconstruction. The legal (but not social) eradication of the distinction of color was, in their mind, all that could be asked for under liberalism; meaningful respect for the newly granted civic equality could be secured only through the natural operation of a liberal economy and the progress of education. For the state to support it, through regulating laws or redistribution, would be illiberal. British liberals, in the face of democratizing threats, had chosen to invest in state coercion and disciplinary education; these US liberals instead chose to allow the democratization that they had supported to flounder, rather than to invest in the state capacity to protect it.

After global depression undermined Republicans’ promises of material prosperity, threatening their political hegemony and raising up alternative parties, liberals in both major parties gradually consolidated around a narrowed core of acceptable policy and on a belief that a final synthesis of democracy and liberalism required recognizing the hegemony of white elites in the South and liberal elites in the North. The state’s ability to protect political and civil rights, or even the lives of southern Blacks, was whittled away. The governing regimes of many northern states, in which the liberal successors to the abolitionists participated, engaged in new efforts to build up local state authority to suppress labor unrest, more like their UK counterparts than ever. The democratic liberalism of the abolitionists, of a sovereign people that would sustain a liberal republic, was giving way to an insulated state dedicated in many states to the preservation of liberal economics and, in a growing swath of the country, to Jim Crow’s concatenation of illiberal distinctions and antidemocratic practices. It would take new periods of struggle, and new syntheses, before these were undone.


The historically forged links between popular sovereignty and liberalism are unraveling. We can see the outlines of new syntheses all around us, most worrisomely populism’s marrying of liberalism’s most inegalitarian features with a chauvinistic nationalism that insists on its democratic authorization. While some of today’s illiberal populists embrace so-called welfare chauvinism,Footnote 65 most are pursuing what might be described as illiberal neoliberalism, conjoining a deregulatory and market-expanding approach to political economy alongside populist appeals targeting internal and external “aliens.”

Liberals in turn have at times juxtaposed democracy against populism and liberalism against the people. This raises the possibility that the languages of popular authorization and popular sovereignty will be in practice left to the illiberals. We should not cede this terrain. Neither welfare chauvinism nor illiberal neoliberalism enjoy an intrinsic affinity with popular sovereignty, even if their advocates have grown comfortable with some of its authorizing discourse. Popular sovereignty is not so easily cabined, and other syntheses capable of securing popular allegiance are possible.

The histories of US and UK liberalism can be useful in imagining what such syntheses might look like. The British synthesis prioritized liberalism over and against democracy, while liberal conceptions of political economy were prioritized over any opposition to a coercive state. The abolitionist tendency emphasized here sought to secure liberal values not by insulating them from democracy, but by widening democracy’s scope. It would reconstruct “the people” to establish a revised liberalism on a popular foundation. It would expand the composition of the people along with the authority of the state to preserve this people. Like the Americans of the antebellum era, we live in a world of popular sovereignty. To stand opposed to it is to earn, rightfully, opprobrium. But the idea that a synthesis of liberalism and democracy should be pursued exclusively from the bottom-up, without using the state to protect and realize its core premises, would be to repeat the failures of Reconstruction.

Reconciling liberalism to popular sovereignty requires choices about what is valuable: Liberalism was vastly improved once its economics was reduced from the status of dogma, once its conception of the individual was broadened beyond a property owner with a conscience. Developing the capacities of the state to protect the meaningful exercise of the rights and freedoms, as well as to advance the social equality, necessary for popular sovereignty’s fuller realization, has enriched both liberalism and democracy. The dialectic between a bottom-up reconstitution of “the people” and the support of the state in sustaining it as a foundation for a durable regime will likely need to begin with the former. The path of the abolitionists – the politics of fiction, of creating and giving form to a new conception of the public, in which a regime’s real material benefits are linked to a meaningful vision of community and collective, intergenerational political life – is undoubtedly more difficult than the path of insulation or of an enhanced descriptive representation in the halls of power. But it is also the best possibility for a synthesis of liberalism and democracy that enriches both and can be anchored in the best security popular sovereignty can offer, the lived reality and aspirations of a renewed democratic community.

8 Three Vignettes Popular Sovereignty in French History

Daniella Sarnoff

In November 2018 hundreds of thousands of yellow-vest-clad French took to the streets and roadways of France to protest a planned gas tax. In doing so they were also expressing a broad frustration with their sense of disempowerment within the French Republic. Images of the gilets jaunes wearing the Phrygian caps worn by French revolutionaries 230 years earlier circulated in the press. Some protestors carried banners that expressly put the actions of 2018 in a chronological relationship to 1789. The links between the foundational street activity of the French Revolution and the modern protestors of the twenty-first century were made purposely clear by participants and commentators alike, making explicit the vital French tradition of political and social action in the name of the people and popular sovereignty – from Abbé Sieyès’ 1789 pamphlet “What is the Third Estate” through the gilets jaunes protests begun in the fall of 2018. Within the French context the texts, images, symbols, rituals, and procedures that both gave birth to and sprang from the revolution are evidence of the creative fiction that sits at the base of investigations of the people and popular sovereignty.Footnote 1 While the French Revolution was a foundational moment for the invocation of popular sovereignty to support a new concept of rule and government, over centuries French leaders and citizens have continually invoked popular sovereignty to claim political legitimacy and make demands for a variety of political and social ends. At times the concept has been used to support a liberal ideal of the nation, at other times it has buttressed far-right claims to the nation. More recently it has been used by the National Front (now Rassemblement National) to rally for an exit from the European Union and the gilets jaunes in their protests against the French government of Emmanuel Macron.

A look at three historical moments in the life of the nation captures the constancy, as well as the evolution, of the concept of popular sovereignty within French politics and society. Starting with a consideration of origins in the French Revolution (of course!), to the interwar internal battles of the Third Republic (with Franco-French civil strife around the meaning and uses of popular sovereignty), through to the popular protests of the yellow-vest movement, the chapter does not simply track the historical existence of claims to popular sovereignty, but also shows its uses across the political spectrum and the impact of couching political and social claims in the language of popular sovereignty and the demands of the people. A consideration of uses of “popular sovereignty” as rhetoric and a call to collective action across liberal and illiberal ideologies – sometimes calling on an inclusive idea of “the people” other times an exclusive idea – also illustrates the “endemic” nature of tensions and contradictions within popular sovereignty, as noted in this volume’s introduction and many chapters.

The vignettes of French history also show the importance of cultural embeddedness of expressions of popular will, the purposeful taking on of sartorial expressions of popular protests and political expression, and the malleability of that concept across centuries of French national politics and society – also endemic aspects of France’s particular popular sovereignty. These three events, spanning over two centuries, are moments of invention, inversion, and transition in the political uses of popular sovereignty by the people and moments of expressed grievances – via the streets, documents, and clothing – as well as evidence of the perpetual reenactment and redefinition of the people’s role within the democratic legitimizing claim that sovereignty resides in the people.

The French Revolution in Symbol, Deed, and Legacy

It is almost impossible to discuss French history without paying one’s due to the French Revolution. While some of this is an inflated sense of the universal truths “gifted” to the world by the revolution, some of it is well deserved. A detailed blow-by-blow recounting of the French Revolution isn’t necessary, yet a discussion of French ideas of popular sovereignty must address and acknowledge the ideals, language, actions, and legacies of the French Revolution. The First French Republic (1792–1804) was short lived, but it created a new set of assumptions and expectations about the relationship of the nation and the people, and many generations after the revolution, indeed to this day (and not just in France) those assumptions remain a legitimizing force in claims to popular sovereignty. The revolution reconfigured ideas of French sovereignty from residing in the monarchy and body of the king to one embodied in the people. The language of the French Revolution would come to rely heavily on ideals of the role of the people and from that time forward many French, and historians of France, would argue that all subsequent claims to the right and capacity to rule resided with the people. It was a concept expressed and reaffirmed in both abstract invocations of the nation, as well as in the specific philosophical undergirding of the nation: that a purposeful coming together of the people was the basis for a legitimate claim to sovereignty.

One of the essential attributes that this revolutionary upheaval ushered in was a new idea of the public and the concept of public opinion. But, from well before the end of the monarchy and the execution of Louis XVI in 1793, polemicists, philosophers, and, indeed, the soon-to-be-guillotined king and queen, appealed to the public to usher in a new idea of France or to preserve the ancien régime. No matter the “side,” leaders and would-be-leaders across the political spectrum (a spectrum of left and right which was born in the revolution) were forced evermore to appeal to a public to legitimate their claims to govern. And it was not just in a traditional sense of government that a public and a concept of popular sovereignty was being transformed in late eighteenth-century France. New concepts of sovereignty and public claims by the populace to be the expression of popular sovereignty were being proclaimed and circulated in documents, popular press, political clubs, anthems, festivals, symbols, and clothing. And while there would be ongoing debate (to this day) about ideals of the French nation and who can legitimately claim to speak for it, the process and expressions of those claims – including the very act of going into public space and asserting the right to do so because of the connection of the masses and popular sovereignty – and donning symbols and clothing and singing the anthems of these movements continues to be the legacy of the French Revolution and part of what has been “embedded in the political consciousness transmitted by the national culture” of the French.Footnote 2 The French Revolution offers a glimpse into particular French ideas about popular sovereignty that is expressed, transmitted, and passed on in national culture, through sartorial expressions, newspapers, popular movements that are distinguished from political parties, and going out into the streets en masse to claim, and perpetually reclaim, the right and legitimacy of the sovereignty of the people.

The French Revolution is sometimes considered one of the first moments of public opinion polling for the French state. And while even French absolutists couldn’t maintain arbitrary rule or entirely dismiss consideration of the people, the 1789 decision to gather the Estates General was the first notice that the idea of who could or should be involved in government decisions had clearly expanded from the monarchical ideal inherited from the reigns of Louis XIV and Louis XV. Those previous Bourbon kings had not been “forced” to gather the broader group of French to give legitimacy to the process of tax collecting. The last time the Estates General had been convened was 1614. Louis XVI’s “breaking” of a 175-year streak was the point of no return to a new age of popular sovereignty.

In the great debates about the nature of how the Estates General should meet the state went about collecting cahiers de doléance. These “notebooks of grievance” are telling compilations of the annoyances and degradations experienced and resented by segments of the French population. In many ways the cahiers de doléance were the incipient French nation conducting opinion polling and setting up the expectation that public opinion would be considered in broad political decision-making. It is telling that in January 2019, in the midst of popular unrest and the French taking to the streets in general protest, President Emmanuel Macron announced that there would be a modern collection of cahiers de doléance. This move, even the term itself, harkened back to the origin story of the French Republic – a story that the French have been reenacting for centuries and makes clear the ways that both the government and the people feel compelled to reenact the narrative. These continuities confirm Zolberg’s thesis that ideas of the public and popular sovereignty are embedded in French national culture – whether for the person in the street or for the head of the government – and that both the conflicts and tensions around popular sovereignty, including disputes about who the people are and who is allowed to claim that belonging, as well as the perpetual reenactment of that claim, are endemic to French popular sovereignty.

In 1789 the cahiers des doléance – across the three estates of clergy, nobility, and the Third Estate (all the rest) – indicated that all wanted some form of representation and constitutional rule.Footnote 3 These eighteenth-century surveys created an expectation that the frustrations and desires expressed in the notebooks would be addressed. It also set the assumption of mass engagement in the workings of France and in many ways augured the move to a republic. And, finally, it established a precedent for French political action for the future: The people shall be consulted and any legitimate claim to rule in France must consider the role of the people and their claims to sovereignty.

At the same time when the notebooks of grievance were being collected a foundational document of the revolution was circulating. Abbé Sieyès’ “What is the Third Estate?” is exhibit A in the revolutionary power of language in the construction of French popular sovereignty.Footnote 4 The revolutionary pamphlet turned the procedural conversation about how the Estates General should vote into a broad indictment of the privileging of the First and Second Estates (the clergy and the nobility). Sieyès argued that the Third Estate (the masses who were not part of the First or Third Estate) had been nothing in the political order and yet, in fact, were “everything.” As Sieyès wrote, “What is the will of the nation? It is the result of individual will, just as the Nation is the aggregate of the individuals who compose it. It is impossible to conceive of a legitimate association that does not have for its goal the common security, the common liberty, in short, the public good.”Footnote 5

Evidence of Sieyès’ ideas is clearly enshrined in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, adopted by the National Assembly in August 1789: “representatives of the French people have resolved to set forth the natural, inalienable and sacred rights of man … Further, the source of all sovereignty resides in the nation. The law is the expression of the general will and all citizens attain the right to participate personally, or through their representatives, in its formation.”Footnote 6

The nation being created in this document is one that places the power to rule, and its very sovereignty, in the people (though the citizen, an evolution from the French subject, in this formative invocation is a male citizen). While the question of whether women could exercise sovereignty was a debated revolutionary issue, there is no question that they played important revolutionary roles – most notably in the Women’s March to Versailles and the subsequent removal of Louis XVI back to Paris.Footnote 7 In many ways there is evidence of women’s actions of and claims to popular sovereignty being decisively important in the revolution, even as they would not be enfranchised until over 150 years later.

The concept fashioned by the revolutionary documents was that the nation was the expression of both collective and individual identities and freedoms. The claimed universality of that sentiment (argued both at the time and since by the French) became the greatest legacy of the French Revolution. Equally, the summoning of connection and accessibility – the appeal to citizens and not subjects – was an aspect of French sovereignty that would be invoked over and over again by the French and by denizens of countries across the globe.

The foundational importance of popular sovereignty within French political and social tradition is not just apparent in the founding documents of the nation, but in many other areas that would continue to have meaning and value throughout French society – in both specific episodic moments within French history and as the common social, cultural, and political language of the French.

One of the symbols of the power of the people – or specifically a show of patriotic fervor during the revolution – was the bonnet rouge, or Phrygian cap (a reference to the cap of liberty worn by freed slaves) that originated with speakers at political clubs. By 1792, with the increasing power of the Jacobin Club, the cap came to be a general symbol of the Revolution and was associated with popular politics.Footnote 8 Worn in the streets along with the tricolor cockade (the red, white, and blue of the revolutionary supporters), these symbols were shorthand public expressions of political allegiance to certain revolutionary ideals and to the very idea of citizens openly expressing their politics in the streets. The red cap would reappear in defining moments of French street politics (including in 2018 protests) and would sometimes be challenged by other sartorial markers, such as the blue shirts of 1930s fascists.

The very form of political debate that had its origins in the French Revolution would be one of the key attributes “embedded” in French national culture. The French Revolution set a precedent for expressions of popular sovereignty that were separate from parties and formal representative government. For example, the many political sensibilities and beliefs in the French Revolution were often expressed through political clubs, organizations that were open to a much broader group than those who had access to the election of a representative or service as a representative. The Girondins, the Cordeliers, and the Feuillants were all political clubs which, in the absence of political parties, played important roles in political debate and information dissemination. Along with their newspapers, these clubs were the locus of mass debate and political activity. And while these political clubs had some strong leaders, most famous if not infamous the Jacobin leader Maximillian Robespierre, the fact of the diffuse leadership of the clubs, and the correlation to diffuse leadership within the Assembly, also meant that the French Revolution set a precedent of both collective decision-making, as well as a recurrent return to popular sovereignty and “taking to the barricades” over a single strong leader.Footnote 9

The French Revolution had such wealth of political clubs and was so defined by direct political action and ensuing political violence that historians of the period often struggle to make sense of the different moments and stages of the revolution. By 1793 the argument about the intrinsic sovereignty of the people and their rights and claims vis-à-vis the government was well established (and it was about to become more democratic and enshrined in a new constitution). The Jacobin club, supported by the radical sans-culottes (yet another sartorial expression of politics), had taken control of the Convention (the structural inheritor of the National Assembly) and was pushing the revolution into a more democratic and more violent stage. One of the many legacies of the French Revolution would be the impact of the Terror (1793–1795), a stage in the revolution that amplified and sanctioned political violence in the name of democratic expansion, revolutionary dedication, and the assurance of ideals of popular sovereignty. And while many groups would be left out of the formal rights and privileges of the republic in the transition from French subjects to imagined French citizens, the French Revolution by and large offered a liberal and inclusive idea of popular sovereignty (certainly compared to French absolutist monarch), but, as we shall see, the same language and forms of appeal to be the people could also be used to create an exclusionary idea of the nation. These manipulations and conflicts within popular sovereignty on the road to a stable French Republic as well as the nation-specific glimpses offered by Katznelson and Shani give further evidence to this volume’s overarching argument. While the people remain the basic unit of political authorization across many national and historical examples, the tensions, contradictions, and frictions over who the people are also remain.Footnote 10

From the Revolution to the Third Republic, With a Brief Stop in the Mid-Nineteenth Century

Despite the brief life of the First Republic and the increasing authoritarianism of Napoleonic rule that came after it, neither Napoleon nor post-Napoleonic monarchical restoration would rid the country of the idea of popular sovereignty as the legitimizing force of a nation. In fact, it was in the fifty years after the fall of the First French Republic that the proclaimed faith in the nation, not the kingdom, as the greatest expression of popular sovereignty sees its fullest potential – especially as it was taken up by partisans across the political spectrum. As industrialization and urbanization became hallmarks of nineteenth-century Europe, and changed the realities of life for a great majority of individuals, the French revolutionary activities of the mid-nineteenth century gave further credence to the power of popular sovereignty. Inspired by nineteenth-century ideologies of liberalism, nationalism, and socialism, the revolutions of 1830 and 1848 appealed to ideals of popular sovereignty in different ways. In France, where revolutionary activity should also be seen in the context of fighting back stolid attempts to restore the French monarchy, a new phrase conveyed the immediate power and option of the physical insertion of the body of the people into political action: “To the barricades!” A growing industrialized working class, along with students and the poor, took to the streets to protest the repressive measures of the restored Bourbon dynasty (1814–1830). They did so in the name of the nation and the legitimacy of sovereignty via more expansive national representation. As one of the great legacies of the French Revolution was the idea that the “people,” and not just those with aristocratic titles, should participate in government, the activists of the 1830s pushed for the expansion of representative possibilities – to ensure that popular sovereignty would have real meaning within the nation – and to ensure that the right to govern was given by those who were governed.

By and large when nineteenth-century activists referred to nationalists they were inspired by the ideas of the French Revolution and considered the actions of a more and more enfranchised population to be a key component of the nation. The struggle of the new nation was in many ways practical. There was no question that a key component of any government had to be that it heeded the opinions (and actions) of its citizens.

While invocations and expressions of popular sovereignty continued throughout the nineteenth century, in the revolutions of 1830 and 1848, as well as in dramatic moments such as the 1870 Paris Commune, the early twentieth century provides a different lens to viewing the claims to popular sovereignty within French political and social life and shows a moment of contention, and some would argue inversion, of that concept.

The Fascist Leagues and Popular Front of the Interwar Years

In the first decades of the twentieth century, parties and movements from across the political spectrum came to lay claim to the populist side of popular sovereignty. France was not alone among European nations in the interwar years to see the proliferation of groups of the extreme-right that claimed, among other things, that it was parliamentary democracy that was corrupt and neither the republican system of the left nor the right truly represented the will of the people. Within France, league (ligue) was the designated terms for these organizations, which, by their own choice, were not political parties, as inherent in league existence was a criticism of political parties. “Neither right nor left” was the proud proclamation of many of these movements, capturing their disdain for traditional party politics.

The leagues formed in the years of the long shadow of the end of World War I. The five-year period following the Treaty of Versailles (1919) was one of political and economic instability in France. The depreciation and instability of the French franc, inflation, cabinet instability within the government, and, in 1923, the controversial decision to occupy the Ruhr to exact reparations from Germany (a move generally seen as unsuccessful) plagued a country still physically and psychologically recuperating from the death and injury of millions and a war-torn countryside. These issues alone fueled extreme-right action and rhetoric against the apparent inability of the Third Republic’s Parliament to lead the country. Added to such anger was the sentiment that the French had sacrificed greatly, even disproportionately, during the war and deserved a government capable of restoring French predominance and glory. When, in 1924, the Cartel des Gauches came into power many on the extreme-right saw the repudiation of all that France had given up in the war and the threat that, not only would the usual incapacity of the Parliament continue to plague the nation, but with the left in the coalition government Bolshevism and Leninism would soon destroy the country.Footnote 11

It was in this context that the first group of rightist populist leagues were formed. The Jeunesses Patriotes, founded in 1924 by Pierre Taittinger, and Le Faisceau, formed in 1925 by Georges Valois, a former member of the Action Française, were anti-communist and anti-parliamentarian. While the Jeunesses Patriotes claimed between 100,000 and 300,000 membersFootnote 12 and Le Faisceau much fewer, the far-right group that could lay greater claim to expressing and harnessing popular sovereignty was the Croix de Feu. Founded in 1927 by Maurice d’Hortoy, the Croix de Feu is best known under the leadership of Lieutenant Colonel François La Rocque, who took over the group in 1930. The Croix de Feu began as a loose association of veterans and under La Rocque it was transformed into a league of the extreme-right. By 1934, the Croix de Feu had over half a million members. The debate about the fascist nature of the Croix de Feu is ongoing and filled with more intensity than discussion about other groups, at least in part because it garnered the greatest amount of support.Footnote 13

In 1926 Raymond Poincaré’s victory brought the right back into power and in 1928 the franc was stabilized. This led to some quieting on the part of the 1920s leagues: Valois dissolved Le Faisceau in 1928, although the Jeunesses Patriotes continued their work. Further, the economic developments of 1927–1931 seemed to favor the French. Despite the New York stock market crash in 1929 France had a relatively healthy economy into 1931. This would change by 1932, at which point another left-wing Cartel government was elected. By that time France was suffering from the impact of global depression and over the course of four years France would have six governments, each, again, illustrating to the right the ineptness of the Third Republic’s parliamentary form. A second group of fascist and extreme-right groups formed, with appeals to populism and claims to be recapturing sovereignty lost to parliamentary politics.Footnote 14

It was in that context that the Solidarité Française was founded by François Coty in 1933, as was Marcel Bucard’s Le Francisme.Footnote 15 All the leagues shared paramilitary structures of brigades, legions, and local sections. They all shared a strategy of direct action in the streets and advocated violence as a way to assert their political views, published their own presses, recruited heavily among veterans, and students and claimed to truly represent the French nation. They also shared the same sartorial expression: a uniform of a blue shirt and the straight-armed (à la romaine) salute. They were anti-parliamentary, in favor of suppressing the left and Marxism, desiring the end of the Third Republic and intent on the installation of a corporatist state. They launched attacks on Marxists, Communists, Jews, and Free-masons, whom they often linked together as being part of corrupt influences within the Third Republic.Footnote 16

The leagues formation, structure, street action, and admiration of violence all point to the perceived rupture between the people and the republic by the late 1920s. The instability of the Third Republic (1870–1940) – parliamentary volatility and headline-grabbing scandals featuring members of parliament led to an erosion of French belief in the republic’s claim to legitimacy via popular sovereignty. As Kevin Passmore notes, the moments of the interwar years show the “complexity and diversity of social power in early 20th century France” and in many ways the evolution of the “people” in discourse and popular insurrection.Footnote 17 Further, the perception that there was a crisis in the French Republic, meant there was one, and across the political spectrum the events of the 1930s indicate the ways traditional parties were perceived as not responding to or enacting the will of the people. The recourse for many, again, across the political spectrum, was to “take to the streets.”Footnote 18

In addition to a claim to popular sovereignty and calls to action to take to the streets, the extreme-right political groups also projected a sense of solidarity and ideology by their dress. Within the groups of the far and fascist right all wore uniforms of blue (both men and women sporting French blue shirts) and gave the straight-armed Roman salute. Adherents of the different leagues wore some variation of the militarized blue shirt (the color itself also known as French army blue) and served as a visual expression of membership in a specific group and, like uniforms more generally, spoke to the individual’s willingness to subsume their identity within a larger group and political ideology. The blue shirts of the fascist uniform, along with the straight-armed salute, was the sartorial expression and evidence of the hierarchical and paramilitary structure of politics under far-right ideals – and like armies, this army of political ideologues expected violence.

The violence and street action of the rightist leagues led to the coalescence of the left in the mid-1930s. And the response of the Socialists, Communists, and Radicals to the actions of the far-right would be the birth of the Popular Front – a brief few years of leftist unity. They too would have their counterimages to the dress of the far-right. The partisans of what would be the Popular Front would be defined by their closed fist salute – in visual and ideological contrast to the open-hand salute – and images of the periods show the Phrygian cap again being worn in the streets as historical and ideological uniform.

In action and in dress, both ends of the ideological spectrum were called upon, a French drama was acted out, and a foundational concept from revolutionary days was reaffirmed. For the most dramatic illustration of the impulse to assert popular sovereignty and reenact the French revolutionary formation and claiming of that right we turn to early 1934 which provides a sense of the polarization of politics of the extreme left and right, as well as the impetus of both groups to take to the streets in a show of direct action and critique of the status quo. The demonstration of early 1934 began with the January actions of the far-right – as they gathered, in their paramilitary uniforms, outside the Chamber of Deputies. These actions, as reported by the press, “were interpreted as a sign of the ‘awakening of the people.’”Footnote 19 As one follows those actions into early February, it is evident that the increasingly authoritarian, anti-parliamentary, and militaristic “leagues” – who claimed they were neither right nor left, but for the people – were planning to hold the centrist (Radical) government accountable (or so they argued) by taking to the streets. What became known as the February riots had a mix of causes: the Stavisky affair, a financial scandal that seemed to touch men high up in the ruling Radical Socialist party; Prime Minister Daladier’s firing of Chiappe, the Police Prefect sympathetic to rightist causes and action; and general rightist upset with the leftist government in power.Footnote 20 Add to that the very existence of the populist leagues which for years had taken to the pages of the press, the streets, neighborhood associations, camps, and schools to argue that the form of government that existed in France was not a legitimate form, that it did not truly respect the will of the people. The combination of these things brought the leagues again to the streets of Paris on February 6, 1934. The leagues gathered by the Chamber of Deputies and appeared intent on storming the Chamber. The demonstration escalated and by the end of the evening fifteen people were dead and hundreds injured. The extent to which February 6 was an event planned by the leagues – their attempt at a fascist putsch – has been a topic of debate since the day it happened. While not successful as a takeover of the right, the riots and their aftermath did lead to the resignation of Daladier’s Radical cabinet, and the ascendance of a more rightist regime under Gaston Doumergue. The February 6 demonstration was a significant event for the leagues and they would invoke the memory, as well as the league “martyrs,” at every turn.

The extreme-right’s awakening and street activity and street action by the left – the ascent of Leon Blum and the Popular Front – are exemplars of a particular power and malleability of the French tradition of direct action and a popular assertion of the sovereignty of the people. Both the right and the left in a few months in 1934 through to 1936 were asserting that representative government, and those holding the reins of the nation, had veered too far to party protections and away from a duty to the people. The especially notable aspect of this at a particular moment in the interwar years is that this critique and response span the political spectrum. That the left and right responded by taking to the streets and expressing their conviction that the sovereignty of the people was being ignored, and that they were reasserting the will of the people, illustrates the national repertoires of French ideals of government and the role of the masses, outside of discrete party politics, to remind those governing that the people must be heeded. That they did so with their own ideals and symbols – often in opposition to each other –shows not only the malleability of those expressions, but also the foundational aspects of it. All the groups “in the streets” were reminding the structures of power (political parties, individual leaders, and the republic at large) that the people, whatever their actual politics, were always in a position to renegotiate the terms of agreement – that they held the ultimate legitimacy of sovereignty residing in the people.

That the assertion of the far-right leagues to be reclaiming France in the name of popular sovereignty was matched by the same claim on the political left is part of what makes this period important for a broader consideration of the power of popular sovereignty within the French tradition. Perhaps it is ironic that the street violence of the far-right ushered in the direct street action of the leftist Popular Front. Both groups saw themselves as acting within a patriotic French tradition – even those on the right who often criticized the “chaos” of republican politics.

The election of Blum and the Popular Front coalition in 1936 gave even greater focus to the enmity of the leagues. The election of a Socialist, who groups like the Solidarité Française referred to as “Le Juif,” seemed to confirm fascist fears. Blum’s dissolution of the leagues in June 1936 – tired of their anti-Republican harangues as well as physical attacks upon him – forced most of them to re-form as political parties, now specifically attacking Blum and the Popular Front. While the left responded to the street action of the right, the Popular Front strikes of 1936 would continue with that tradition, and was part of the perpetual reenactment and further establishment of popular assertion of sovereignty.

As historians of these leagues often point out, the ideologies of these groups could be both vague and inconsistent. The movements were clear about their anti-communism and anti-parliamentarianism, their nationalism, their belief in a strong leader, and their use of paramilitary organization and blue shirt uniforms. As much as the leagues are often portrayed as the interwar years’ great threat to the French tradition of popular sovereignty (as it related to republicanism), they can also be viewed within the French revolutionary tradition of the Jacobins – going into the streets and asserting their right to speak for the people and have a direct impact on the polity – unmediated by parliamentary representatives.

The European Union, the National Front, and the Gilets Jaunes

The revival of extreme-right organization in Europe in the last decade, and the meteoric rise of the French National Front in that time, also provides a moment to reflect on French ideas of popular sovereignty and the ways that different political affiliations come to both question and or reaffirm certain policies and actions in the name of popular.

The 2017 French presidential election, as well as late 2018 popular protests against the policies of Emmanuel Macron’s administration, are a modern example of contentious French ideas about popular protest and its connection to popular sovereignty – and again begs the question of the connection of popular sovereignty to traditional democratic ideals (the process of voting, e.g.).

The 2017 elections in France confirmed the increasing popularity of the far-right National Front. Though the party, since renamed Rassemblement National, lost to Emmanuel Macron’s La Republique En March in run-off elections, the polarizing election illustrates the ways in which political parties employ the language of sovereignty to legitimate their claims to govern the people, and capture partisans by raising the specter of a government that does not, so they would claim, represent the people or, by extension, respect the ideals of popular sovereignty. The foundational claim of Rassemblement National, under the leadership of Marine Le Pen, has been the promise of a Free France and the “return to France of her national sovereignty. Towards a Europe of independent nations, in service to the people.”Footnote 21 The 2017 claim of Le Pen’s party to truly represent the people can be best understood in the context of this volume’s introductory framing: that globalization (in this case represented by the bureaucracy of the European Union) “impinges on the sovereignty of the nation state and threatens the integrity of democratic rule.”Footnote 22

As noted in the opening of this chapter, in late 2018 a new movement of “popular sovereignty” became active in France. The origin of the group lay in anger and protest against a new environmentally focused tax on gasoline fuel. The government of Emmanuel Macron claimed that the tax was in support of mitigating the damages of burning fossil fuels and in the context of trying to hold true to the Paris Agreement signed by France in 2016. The protestors, many of whom were from the more remote exurban areas of France that did not enjoy easy access to public mass transportation noted that this tax disproportionately punished the poor (and those already farther away from the well-funded larger cities of France) and was evidence of the French president’s greater concern for global politics than the impact of such actions on the people and local concerns. The protestors began to coalesce around this specific tax though they quickly made connections to additional inequalities in French life.

The protestors chose as their sartorial symbol and moniker gilets jaunes or yellow vests, so named for the high-visibility neon yellow vests that all French motorists are required to have to indicate automotive distress. This clothing and name proved meaningful in multiple ways. First, it exposed another French law that many saw as a cost imposed by the state. However, because it is the law most had complied with it and had these vests, which made it easy for all French car owners to easily express solidarity with each other. Further, the vests had been designated by the law as an indication of distress, and, indeed, the gilets jaunes were indicating distress, just not precisely the kind the state had imagined.

This sartorial expression of public connectedness and group distress at the imposition of a tax that pushed working people to the brink of poverty captured the imagination of many, and hundreds of thousands participated in the initial protests. The vests became the 2018 equivalent of the tricolor or Phrygian cap of the revolution. Many protestors wore them along with home-fashioned bonnets rouges and carried signs specifically drawing the connection between 1789 and 2018 (and usually with a thread through 1968 as well). The vest could be seen on mannequins in shop windows – illustrating a shop owner’s political sympathies or perhaps with the hope that it would ensure against any shop damage as the protests did result in broken window and damaged cars (though many argued that this was done by individuals who were simply taking advantage of legitimate political activity in the street to act as “hooligans”).

The powerful seizure of a top-down law (requiring motorists to have yellow vests) for popular expression proved both deeply powerful and self-consciously connected to a broader French history of protests in the streets. Many protestors quickly made claims to other aspects of popular sovereignty, including the RIC (Référendum d’initiatve citoyenne), or the citizen’s referendum initiative, in order “to give back the parole to the people.”Footnote 23

The gilets jaunes protests began in November 2018 and continued to grow into early December. The car-related vests proved a rallying point in other ways for protestors as they coalesced around important traffic circles and thoroughfares throughout France. Heading into the holiday season their protests were a powerful disrupter of holiday shoppers (something the French government seemed especially sensitive to in the somewhat stagnant French economy) and images of shop windows boarded up or being smashed on Paris’ Champs Elysees became a powerful image transmitted throughout the world. Based on polls at the time most French supported the protestors, especially their right to protest (as they should in a free liberal democratic society); however, the website of the Mayor of Paris also indicated the terms by which activities of popular protest might be judged. In early December 2018 the Paris Mayor’s officeFootnote 24 unequivocally not only supported the individual and collective right to popular protest, but also noted the damage done in unequivocally “popular” terms. In noting the damage to trees and protective grates, the Mayor tallied the damage in cost to the people.

The gilets jaunes were notable (and visually noticeable!) not only for their bright yellow vests, but also for their lack of clear leadership. While much of the rallying to the cause or organizing for protests happened, unsurprisingly, over social media, there did not emerge a leader or leaders who would claim to speak for others or seemed to be in control of the movement. This was the work of a populist movement, not a party. This also fits quite neatly with earlier French popular movements, including the revolution and interwar leagues previously discussed. While historians can speak of individual leaders of particular political clubs during the French Revolution or initial founders of the interwar leagues, there are no “founding father” equivalents to be found in those movements (something discussed in the eighteenth century as well as by historians since).

The visual power of yellow vests in the streets en masse was not lost on those who were less supportive of the disruption and feared the violence and economic loss due to gilets jaunes action. By mid-December another group took to the streets to express their frustration with the ongoing gilets jaunes protests – the foulards rouges (red scarves). The foulards rouges were also calling on a sartorial and cultural symbol and urged people to go out into the streets and assert their political claim to sovereignty. Red of course is one of the colors of the French flag and had been a symbol during the French Revolution. Or perhaps they were operating on the assumption that many French just might have a red scarf (just as surely as a motorist would have a yellow safety vest in their car trunk). And, once again, even those who are in some ways against protesting in the streets seem bound by French collective memory and social and cultural embeddedness to go out into the streets to protest it!

The Saturday protests of the gilets jaunes continued for over a year, until a global pandemic intervened. The “taking to the streets” of individuals across a broad spectrum – not guided by or proclaiming allegiance to a particular party – is just the most recent example of French reenactment of the national narrative and collective memory around popular sovereignty and shows both the power of that narrative and the centuries-long use and reworking of the claim itself. At this time, more than three years after the beginning of gilets jaunes actions, the movement continues, though with less force, partially, of course, because of the impact that Covid has had across the globe, but also because of disagreements within the always amorphous group of who “the people” are, evidence of the built-in tension within claims to popular sovereignty of the people. Across two and a half centuries of French history these vignettes capture, as the volume’s introduction makes clear, the tensions, contradictions, and ambivalences that inhere in the concept and practices of popular sovereignty. As France enters a new presidential election cycle these enduring frictions continue and will play out through official political structures, as well as collective street action and competing claims of sovereignty, as is the endemic nature of popular sovereignty.

9 The Founding of India and Popular Sovereignty

Ornit Shani

On October 24, 1947, just at the time the first draft of the Indian Constitution was ready, His Highness the Maharaja of Patna, a princely state in the North East of the subcontinent, issued “an extraordinary proclamation” declaring “the objective of full responsible Government under the aegis of the Ruler as the goal to be achieved by a date no later than April 1952 AD; and … Whereas I consider,” the ruler stated, “that the time is appropriate for taking immediate steps for the setting up of a representative constitution-making body and for the transfer of power to the people’s representatives at the earliest possible date.”Footnote 1

Efforts toward establishing popular governments and constitution-making bodies such as the one the otherwise autocratic Maharaja of Patna pursued were taking place at the time in many other princely states across India. Indeed, the territories that comprised British India and were under direct British rule did not cover the whole of the subcontinent. When India gained independence at the stroke of midnight between August 14 and 15, 1947, spread throughout the subcontinent, were more than 550 princely states that covered about 45 percent of its territory, with a population of nearly 93 million. The princely, or Indian states, possessed various degrees of sovereignty under the paramountcy, which the British Crown exercised over them. But the Crown’s paramountcy lapsed with the attainment of independence by British India, and as the British Cabinet Mission Statement of May 16, 1946, stipulated, it could not be “transferred to the new government.”Footnote 2 Thus, all the rights surrendered by the states to the British Crown were to return to the states.

In the face of the impending severance of their relationship with the British Crown, the Chamber of Princes agreed as an objective already in January 1946 to “set up forthwith constitutions in which the sovereign power of the Rulers are exercised through regular constitutional channels without in any way affecting or impairing the continuance of the reigning dynasty in, and the integrity of, each State.”Footnote 3 Six months later, in June 1946, the Chamber’s Standing Committee endorsed the view that the “State Governments should take active steps to place themselves in close and constant contact with public opinion in their State by means of representative institutions.”Footnote 4 There was a prior history to these efforts. States peoples’ associations and movements for popular government started advocating for popular reforms on these lines already from the late 1930s. These struggles were energized at the time by the mass nationalist anti-colonial movement in British India, which declared Purna Swaraj (complete self-rule, or independence) as its goal on January 26, 1930. In the context of the demise of colonial rule, these struggles toward representative governments in the states gained greater dynamism from the mid-1940s.

Thus, when the Indian Constituent Assembly convened in December 1946,with the aim of establishing India as “an Independent Sovereign Republic … WHEREIN the territories … that now form the Indian States … be constituted into the Independent Sovereign India … and WHEREIN all power and authority of the Sovereign Independent India … are derived from the people,” there were multiple competing sovereignties that aimed to establish popular governments across the subcontinent.Footnote 5 Although the states were allotted ninety-three seats in the Indian Constituent Assembly, as the British Cabinet Mission Statement of May 1946 stipulated,Footnote 6 the rulers made clear that “[t]he entry of the States into the Union of India … shall be on no other basis than that of negotiation, and the final decision shall rest with each State”; “that their participation in the constitutional discussions in the meantime will imply no commitments in regard to their ultimate decision …”; and that the “Constitution of each State, its territorial integrity, and the succession of its reigning dynasty in accordance with the custom, law and usage of the State, shall not be interfered with by the Union …”Footnote 7

It was not self-evident that India would succeed to consolidate a unified popular sovereignty against these contending sovereignties.Footnote 8 There were, moreover, additional palpable reasons why the making and institutionalization of popular sovereignty for “We the People” of India was not bound to strike roots, resonate with its people, or that it would necessarily endure. The principle that power was to be derived from the people had to be achieved in the midst of the violent partition of India and Pakistan that was tearing the people and the territory apart. The population was largely illiterate and poor, and deeply divided by caste, language, and religion. These conditions were largely the basis of British officials’ unwavering belief that a popular government based on universal adult franchise was a bad fit, and administratively impossible for India.Footnote 9 The Indian national movement had been committed to universal adult suffrage since 1928.Footnote 10 The anti-colonial mass nationalism after World War I further strengthened that vision.Footnote 11 But there remained a large gap to bridge in turning this aspiration into a reality, both institutionally and in terms of the notions of belonging that electoral democracy based on universal franchise would require. Indeed, the fact that the Indian Constituent Assembly adopted universal franchise at the beginning of the constitutional debates, in April 1947, did not ensure by itself that this would be achieved under the adverse conditions of independence. At independence, the notion of “We the People” of India had yet to come into existence.

This chapter explores how despite multiple competing sovereignties, and deep pluralities, a unified popular sovereignty consolidated at India’s founding between 1946 and 1950. It suggests that two complementary processes played a key role in fashioning an all-India popular sovereignty by the time India’s constitution was adopted. First, the making of a unified popular sovereignty in India was driven, in the main, by efforts to work through rather than to forcefully prevail over the competing visions of popular sovereignty that were asserted at the time. In this process, the language of popular sovereignty was routinely used, the notion of the “peoples’ will” was iteratively reasoned, and even people from the margins had opportunities to engage with it. This process undermined the legitimacy of states’ efforts to define sovereignty on their own terms.Footnote 12

Second, while multiple discussions about unified popular sovereignty were taking place and the question was being negotiated, bureaucrats across the country embarked on the preparation of the first draft electoral roll on the basis of universal adult franchise in the territories of former British India as well as the states that were by then in the process of integration. I argue that doing so in anticipation of the new constitution and the merger of the states resulted, in effect, in institutionalizing the edifice for implementing the “rule of the people” on an all-India level. The transformative effect of this process was the bounding together of the people of British India and the states as equal individual voters and as the agents of authorization of the newly forming Indian Union. Moreover, this process played a critical role in mitigating discrepancies that emerged from the competing sovereignties and the many constitution-making processes they engendered.

Drawing on Yaron Ezrahi’s work on Imagined Democracies, I suggest that these processes and their scale combined to produce the reasoning, institutions, and rituals that were necessary to render persuasive and to sustain the political imaginary, or fiction of sovereignty of the people as a public choice.Footnote 13 The first process resulted in making the otherwise abstract notion of the will of the people, and that all power derives from them into a convention that could not be easily withheld or delayed. The second process, the making of the electoral roll in anticipation of the constitution being finalized, outpaced state-level deliberations and created ground realities and the administrative delivery of one of the cornerstones of popular sovereignty. While the people of the states were not, in the main, consulted in the process of reaching merger agreements with rulers, they were enlisted as voters and made into “the people.”

The chapter’s investigation is based on original archival materials. It is composed of three parts. Part one explores the dynamics of working through competing sovereignties across India in the midst of India’s constitution-making process. The second part examines how the implementation of the universal franchise contributed to embodying the multiple and competing visions of sovereignty that were asserted at the time, while producing a concrete sense of “We the People” of India. Finally, the conclusion reflects on the significance of the Indian experience of consolidating a unified popular sovereignty in the midst of deep pluralities.

Contested Sovereignties for the People of India

From the 1920s, States People’s Associations began struggling for responsible governments in their princely states. In 1927, the All India States Peoples’ Conference (AISPC), an association representing an alliance of these movements, was established. A decade later the Indian Nationalist Congress that led the struggle for Independence in British India affiliated itself with the AISPC and with the freedom struggles in the princely states. In the 1930s, most of these movements had failed and many of them were suppressed by the rulers. Yet, limited representative elective institutions were formed in many of the princely states, and some rulers established legislative assemblies. A majority of the members in the states’ representative institutions were nominated. By the early 1940s, only about a third of these institutions were based on a majority of elected members.Footnote 14

In the context of the imminent end of British rule in India, growing states people’s struggles for self-rule, on the one hand, and pressures on the princes to surrender their sovereignty and integrate their state with the newly forming Indian Union, on the other hand, triggered a surge of popular reforms in the states. The Maharaja of Gwalior, for example, announced on October 25, 1946, that he aims to “set up a Government responsible to the people.”Footnote 15 This was a promise he already made five years earlier. A few days later, the Gwalior State Congress issued a resolution stating that a “mere acceptance of the aim is not enough. The People of Gwalior State are now tired of the irresponsible, feudal and autocratic system of government which exists to-day and they crave for its termination without delay.”Footnote 16 They demanded that “a constituent assembly consisting of popularly elected members and enjoying full sovereign powers may be set up forthwith for drawing up a constitution of a government fully responsible to the people.”Footnote 17

Discussions on the formation of governments responsible to the people on the basis of a wide and popular franchise took place in a number of other states at the time, among them, Benares, Bhopal, Bikaner, Mysore, Patna, and Rampur. In some states, for example, Aundh, Cochin, Manipur, Mewar, Pudukkottai, and Travancore, adult franchise was in the process of being introduced or already instituted, with the Maharaja being the constitutional head of the state.

The different positions on the scope of the reforms toward popular governments in the states were reasoned at length in the reports of states constitutional committees, in protest letters and other documents, as well as in the proclamations that set out the intended policies of the rulers. Newspapers also covered these developments. These contending views manifested and took on a new dynamic with the beginning of India’s constitution-making process from December 1946, especially as the question of the place of the states and “their people” within the newly forming Indian Union became more salient.

The Indian Constituent Assembly appointed a States Committee in January 1947 to negotiate with the States Negotiating Committee appointed by the Chamber of Princes on the question of the distribution of the ninety-three seats that were allotted to the states in the assembly, and on the method of filling them. The two committees, and then a joint committee they appointed, held discussions between February and March 1947. Pressures to ensure representation of the states’ people came to the fore in that context.Footnote 18

The Kolhapur State Praja Parishad, for example, asked of the government of India already in July 1946 to ensure that the members of the Constituent Assembly for the ninety-three seats allotted to the Indian states should be representatives elected by the people of the states.Footnote 19 A note on the subject prepared for the Indian Constituent Assembly held that the representatives of the states should be chosen by the people “either through direct or indirect elections.”Footnote 20 It suggested that existing representative bodies in the states could be the electors, and that in states where such bodies did not exist, a solution could be found in consultation with the states governments and the states’ peoples’ conference. The States Peoples’ Negotiating Committee argued that the legislative bodies in the Indian states “are not sovereign, and even in matters transferred to them they are not the final authority.”Footnote 21 The committee also insisted that the princes’ negotiating committee does not represent the states or the states’ people, and did not agree that it had the authority to decide.Footnote 22

The Joint Committee of the Constituent Assembly States Committee and the States Negotiating Committee ultimately agreed that “not less than 50 per cent of the total representatives of states in the Indian Constituent Assembly shall be elected by the elected members of legislatures or, where such legislatures do not exist, of other electoral colleges.”Footnote 23 Representatives of the states began to enter the Constituent Assembly from late April 1947.Footnote 24 By July 15, 1947, however, a month before India’s independence, only thirty-one of the ninety-three seats allotted to representatives of the princely states were designated as “popular quota.”Footnote 25

By August 15, 1947, the date India gained independence, a majority of the princely states, signed an Instrument of Accession under which they ceded to the Indian government control over three matters: defence, external affairs, and communication.Footnote 26 From a constitutional viewpoint, the Instruments of Accession secured the rulers’ sovereignty.Footnote 27 The merger of more than 550 states into the new Indian Union was a piecemeal process of ongoing disparate negotiations between the Indian Ministry of States and the rulers of states carried out until shortly before the Indian Constitution came into force on January 26, 1950. Pressures exerted from below by organizations of the people of the states also informed the dynamics of these processes. In the meantime, and while the framing of the Indian Constitution was in progress, constitution-making processes in the states continued and in some states constitutional acts even came into force. These states constitutions envisaged an Indian Union within which sovereign states, except for subjects that may be ceded to the Indian Union, would continue to exist.

The Maharaja of Mysore, for example, declared on October 12, 1947, the setting up of a “Constituent Assembly composed of elected representatives of the people and entrust it with the task of framing a Constitution Bill for the State of Mysore providing for responsible Government …”Footnote 28 On May 10, 1948, the Constituent Assembly of Mysore held its third session. It decided as part of its “Aims and Objects” that “the Constitution of Mysore should be such as will be in consonance with the Constitution of a Sovereign Democratic Republic adopted for India,” but should also conform to the principle, that “The individuality of the State of Mysore and the freedom of its internal autonomy should be secured in a manner not inconsistent with the other parts of this Resolution.”Footnote 29 Among these, for example, was a clause stipulating that “The Constitution should take the form of Constitutional Monarchy based upon the Sovereignty of the People and His Highness the Maharaja will be the upholder of the Constitution.”Footnote 30

By then the drafting committee of the Indian Constituent Assembly produced the draft constitution of February 1948, and it was given wide publicity. Some members of the Constituent Assembly raised concerns about the “different kinds of constitutions” that were being introduced in different states, and asked “what is the Government going to do to see that uniformity is kept throughout the country?”Footnote 31 One member asked whether “anything is being done to advise any of these Princes to see that they will not tamper with the ordinary well-known fundamental democratic principles when they constitute their Constituent Assemblies and fix their franchise.”Footnote 32 The Minister of States, Sardar Patel, replied that it was “for the Ruler and the People of the State to decide the constitution under which the State is to be governed subject to our general policy … that the administration of the State must be democratised and that the States must be viable units.”Footnote 33

The “different kinds of constitutions” that were being framed in the states, despite being based, in the main, on universal franchise, presented difficulties for a united all-India popular sovereignty. Moreover, some rulers held the view that “the Draft Constitution of India seemingly in several ways encroaches on the sovereignty of the Rulers.”Footnote 34 They submitted criticisms and suggested amendments to the Indian Draft Constitution, so as to ensure that it would be acceptable to the states.Footnote 35 The question of citizenship, for example, was a big point of contention. The constitution makers envisioned a common citizenship and law of nationality throughout India and rejected the notion of dual citizenship.Footnote 36 Some rulers and states’ constituent assemblies, however, wanted to ensure that although their residents may be citizens of India, they should also maintain their state citizenship.

The Fundamental Rights Committee of the Mysore Constituent Assembly, for example, stipulated provisions for the definition of a citizen of Mysore, based on birth and domicile. The committee explained in its report that “there are special reasons for a clear definition of State Citizenship in Mysore, where the cherished institution of Monarchy makes loyalty to the Throne a distinctive characteristic of the people of Mysore. While every citizen of the Mysore state is necessarily a citizen of the Indian Union, he has certain rights and duties peculiar to himself.”Footnote 37 Bikaner, Manipur, Travancore, and Cochin, among other states, also insisted on maintaining their own state citizenship. As many documents of the Secretariat of the Indian Constituent Assembly made clear, there was nothing at that point to disallow these states’ legislative assemblies from adopting or implementing their own citizenship or subjecthood provisions.

In November 1948, the Chairman of the Drafting Committee of the Indian Constituent Assembly, B. R. Ambedkar, stated that the fact that the states that did not yet integrate were free to create their own constituent assemblies and to frame their own constitutions “is very unfortunate and … quite indefensible. This disparity may even prove dangerous to the efficiency of the State. So long as the disparity exists, the Centre’s authority over all-India matters may lose its efficacy. For, power is no power if it cannot be exercised in all cases and in all places.”Footnote 38

In the light of a growing understanding of the difficulties the many constitution-making bodies across India may pose for the consolidation of a united popular sovereignty at the center, the Ministry of States appointed in November 1948 a committee to frame a model constitution, based on the Indian Draft Constitution, that would “serve as a guide to the Constitution-making bodies of the States in framing the constitution for the respective States.”Footnote 39 The committee worked on the assumption that the Indian states would accede to the Indian Union, and thus followed provisions in the Draft Constitution of India that related to the provinces.

While there was still a great deal of work to do to bring the states and their people into the Indian Constitution’s fold, and while negotiations with the rulers of states over their integration and states’ people struggles continued, a bureaucratic undertaking on the ground across India, brought into effect in the most concrete terms the edifice for an all-India unified popular sovereignty.

Making an Edifice for the Rule and “Will of the People”

A few months after the Indian Constituent Assembly adopted universal adult franchise, in April 1947, the Constituent Assembly Secretariat assumed and managed over the following two and a half years, in anticipation of the constitution, the preparation of the first draft electoral rolls on that basis.Footnote 40 The electoral rolls were prepared with the aim of holding the first general elections as soon as possible after the constitution would come into force. This undertaking was critical for the becoming of the people, of both the provinces and the princely states, into agents of popular sovereignty from whom power would be derived in a very concrete and meaningful way. Moreover, in the process of the preparation of the electoral rolls, the challenges that multiple and competing sovereignties posited to the consolidation of a united all-India popular sovereignty were worked through practically and administratively, often complementing, or even outpacing the legal and constitutional process at the center.

In November 1947, the Secretary of the Constituent Assembly of India wrote to the premiers of the provinces and the states, informing them of the intention to start preparing electoral rolls on the basis of universal franchise, and asking them to assess the feasibility of doing so. A majority of states responded positively to the secretariat letter. Indeed, although most of the princely states had no experience with any form of democracy until that time, in some states, as already mentioned, adult franchise was already introduced at the time, or was in the process of being introduced. Devising the guidelines for the preparation of rolls on the basis of adult franchise was done in consultation with the states. Notably, the final instructions drew largely on the instructions that the State of Travancore devised for the election it held in February 1948 on the basis of adult franchise. The registration of voters was done on a house-to-house basis. The Constituent Assembly Secretariat and local governments published detailed press notes, which conveyed in an accessible manner what the preparation of rolls entailed. The aim of the operation was to turn all adults into voters for the elections under the new constitution. By late 1948, the enrolment of India’s prospective voters was in full swing, both in the provinces and the states. In some places the draft rolls were nearing completion.

In the states that by then merged with India, the preparation of the electoral rolls for the future Indian House of the People became in effect the means of integrating the people and territories of the merged areas into the structure of the Indian administration, and of turning the states’ people into “We the People” of India. The governments of the provinces and the states regularly sent reports to the Constituent Assembly Secretariat on the progress of the work of the preparation of rolls. The descriptions of the figures of houses that were numbered and enumerated and of the voters that were enrolled and other “sum-totals” these reports contained became a concrete expression of the integration of the states into the newly forming Indian Union. Thus, a report from the government of Orissa on the progress of the work in Orissa and the states ceded to it by the end of December 1948 showed that they completed the work in 2,688,828 houses and for 15,823 houses the work was still in progress.Footnote 41 Reports from Kolhapur, as another example, just three months before it merged with Bombay province, stated: “From the number of voters so far enumerated, it is found that more than 50% of the population are recorded as voters. Based on this calculation there will be about 16000 pages of the roll of the State; each page containing 40 names; and that the Election Officer toured in six local administrative units, ‘checked house numbering & voters in 64 villages on representative sample basis, correcting errors on the spot, after verification.’”Footnote 42

Through their place on the rolls, the people of the merged states turned into Indian voters. Because a voter had to be a citizen, they became, in effect, citizens, even though the Indian citizenship provisions were still in a draft form. The enlisting of India’s adult population concurrently across the country on a house-to-house and village-by-village basis produced a tangible connection between people across the country and the center. Newspaper accounts of the preparation of electoral rolls in the provinces and the states fostered that sense of interconnectedness. This contributed to making real the vision of a united all-India sovereignty, and of the people becoming the agents of authorization of the future government. On the lists of voters, “the people” were named, real individuals, rather than an abstract notion.

In the case of states that had not yet merged, and were keen to retain their identity even within a future Indian Union, the preparation of the electoral rolls brought to light constitutional discrepancies between provisions in the Indian Draft Constitution and the constitutions that existed or that were being framed in those states. This occurred while some of the states or unions of states, which had not yet completed their integration, were also preparing elections for their own constitution-making bodies or legislatures. The constitutional incongruities that became evident in that context were intimately linked to a united all-India popular sovereignty, as envisioned by the Indian Constitution Assembly. At the same time, the surfacing of practical challenges for the preparation of the electoral rolls presented opportunities for correction, and therefore a way of working through the contending sovereignties that were still at play, and of asserting the authority of the center.

Thus, in some cases, it became apparent that the qualifications for enrolment as a voter for the states’ legislatures were different than the qualifications set for the preparation of rolls to the Indian House of the People. The government of Travancore, for example, refused to register on the electoral rolls it prepared for elections to its state legislature over 100,000 Tamilian laborers who resided in the state for over fifty years, because they were not naturalized subjects of the state. After a complaint in the matter from an organization that represented these Tamilian laborers reached the Indian Constituent Assembly Secretariat, its joint secretary wrote to the government of Travancore, stating that “under the Draft Constitution of India there will be only one common law of citizenship throughout the Union and it is not contemplated that each State should have nationality laws of its own as distinct from the union Nationality law.”Footnote 43 The Travancore government, however, challenged this view. Its chief secretary explained that under the Travancore Interim Constitution Act, every person who is a Travancore subject is entitled to have his name registered in the electoral roll. The Tamilian laborers in question were not qualified to be included in the electoral rolls because they were not Travancore subjects.

Moreover, the Travancore Chief Secretary opined that “The enactment of common law of citizenship throughout the Union of India as indicated in the draft Constitution of India cannot alter the position of those Tamilians in respect of franchise for elections in the State … Matters pertaining to suffrage will have to be regulated by the State, and it will be for the State to determine who shall vote at elections. The framing of a constitution for Travancore is under the consideration of the Travancore Representative Body.”Footnote 44

The joint secretary of the Constituent Assembly clarified that the qualifications the states may prescribes for the purpose of voting must not be inconsistent with provisions of the Indian Draft Constitution, such as the one that prohibits discrimination against any citizen of India on the ground only of place of birth. The matter of the registration of the Tamilian laborers who emigrated from Madras to Travancore on the electoral roll remained unsettled for a while. It was further discussed and resolved during the final negotiations for the formation of the united states of Travancore and Cochin and its merger with India in late 1949.Footnote 45

Similar problems also arose with the states of Cochin, Manipur, Tripura, Mysore, and Bhopal. Sometime problems became known as a result of people complaining, as they were struggling to ensure for themselves, like the Tamilian laborers, a place on the electoral roll. In other instances, challenges surfaced while the Secretariat of the Constituent Assembly was overseeing the progress of the work. Thus, in July 1949, replying to query about the preparation of the electoral rolls for the Indian House of the People under the new constitution, the Dewan (prime minister) of Manipur reported that the state was preparing fresh electoral rolls on the basis of adult franchise for its own elections that were due in 1951. He noted that “[t]he same rolls might also be utilized for the elections of the Indian House of the People, but a difficulty arises, in that the franchise qualifications as prescribed for voters for the Manipur State Assembly vary in certain particulars from those fixed for the House of the People.”Footnote 46 The Manipur Constitution stipulated that only a bona fide state subject had the right to vote, that a voter was to be twenty years old, and no residential qualifications were required. The Indian Draft Constitution prescribed that a voter had to be a citizen who was twenty-one years old, and it set residential qualifications. The Dewan of Manipur suggested a way of preparing a single voters list that would mark those eligible for the state legislature elections and those entitled to vote for the Indian parliament.

The Secretariat of the Constituent Assembly acknowledged at the time, in August 1949, only three months before the Constituent Assembly adopted the Indian Constitution, that there was nothing to disallow the Manipur government to implement the franchise qualifications it set for its state legislature. They clarified, however, that “in all probability there will be the same franchise qualifications and disqualifications throughout India and ultimately elections to the Manipur State Assembly will also be on the same basis as those for the House of the People. There is also going to be the same Common Law of nationality throughout India.”Footnote 47

The states gradually began to amend their lists of voters and aligned them with the electoral rolls for the Indian House of the People. In Cochin, for example, like in Travancore, only subjects born or naturalized under the Cochin Nationality and Naturalization Act were registered as voters for the Cochin state legislature. Upon correspondence in the matter with the Secretariat of the Constituent Assembly, the Cochin government agreed in July 1948 to revise their lists of voters and include citizens of India for elections to the Indian parliament at the time of revision of the rolls. This was a year before Cochin formed a union with Travancore and merged with India.

The making the Indian electorate, of ultimately over 173 million people, turned in the most definitive way Indians into agents of sovereignty. The electoral roll bound all adult Indians together as equal individuals, irrespective of their deep divisions of caste, class, religion, language, or state identity for the purpose of authorizing their government. The first draft electoral roll on the basis of universal franchise was ready just before the enactment of the constitution in January 1950. Indians became voters, the means through which their power as sovereigns was to be exercised, before they were citizens, with the enactment of the constitution. The institutionalization of procedural equality for the purpose of authorizing a government in as plural, hierarchical, and unequal a society as India, ahead of the enactment of the constitution, fashioned a concrete sense of a collective identity for all adult Indians as equal voters, and of the becoming of popular sovereignty.


Between 1946 and 1950, India tried to consolidate an independent sovereign union, wherein all power and authority would be derived from the people. This unified popular sovereignty had to be achieved in the face of multifarious contending sovereignties and a territory in great flux, overlapping struggles in pursuit of popular governments, and for people who were profoundly diverse, largely illiterate, and poor. By any standard democratic theory, India was expected to fail, and certainly likely not to endure. This chapter suggested that against this apparent insoluble predicament, the interplay between two processes that took place at an all-India level in parallel to the framing of the Indian Constitution produced and made persuasive India’s united popular sovereignty.

In the process of working through the competing visions of sovereignty across the territory, popular sovereignty became a fundamental principle of the political imaginary of the Indian postcolonial order. With the coming of India’s independence, and against the backdrop of long-standing internal struggles for popular power within the princely states, the principle of a government responsible for the people became the only prudent course of action for rulers’ claims for continued legitimate authority and sovereignty of their state. A sovereign state based on the rule of the “will of the people,” was also the rationale underlying the negotiations between India’s Constituent Assembly and the government and the states about their future. The members of the Constituent Assembly could not, thus, renege on that promise.

In the midst of ongoing processes aiming to establish a rule of and for the people, the idea that the people were to be agents of sovereignty attained actual meaning through the implementation of the universal franchise on the ground. The preparation of the electoral rolls made evident discrepancies between the Indian Draft Constitution and the constitutions of states. At the time there were efforts to settle the “different kinds of constitutions” that were being introduced in different states. The committee that was appointed in November 1948 to frame a model constitution for the states, based on the Indian Draft Constitution, submitted its report in March 1949. But by then, especially in the light of the ongoing developments in the states, the whole question was reconsidered. In August 1949, only three months before the Constituent Assembly of India adopted the constitution, the members of the Mysore Constituent Assembly still insisted that they “should have a voice in formulating and finalising the future constitution of Mysore.”Footnote 48 While these legal negotiations took their time, the preparation of electoral rolls compelled the Secretariat of the Constituent Assembly and the governments of the forming states of the union to address in practice and in good time the challenges that the integration wrought, and that surfaced during the work.

By October 1949, India was about to give birth to the world’s largest democracy. Its making represented a radical transformation of both its people and territory. From October 1949 onward the Secretariat of the Constituent Assembly received reports from across India on the final number of voters registered on the first draft electoral rolls. These lists of voters reified the fiction of “the people” as agents of sovereignty. The printed rolls were the material reservoir of the peoples’ power. These lists of voters would have to be perpetually revised and updated, and formed the basic rite that would continue to authorize the edifice of the peoples’ rule. The turning of all adult Indians into equal individuals for the purpose of authorizing their government was revolutionary for the social existence of the Indian people.

The preparation of the electoral rolls also fostered and made real the concurrent radical transformation of the territory. When the registration of voters started on the ground in April 1948, the Secretariat of the Constituent Assembly addressed 229 political units with regard to the work. In its circular on the preparation of rolls in early October 1949, the secretariat addressed only thirty units: nine provinces, ten chief commissioners’ provinces, six unions of states, and five individual states. The secretariat’s circulars and reports on the progress of the work from across the country described the actual creation of the new Indian democratic order. That month, the Minister of States, Sardar Patel, moved in the Constituent Assembly amendments concerning the states that would enable the final ratification of the constitution by the few states that had not yet integrated into the Union.

In the annals of democratic theory, India’s achievement of fashioning a united popular sovereignty has few parallels. Scholars of democracy, from a variety of disciplines, have, for many decades ignored the Indian case in their efforts to theorize the institutionalization of popular sovereignty and transitions to democracy. The Indian case was often considered an anomaly.Footnote 49 This has begun to change over the last two decades. The Indian experience of concurrently fashioning a united popular sovereignty out of multiple competing sovereignties, of granting and implementing successfully universal franchise at a stroke in a deeply plural, hierarchical, and divided society has been significantly different from the experiences in other parts of the world.

In France, for example, as Daniella Sarnoff notes in this volume, although women played an important role in the French Revolution, they were enfranchised 150 years after men got the vote, only two years before all adult Indians, women, and man were enfranchised.Footnote 50 And in the United States, while the early American republic, as Ira Katznelson shows, forged a unity out of plurality,Footnote 51 the right to vote, which lay at the basis of popular sovereignty, had from the outset a fraught history of disparate forms of disenfranchisement on the basis of class, race, gender, poverty, and illiteracy, driven by efforts of propertied white males to safeguard their political power.

While making the universal franchise and the electoral system, which were key to forging popular sovereignty, Indian bureaucrats at the Constituent Assembly were conscious and cautious of Western democratic institutions and practices. They did not see them as a telos, which would provide safe shores to their democracy. As one of them noted in the context of discussions on the future election management body: “It is clear that no independent organization exists to secure the impartiality and fairness in elections in these countries … the political gangsterism is far from eradicated from the latter [USA], while in the former [UK], the din of election brawls so aptly described by Charles Dickens are not yet extinct.”Footnote 52

Instead, Indian bureaucrats and leaders were informed by the particular problems and pressures from below, and they worked through them practically and administratively. There was no serious theoretical discussion about whether Indians were qualified enough to authorize their government. They were registered as agents of authorization. And in the long process of doing so there were many trials, failures, and successes. India, at its founding and thereafter experimented with democracy. “Experimenting with” has been one of the enduring legacies of Gandhi for India’s democracy. In other words, drawing on this volume’s editors’ approach of employing a heuristic frame to their discussion of popular sovereignty,Footnote 53 India, it could be said, took a heuristic approach to democracy based on universal franchise. This does not mean that India would become better than other democracies, nor immune from the problems that have beset democracies elsewhere. Nonetheless, that India’s democracy endured for seven decades against so many odds, forms an achievement that cannot be ignored, and it invites us to reflect on some conventions of democratic theory.

10 The “Other” Boundary Problem Fictions of Popular Sovereignty at the State’s Edge

Matthew Longo

The words subject and sovereign are identical correlatives, whose meaning is combined in the single word “citizen.”

–RousseauFootnote 1

Most historically established systems of identity veil the element of arbitrary conquest in the differences they create and negate.

–William ConnollyFootnote 2

Popular sovereignty suffers many fictions, principally regarding equality – the idea that races, ethnicities, genders, have equal voice in the demos – a moral harm that has garnered considerable scholarly attention. This focus on discrimination based on ascriptive characteristics is warranted, but overlooks another form of inequality, based on geographical dispersion not all parts of a territory count equally, nor do the voices of the people who live therein. In this chapter, I address these concerns through an examination of borderland dwellers – citizens of the polity who reside at the outermost territorial reaches of the state. To some degree, the fact that citizens of the borderlands do not have equal voice in the polity is not surprising. We recognize that peripheries are dominated by their centers, and state institutions often reach the peripheries but dimly – like light from a bulb lit in the capital, to borrow Benedict Anderson’s propitious phrase.Footnote 3 This chapter makes a further point, that this is not simply an artifact of imperfect administration, but rather an inherent feature of the nation-state and the zero sum nature of bordering.

By approaching the problem of borders in this manner, this chapter departs from its classic treatment in political theory, via the so-called “boundary problem,”Footnote 4 that from the standpoint of democratic theory, borders are arbitrary and thus reveal the fault line between democracy (which asserts a bounded polity) and liberalism (which is in principle unbounded). As Frederick Whelan explains, democracy “cannot be brought to bear on the logically prior matter of the constitution of the group, the existence of which it presupposes.”Footnote 5 Thus, democracy in the nation-state is an incomplete ethical project, as the border structures the lives of people on both sides, but people only have agency over decisions in their own state. Those on the outside frequently risk their lives to enter states which others, just a few miles away, consider their entitlement merely by the accident of their birth.

This chapter takes a different approach to the problem of the border – highlighting harms inherent to inclusion, rather than exclusion. Rather than considering how borderland citizens are excluded from the decision-making process of neighboring states, it asks: Can a border population really be said to be sovereign within its own state? On paper, peripheral citizens are identical to any others. But in fact borders often represent the interests of the (central) polity against its periphery. This is part of the nature of border zones, in which rights and protections are greatly restricted, making citizens at once the subject of security protocols, as well as their object. Additionally, while we commonly accept that borders forge division between polities, they also enforce uniformity within them. Through the act of bordering, those on the outside are made into barbarians; those on the inside are brought under control – or, as Sheldon Wolin puts it, they are “domesticated” to condition their loyalty.Footnote 6 As such, much state power at the border is aimed not at outsiders, but rather at the border community itself. By detailing the nature and extent of this authority, this chapter aims to identify the challenges it poses to popular sovereignty.

It unfolds as follows. The first section looks at the problem of popular sovereignty with a focus first on its conceptual grounding in equality, then how this literature fails to consider spatial and geographical dimensions of equality and pathologies of state making at the periphery. These issues are common to borders in general. The second section provides some context to this problem through an in-depth illustration of security in the US–Mexico borderlands, drawing upon evidence from fieldwork conducted from 2011 to 2014.Footnote 7 It foregrounds three features: surveillance, or the extensive use of physical and technological infrastructure in the borderlands; heterogeneity, the multiple forms of jurisdictional authority, including federal, state, and local forces, as well as their expanded powers; and vigilance, the increased role that citizens play in law enforcement. The third section utilizes this empirical material to identify two discrete fictions of popular sovereignty in the borderlands. The first pertains to governance, that authority in the borderlands is frequently unaccountable to democratic control – the fiction of uniform authorship. The second pertains to state-citizen relations, as center-driven policies are designed not in the name of peripheral citizens but against them – the fiction of equal concern. The conclusion returns to the question of popular sovereignty and borders broadly.

Popular Sovereignty Revisited

Popular sovereignty is the principle that state authority derives from popular consent, usually associated with the thought of social contract thinkers like Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679), John Locke (1632–1704), and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778). By choosing to enter into organized social cooperation with others, people surrender certain natural freedoms in return for protection against the dangers inherent to the state of nature. In doing so, they surrender natural inequality for a state of (formal) social equality, which in turn creates the conditions for a legitimate social order. The people do not necessarily draft laws or perform the tasks of government (except through elected representatives). Rather, they are sovereign because they have the final say in government decision-making, up to and including the right to depose the government and replace it with a new one. In this way, the people are sovereign, they are the “supreme authority” (as per Bodin).

This position evolved over time. Hobbes’s Leviathan (1651) posited what we might think of as a thin version of popular sovereignty, in which the people used their authority to name an individual (or group) as the sovereign, after which they would be broadly subservient. Locke’s Second Treatise of Government (1690) expanded this definition to include constraints such that in the event that the sovereign was not acting in the public good they could be legitimately deposed by a popular uprising. For Locke, final judgment always rests with the people – indeed this is what gives popular sovereignty its meaning:

Who shall be Judge whether the Prince or Legislative act contrary to their Trust? … To this I reply, The People Shall be Judge … If a Controversie arise betwixt a Prince and some of the People, in a matter where the Law is silent, or doubtful, and the thing be of great Consequence, I should think the proper Umpire, in such a Case, should be the Body of the People.Footnote 8

Rousseau took this insight farther in his Social Contract (1762), as sovereignty could only be manifest in the “general will” and thus all legislative power was vested in the people – an authority that derives from the social contract itself and cannot be alienated or represented. Most importantly, it is with Rousseau that popular sovereignty is most clearly linked to equality, which sits at the center of the principle:

Every act of sovereignty (that is, every authentic act of the general will) obligates or favors all citizens equally … What is an act of sovereignty? It is not a convention between a superior and an inferior, but a convention of the body with each of its members … So long as the subjects are subordinated only to such a convention, they obey no one but their own will alone.Footnote 9

This final formulation, in which legitimate rule is simply the expression of the people – and all the people equally – most captures the spirit of the term as it is understood today. The exercise of popular sovereignty is the only way political union can retain legitimacy, and the people are only sovereign if they are equal and active in articulating the general will.

That equality plays a central role in popular sovereignty is now sacrosanct – indeed it gives democracy its principle normative value. This is never clearer than in the writing of Robert Dahl, for whom democracy and equality are essentially coterminous, as democracy derives from what he calls “the logic of equality.”Footnote 10 Similar statements abound in contemporary political theory, as when Dworkin argues that “No government is legitimate that does not show equal concern for the fate of all those citizens over whom it claims dominion and from whom it claims allegiance.”Footnote 11 It is also central to debates about deliberative democracy, which requires what Joshua Cohen calls “manifest equality among citizens,”Footnote 12 as it is this that engenders conditions such that the “unforced force” of the better argument can prevail (Habermas).Footnote 13

With this broad frame in mind, this chapter is interested specifically in the underexplored question of geographical dispersion.Footnote 14 Popular sovereignty is only meaningful if it extends (equally) across a state’s entire territory. But there is reason to doubt whether this supposition holds. Indeed, for most of human history it was assumed that political control did not – and could not – extend evenly across the land, especially along the periphery. Rather, this was something to be achieved incrementally through policies of assimilation, co-optation, and control. In ancient Rome, the frontier lands were filled with disloyal subjects, including nomads, thieves, and tax-dodgers, so the center took great pains to cultivate their allegiance. Indeed, one of the principle functions of early walling systems was “to divide the barbarians beyond from the barbarians within, who were in the process of becoming Roman.”Footnote 15 In the Chinese empires too, boundaries were not simply designed to keep people out, but also to command fealty (and tax revenue) from far-flung subjects.Footnote 16 The same can be said for early modern states, where kings and their emissaries would voyage to the far reaches of their dominion and host lavish festivals designed to foment cultural identification with the center.Footnote 17

It was only beginning in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries with the rise of centralized forms of administration that states could reliably administer laws across their whole territories. It was at this point that boundaries came to be thought of as tools for cultivating likeness – for “taming” or domesticating local populationsFootnote 18 – achieved through military power and political education. This use of central power in the periphery is in no way limited to the west. Describing the southeast Asian highlands, James C. Scott explains how centrist attempts at reining in the periphery were enacted by “establishing armed border posts, moving loyal populations to the frontier and relocating or driving away ‘disloyal’ populations, clearing frontier lands for sedentary agriculture, building roads to the borders, and registering hitherto fugitive peoples.”Footnote 19 It would be no stretch to suggest that such state power in the periphery is a form of internal colonization.

Thinking about the domestication of the periphery in this way highlights a more general problem with our fixation on so-called Westphalian sovereignty – which asserts a clear distinction between territorially bounded states – as this rubric papers over and renders invisible the distinction between center and periphery within polities. Indeed, the original challenge of statehood was to achieve homogenization within, not merely (and simplistically) to negate the world without. That this conception of power poses a challenge to popular sovereignty is immediately evident. Whereas popular sovereignty takes egalitarianism as its basis – it regards people as equal citizens – homogenization campaigns do not operate in this way. Rather than beginning with equal concern for all citizens and thus respecting their difference, they are designed to shape citizens until they are “made equal.” To whatever degree states treat peripheral peoples equally is thus based in part on the success of these campaigns – reflecting the weakness of the concept, as here the fiction of popular sovereignty generates and precedes the fact.

State efforts to subjugate their own peripheries are infrequently discussed in political theory except obliquely in debates over the moment of founding, or what Connolly calls the “paradox of origins,”Footnote 20 that the inceptions of democracies are never themselves democratic. Moments of founding frequently engender a colonial kind of violence, especially at the periphery. The link between the violence of founding and colonization is forged explicitly by Derrida:

All nation-states are born and found themselves in violence … [The moment of founding] is anterior to the law or legitimacy which it founds. It is thus outside the law, and violent by that fact … Before the modern forms of what is called “colonialism,” all States [have] their origin in an aggression of the colonial type. This foundational violence is not only forgotten. The foundation is made in order to hide it; by its essence it tends to organize amnesia.Footnote 21

Borders are physical spaces at which this unfreedom is not only forged but also maintained, as those originary exclusions are recreated daily through security and nation building tactics, even once the democratic experiment has begun. State authority in the borderlands is essential to this project of nation building, in ways not merely oblique to democratic processes, but also parasitic on them. This is the point from which the remainder of the chapter departs.

Security in the Us–Mexico Borderlands

Borderlands are diverse spaces. They are all peripheral, but the distance from the center varies greatly (both in terms of scale and significance). They all abut a national boundary, where one sovereign jurisdiction ends and another begins, but their physical manifestations differ – some have walls or fences, some simple stone markers, others are not demarcated at all. Some harbor a mix of national groupings with varied degrees of loyalty to the center, while others are relatively homogenous. The point of this chapter is not to reduce borderlands to any specific common feature, other than their sheer geographical location beside a border, a fact which in itself stipulates a special relationship vis-à-vis sovereignty. The broad questions raised by the borderlands were treated above; hereafter, the chapter will zoom in on the US–Mexico border. This empirical example is not meant to be representative in any way, although of course many of the features discussed here are endemic to border areas worldwide.Footnote 22 Rather, the objective of this discussion is to provide an in-depth look at the challenges inherent to popular sovereignty when situated in a particular context. The empirical material is thus insight generative, exposing cracks in the conceptual foundation that may be invisible when viewed from afar.Footnote 23

This chapter will focus on one particular feature of contemporary border security policy in the United States: the move to make borders increasingly wide and zone-like with border security installations that extend far inland of the border itself. This way of thinking was institutionalized by the Border Patrol’s 2012–2016 National Strategy, which moved away from simply guarding the line and toward “widening” and “segmenting risk” at the border. Far from the simple wall, this policy is designed around sprawl. As one official explained it: “The wider we make our borders … the more effective we are going to be.”Footnote 24 This strategic language aligns with my personal experiences doing fieldwork in the borderlands, observing security installations that extend inland from the borderline, including with checkpoints – often well developed, border-like institutions, many miles into US soil – and camera and light towers that dot the horizon in every direction. In what follows, I synthesize these field notes into three features of security in the borderlands – what I call surveillance, heterogeneity, and vigilance.


Nearly all states embrace technologies of surveillance of some sort at their borders, although the quality and sophistication of this infrastructure varies greatly. In the United States, these technologies have evolved markedly over the last few decades, as have their function and design. In particular, there is an increased awareness in US circles that for borders to be effective, they cannot merely be “tall,” they must also be “wide” and “layered.” But what does this entail and how does it implicate citizens of the borderlands? At its most basic, this means widening the actual borderline, that is, extending the border’s “horizontal footprint” inland. There are several means of using technology and tactical infrastructure to widen the border. For example, one can thicken the physical line with ground sensors – seismic, magnetic, or infrared – mostly placed within a half mile from the border, but in some cases extended as far as 50–100 miles inland. Such sensors enable the Border Patrol to react immediately to “sensor hits” with the deployment of officers. As one Customs and Border Protection (CBP) official explained it, sensors act as a “trip-wire.”Footnote 25

Technology companies are perpetually designing new sensor systems. One technology developer explains that the “idea is to create a seismic zone along the border.”Footnote 26 Another offers perimeter fencing with “buried cable detection systems,” which complement fencing by providing an invisible “detection field” to protect a perimeter covertly with “software-controlled zoning.”Footnote 27 Other sensors can be spread throughout the border area – like landmines – creating a zone of detection at intervals beneath the earth.Footnote 28 These technologies contribute to the widening of border spaces, offering a vastly different type of functionality than contemporary border walls and fences. As these technologies are covert, they are aimed at detection, not deterrence; they attempt to expand the border rather than define it.

An alternate way to thicken the line is through cameras and radars, extending the observation and detection range of the border. As a local police chief on the US–Mexico border explained to me: “It’s a net, basically. You are creating a new visual net, and then having a response to that net.”Footnote 29 New camera and radar systems serve as “the eyes of the border patrol agents,”Footnote 30 controlled remotely from a command center, and can be positioned to look inward from the border, mimicking the sensors, and are often covert. One technology company boasts developing “remote decoys” and “artificial rocks” which can be speckled throughout the border area to create an invisible surveillance zone.Footnote 31 In addition to fixed sites, cameras and radars operate via ultralight aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles, and radar balloons. As one Department and Homeland Security (DHS) technology expert explains it, the goal is to have a “tiered air surveillance system” that coordinates the many different types of air surveillance units which “can provide eyes almost around the clock.”Footnote 32

Taking this inland net concept a step further are checkpoints, which recreate the border inland. These checkpoints – or “choke-points,” as they are sometimes called in the industry – allow the state to monitor internal smuggling corridors.Footnote 33 Former Chief of Border Patrol Michael Fisher explains that checkpoints are part of a layered approach that “extends our zone of security,” and enables control not just at, but also “between borders.”Footnote 34 Checkpoints are also “contact points” where Border Patrol has direct access to individuals, thereby facilitating the capture of biometric data (usually from fingerprints or irises). This is essential for Border Patrol, whose mission is now to “identify, not just catch.” This latter feature has created a real stir in local border communities – a matter immediately palpable to anyone doing observation-based fieldwork in the region. Many borderland citizens feel unfairly targeted by these expansive and discriminatory protocols, leading to frequent protests and demonstrations against CBP.Footnote 35 Given the rhetoric of “choking” and “catching,” of “eyes” and “nets,” it is easy to see how local citizens might feel disenfranchised, even by policies and practices putatively designed for their protection.


Borderlands commonly feature multiple kinds of authority, usually both federal and local law enforcement, and sometimes also the military. In the United States, border areas can increasingly be seen as discrete regions, due to the integration of different actors and agencies – both within the federal government as well as between federal, state, and local forces – often with expanded powers. This broad integration strategy is referred to by US security officials as a “whole of government” approach to border security. Each component warrants address.

Beginning with intra-federal integration, there is increasingly an understanding in the federal government that effective risk prevention at the border begins with information sharing. This may seem self-evident, but historically there has been little to no information sharing between agencies in the United States – a fact made manifest nationally by the inability of first responders (mostly fire and police) to communicate on 9/11. This move toward intra- and inter-agency sharing at the border was first codified in the 2012–2016 Border Patrol agenda. The primary means of sharing is through the integration of Border Patrol with federal intelligence entities, often co-located at fusion centers on-site at the border. As a former head of CBP explains: “We have seen a level of sharing of information, certainly within the federal community, law enforcement and intelligence community, like we have never seen before.”Footnote 36

The second move has been toward coordination between local and federal forces. This shift in thinking is also derived from 9/11 and the linking together of the two great threats facing the polity – illegal immigration and terrorism – thereby collapsing much of the distinction between local and federal responsibilities as they pertain to border control. Beginning in 2009, the federal government encouraged state and local officials to make decisions over immigration at the border, because the federal government had “not enough money and too few beds,” to handle border issues on their own.Footnote 37 Similarly, former DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano advocated federal-state and federal-local sharing on border-related terrorism concerns: “Our goal is to give that front line of law enforcement the tools they need to confront and to disrupt terrorist threats.”Footnote 38

This intra-agency cooperation has led to the decentralization of DHS – a significant institutional change reflecting these new priorities. Whereas in the past the idea was to have a central knowledge bank, which circulated information to the perimeter, the plan now is to have CBP officials fan out into the border community.Footnote 39 From the federal perspective this type of collaboration is imperative. After all, in most border communities, the individuals most able to understand threats and observe suspicious activities are local officials, not federal ones. From the vantage of border governance, the benefits of this decentered model are self-evident. But this expanded federal presence takes a toll on the citizenry. The different profiles and capacities of these myriad authority structures naturally generate a feeling of confusion and insecurity among citizens – there are a lot of different uniforms scattered throughout the borderlands – amplified by the heightened security rhetoric of the border zone.

Indeed, beyond the heterogeneous nature of this authority is the expansiveness of its powers. Legally, the border zone is defined as up to 100 miles from the border, a broad territory that includes as many as 200 million US citizens and in which certain constitutional rights protections don’t apply – such as Fourth Amendment protections against search and seizure. This renders citizens not simply vulnerable to many kinds of state authorities, but overwhelmingly powerful ones – famously ICE, or Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which has perhaps the most nebulous and expansive authority in the borderlands. The ramification for such authority on the lives of citizens within this geographical area are discussed below.


Another mainstay of border regions worldwide is the incorporation of civilians into law enforcement. In the United States, there is a lengthy history of state-civilian relationship at the border – most notably among ranchers whose land abuts the line. However, Border Patrol is now cultivating an evermore vigilant border community, especially vis-à-vis terrorism. This is embodied by the strategic move away from involving local border communities simply through “public relations” to a thicker entanglement called “community engagement.”Footnote 40 This is because practitioners increasingly believe that the local community is the most reliable source of information:

We used to think information came from government sources, shared down to the agent … [But] the agent has more information than anyone in Washington DC. [And] the local community actually has more information than the border patrol agents … So you have gone from a top down [logic] – “information starts in DC and goes out to the agents at the border” – to this idea where border patrol agents have to interact with the community, engage with the community, and win over the community.Footnote 41

Border Patrol has put forth a number of programs to this effect. For example, Operation Detour and Drug Demand Reduction Outreach are schooling programs that educate students about the dangers inherent to the borderlands. These programs are not only preventative in nature, but also train students to react in ways that assist Border Patrol if they do learn about or get entangled with transborder crime. In addition, Border Patrol engages in what they call “community and stakeholder outreach,”Footnote 42 in which a federal liaison forges relations with local community leaders encouraging them to provide information and assistance to Border Patrol, and promising stealthy assistance in return.

This “community engagement” also exists on the level of technological advancement – with new capabilities being developed so that individuals can enact their own self-governance. The most widely known of these campaigns is DHS’ “If You See Something, Say Something,” a slogan disseminated nationwide. But in the borderlands this pressure is more targeted and technologically advanced, increasingly enabled by apps, funded by the federal government. One example of this is the company Town Compass LLC, who made a most wanted terrorist database freely available for download. This software allows vigilant citizens to directly contact the FBI with information as “first responders,” forging communication channels directly between local communities and the police.Footnote 43 DHS itself has developed a First Responder Support Tools (FiRST) app for smartphones.

There is a veritable echo chamber within CBP about how vigilant communities are the most effective line of defense against the ills of the border – illegal immigration, drug smuggling, terrorism. Their vision is one in which border communities are not merely a source of information for the federal government, but are actually self-policing – even at the cost of pitting certain parts of the community against others, a division that inevitably cleaves along racial and ethnic lines. Potential ramifications of this strategy are considered below.

Fictions of Popular Sovereignty in the Borderlands

Borderlands are complex spaces, with many actors and structures of control. What significance does this have for popular sovereignty practically or theoretically? The opening section of this chapter decried the lack of critical attention paid to the question of geography in writings on popular sovereignty broadly; the previous section provided an in-depth illustration of the problem through a study of security policy in the US–Mexico borderlands. This section draws on this material to advance two claims that trouble the concept of popular sovereignty as it is manifest in the borderlands – what I refer to here as fictions, demarcating the space between how the concept is perceived and articulated in common usage (its narrative purchase) versus how it actually obtains in lived practice.Footnote 44 The first claim is that the nature and form of border authority makes it frequently unaccountable to democratic control – what I call the fiction of uniform authorship. The second is that border security policies are designed not only in the name of peripheral citizens but also against them – the fiction of equal concern.

The Fiction of Uniform Authorship: Authority in the Peripheral State

In theory, democratic processes generate laws that state authorities subsequently enforce. This is the conceptual core of popular sovereignty – that we live under laws of which we are the author. But like any political principle, the gap between theory and practice is considerable. The argument leveled here is that in the borderlands this claim of popular sovereignty is largely fictitious, because while citizens do author laws, this authorship is uniform across the polity. This is in part due to the nature and structure of authority in the borderlands, where numerous overlapping actors frequently come to make law, rather than simply enforce it. Consequently, the citizens of the borderlands who are subject to those laws cannot be said to enjoy sovereign authority over them. They are subjects to the law, not sovereigns – falling short of the definition of democratic citizenship laid out by Rousseau in the epigraph.

The fact that numerous and overlapping authority structures frequently take authority into their own hands is part of the nature of the border, a place of constant emergency, where crises arrive unannounced. This is sometimes called personalized authority, exemplified by ICE, and their immense discretionary power to address matters of national defense deep into US soil. There are numerous reasons for why such individual police discretion might be justified, pursuant to the logic of security. But such reasons are not necessarily democratic. Indeed, traditionally personalized authority is thought to work in contravention of the law and the democratic process by which it is established. It is a hallmark of the modern, liberal democratic state that everyday politics does not have face-to-face violence, but rather the depersonalization of political power – filtered through legal processes, for example. We need look no further than the classic voices of the canon for strong statements to this effect. For example, Locke writes: “Where-ever Law ends, Tyranny begins … Exceeding the Bounds of Authority is no more a Right in a great, than a petty Officer; no more justifiable in a King, than a Constable.”Footnote 45 Certainly, when security officials endeavor to make the law, democratic processes are circumvented.

Concerns about the undemocratic character of police discretion is not new to political theory. For example, Hannah Arendt remarked that the rise of stateless peoples in Europe after World War I engendered conditions through which police discretion took weight over state laws. The police, she writes:

had received authority to act on its own, to rule directly over people … it was no longer an instrument to carry out and enforce the law, but had become a ruling authority independent of government.Footnote 46

In this case, what transpired was violence, lawlessness, and “illegal acts” by the police in the name of the state.Footnote 47 Certainly, the circumstances described in the US borderlands are different; but in either case, the authority in question is not democratically accountable to the people subject to its rules.

This point is worth unpacking, as it speaks directly to the problem of sovereignty writ large. Following Schmitt, sovereign is he who decides on the exception:

It is precisely the exception that makes relevant the subject of sovereignty … The precise details of an emergency cannot be anticipated, nor can one spell out what may take place in such a case … The precondition as well as the content of jurisdictional competence in such a case must necessarily be unlimited.Footnote 48

In some sense police discretion in the borderlands is the ultimate sovereign act. After all, the border is a sphere of constant judgment about matters essential to the state; where the exception arrives constantly at the doorstep of the state and border guards (or state or local police) react to a case that could not have been anticipated.

The deficit generated in terms of popular sovereignty is immediately manifest: If the police are making sovereign decisions in the borderlands, the democratic process by which the law was ordained is not. Indeed, Schmitt predicted as much, that in the state of exception, the law would lose its value and state authority would expand. “What characterizes an exception is principally unlimited authority, which means the suspension of the entire existing order. In such a situation it is clear that the state remains, whereas law recedes.”Footnote 49 Obviously in the borderlands we are dealing with a more circumscribed example. But as far as local citizens are concerned, as much as they live under the law of their own design, they also live in a space where legal practices are reduced in scope, and in which rights protections shrink away or do not apply.

This problem is especially acute with regard to citizen engagement, and the increased state dependence on citizens for law enforcement. There is a thin line between vigilance and vigilantism – transgressed famously by the “Minutemen” of Arizona, who militarized self-policing. When citizens undertake the role of law enforcers, it clearly exacerbates problems of uniform authorship – in this rubric, some citizens act as law enforcers, against others, targeted as criminals. Moreover, such divisions nearly all fall along racial lines – thereby feeding back into concerns of ascriptive bias with which this chapter began. If equality is the sine qua non of democracy – and popular sovereignty, which is its normative core – then the challenge to the principle is clear. The further problem, of the adjudication of self/other in the borderlands, is expanded upon below.

The Fiction of Equal Concern: State Building and the Peripheral Subject

Moving past the structure of authority in the borderlands, another problem arises given the purposes and objectives of that authority. In fact, it turns out to be not simply a question of law, but also of security more broadly. In the borderlands – in the United States and elsewhere – the peripheral subject is conditioned by security. Of course, this is true for all citizens to some degree or another. But there is something specific about the borderlands dweller as opposed to citizens in general. Because they are situated at a border, peripheral peoples are not trusted and so they are disciplined; consequently, as much as security is aimed at their protection, it is also aimed at their control. They are both the subject and object of security, once again troubling the conception of democratic citizenship postulated by Rousseau – what I call the fiction of equal concern.

The core of this problem derives from central control of the periphery – a relationship stipulated above as akin to a kind of internal colonization. Even without extensive security policies and practices, the border is a site of central presence and iconography – with flags, uniforms, songs, and so on. These ostentatious displays of national identity are designed to make clear to outsiders the awesome power of the state, but they are also targeted at borderland dwellers to command their loyalty – such policies are as much designed to remind locals of who they are, as it is to tell outsiders who they aren’t. Security policies augment this agenda by asserting direct central control over the periphery and its subjects. In the United States, this assertion of power in the borderlands is embodied by some of the moves within CBP described above, such as the decentralization of CBP, the relocation of federal authority to the border, and the appropriation of local law enforcement into asymmetrical power relations with federal agents.

This coercive federal power in the borderlands has the effect of turning (generic) citizens into (peripheral) subjects – singling them out as not-quite-trusted, as the demos’ most distant self. This point has immense conceptual purchase, as it helps us avoid a central problem in how we think about borders – discussed above as the Westphalian imaginary – which is that on one side of the line is a self, taken to be homogenous, and on the other side of the line is an other, taken to be equally homogeneous. However, at the border, national identities are not so distinct. They are to each the “other” but they are not foreign, they are neighbors. In the language of us/them, they are as much of the periphery as are we. Thus, identities at the border are intimately intertwined – with two peripheral peoples proximate to each other, and frequently loyal both toward each other as well as their respective centers. As far as citizens are concerned, such heterogeneous identity is perhaps part of the bounty of living by the border; for the state it represents a threat. It is no wonder that the security apparatus targets these individuals for surveillance, community infiltration, and control.

Peripheral subjects are no less citizens, at least on paper. But the specific citizen-sovereign relationship these security policies and practices engender bears little resemblance to the theoretical principles that the original social contract theorists espoused. The lives of borderland citizens are structured and contained by security practices, often designed over and against their own interests. This puts these peripheral subjects into a double bind. They are structurally insecure (by dint of being at the border), what we might call the external problem of security. But they are also insecure by dint of the colonizing center, the internal problem of security. Thus vis-à-vis security, borderland citizens face categorically different conditions than other peoples throughout the territory of the state.

The idea that state security is designed for everyone equally – that we are all subjects of equal state concern – is clearly a fiction.


Popular sovereignty in the borderlands is embattled. This chapter illustrated this through the example of security policy along the US–Mexico border. But beyond this specific illustration, this chapter makes a broader point about the international state system and the nation-state as such. Because of the nature of borders, where threats come from the outside and local identities are heterogenous and intertwined, citizens in peripheral spaces suffer specific harms vis-à-vis the authorities of the central state – what I call the “other” boundary problem. This is true at all borders, even if the specific circumstances vary. In so far as this is true, bounded states by their nature have a popular sovereignty deficit at their periphery – a normative problem evermore urgent given the expanse of border security protocols worldwide.

11 The #BlackLivesMatter Movement and Black Public Opinion A New Populist Divide in the Black Community?

Alvin B. Tillery, Jr.

On July 13, 2013, Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometi posted the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter on Twitter, to protest the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the Florida murder trial of an unarmed African American teenager named Trayvon Martin.Footnote 1 In the nine years since, the hashtag has now become the internationally known slogan of a robust movement which calls for police reform and racial justice in the United States.Footnote 2 Further, since the summer of 2014, there have been two sustained waves of Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests within the United States, while the BLM movement has grown into a diverse network of grassroots organizations representing more than thirty American cities and four countries.Footnote 3 BLM protests have garnered considerable attention from the media and registered in the national consciousness on public opinion surveys.Footnote 4

As is often the case when new movements emerge, the origins, tactics, impact, and future trajectory of the BLM movement have become the subjects of intense academic scrutiny.Footnote 5 Thus far, three points of consensus have emerged within this nascent scholarly literature on the movement. The first point is that BLM activists are intentionally rejecting the centralized leadership model which characterized the African American Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Second, BLM activists tend to utilize movement frames based on gender, LGBTQ, and racial identities to describe both the problems they are combatting, and the solutions they are proposing through contentious politics.Footnote 6 Finally, there is general agreement that BLM activists see intrinsic value in the disruptive repertoires of contention that they utilize to better draw attention to their causes.Footnote 7

Together, these points of consensus suggest that the BLM movement closely resembles the “new social movements” which have emerged in Europe and the United States since the 1980s.Footnote 8 Harris, for example, has argued that “the spontaneity and the intensity of the Black Lives Matter movement is more akin to other recent movements – Occupy Wall Street and the explosive protests in Egypt and Brazil – than 1960s [African American] activism.”Footnote 9 Rickford even goes as far as to say that the Occupy Wall Street protests were a precursor to the BLM movement.Footnote 10

The rise of the BLM movement has been read by many esteemed scholars of African American politics as a populist reaction to a political crisis which has ensued in the African American community since the demise of the Black Power movement in the 1970s. This viewpoint is grounded in the belief that the incorporation of African American elites into the neoliberal power structure during the 1980s amplified the worst variants of “respectability politics” and rent-seeking behaviors that further disadvantaged the majority of African Americans.Footnote 11 Harris has described the relationship between elite incorporation and the amplification of respectability politics as follows:

Today’s politics of respectability … commands blacks left behind in the post-civil rights America to “‘lift up thyself.” Moreover, the ideology of respectability, like most other strategies for black progress articulated within spaces where blacks discussed the best courses of action for black freedom, once lurked for the most part beneath the gaze of white America. But now that black elites are part of the mainstream elite in media, entertainment, politics, and the academy, respectability talk operates within the official sphere, shaping the opinions, debates, and policy perspectives on what should – and should not – be done on the behalf of the black poor.Footnote 12

The fact that many leading BLM activists have disavowed these tenants – just as we find in new social movements – has moved some scholars to argue that the most marginalized segments of the African American community are rising up to promote new and more inclusive fictions of peoplehood. For example, Ransby describes the “lead organizers of the Movement for Black Lives” as focused on the most marginalized people within the African American community.Footnote 13 Harris points out that the core activists of the BLM movement do not see traditional African American elites “as the gatekeepers of the movement’s ideals or leaders who must broker the interests of black communities with the state or society.”Footnote 14

Taylor shares the appraisal of the behavior and attitudes of the core activists proffered by Harris and Ransby in their writings on the movement. Moreover, writing from a neo-Marxist perspective, she locates the rise of the BLM movement in a broader class conflict between the lower- and middle-class segments of the African American community. Taylor argues that this class conflict began under the Clinton administration, when “Black elected officials lined up to sign off on [a crime bill] that was literally intended to kill Black people.” In Taylor’s view, African American political elites were largely driven by their desires to reproduce respectability narratives about the African American community, in order to maximize their own power within the Democratic Party.Footnote 15

In Taylor’s analysis, the rise of an elitist African American politics under the Clinton administration should merely be considered the fuse of the BLM movement. The match that sparked the thousands of mass protests that we have seen across the United States since 2014, is the disappointment that downtrodden African Americans have experienced with both the further deterioration of their neighborhoods during the Great Recession and former President Barack Obama’s conservative rhetoric about these conditions. Taylor describes the impact of these dynamics as follows:

Over the course of his first term, Obama paid no special attention to the mounting issues involving law enforcement and imprisonment, even as Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow described the horrors that mass incarceration and corruption throughout the legal system had inflicted on Black families. None of this began with Obama, but it would be naïve to think that African Americans were not considering the destructive impact of policing and incarceration when they turned out in droves to elect him. His unwillingness to address the effects of structural inequality eroded younger African Americans’ confidence in the transformative capacity of his presidency.Footnote 16

Taylor continues by describing the role the Occupy Movement played, as an ideological counterpoint to the Obama administration in some African American communities: “[N]ot only did Occupy popularize economic and class inequality in the United States by demonstrating against corporate greed, fraud, and corruption throughout the finance industry, it also helped to make connections between those issues and racism.” Taylor further argues, “The public discussion over economic inequality, rendered incoherent both Democratic and Republican politicians’ insistence on locating Black poverty in Black culture.” Throughout the remainder of her book, Taylor goes on to chronicle how the spirit of the Occupy Movement emboldened young, urban African Americans in cities like Ferguson and Baltimore to engage in populist activism which challenged both the white power structures and “Black faces in high places” within those cities.Footnote 17

While Harris, Ransby, and Taylor argue forcefully that the African American community would benefit from the kind of populism that is found in the BLM movement, the fact of the matter is, there has yet to be any empirical evidence to substantiate these claims. This chapter examines the extent to which we can confirm the populist interpretation of the BLM movement through an analysis of African American public opinion. In short, the chapter asks the questions: Do the most marginalized members of the African American community see the BLM movement more positively than do their middle- and upper-class counterparts?

This chapter will proceed as follows. The following section presents a discussion of the theoretical context for our study. It describes both the evolution of ideas about elitism in African American politics over the past three decades within the literature on race and representation. This section also presents alternative explanations to this theory and presents the research hypotheses examined in this chapter. The next section describes the survey questions, mode of data collection, and the descriptive findings of the Qualtrics Panels survey commissioned for this study. The fourth section presents the main findings from statistical analyses of this data. The final section concludes by summarizing the implications of our findings on our wider understanding of contemporary Black politics.

Theoretical Contexts and Hypotheses

Populism is one of the most contested terms in social research.Footnote 18 As Mudde and Kaltwasser have argued, the confusion over what populism means, “stems from the fact that populism is a label seldom claimed by people or organizations themselves.” They continue, “[populism] is ascribed to others, most often as a distinctly negative label.”Footnote 19 This negative connotation to populism stems largely from the fact that the term was co-opted by radical right-wing parties that began to emerge in Western Europe in the late 1980s.Footnote 20 These parties railed against Europe’s political, economic, and social elites for their embrace of free-trade and pro-immigration policies.Footnote 21 The parties also shared commitments to the ideologies of nativism and authoritarianism, and they developed propaganda that framed their vision for European societies as the “voice of the people.”Footnote 22

Over the past decade, social scientists and sociologists have begun to think more broadly about the concept of populism. Indeed, Mudde and Kaltwasser have argued that an “ideational approach” to populism has emerged within recent studies of Western Europe.Footnote 23 The consensus among the practitioners of this approach holds that all populist movements “involve some kind of exaltation and mass appeal to ‘the people’ and all are in one sense or another anti-elitist.”Footnote 24 Building on this consensus, Mudde and Kaltwasser (2018) write:

[P]opulism always involves a critique of the establishment and the adulation of the common people. Hence, we define populism as a thin-centered ideology that considers society to be ultimately separated into two homogenous and antagonistic camps, “the pure people” versus the corrupt elite, only which argues that politics should be an expression of the volante generale (general will) of the people.Footnote 25

Due to its association with xenophobia in Western Europe, scholars of African American politics and social movements have not widely deployed the concept of populism. Indeed, even the more recent studies of the BLM movement have rarely used the term. Despite this, the view that politics in the African American community is now a conflict between a corrupt establishment and a pure people permeates many studies of the BLM movement. Both Taylor’s argument about class conflict as the fount of the BLM movement and Harris and Rickford’s arguments about respectability politics are operating in the same register. Moreover, a cursory review of the literature on representation within African American politics reveals that an establishment versus the people theme has been growing in significance since the 1980s.Footnote 26

Smith makes one of the strongest expositions of this argument in his book We Have No Leaders: African Americans and the Post-Civil Rights Era. He holds that the Congressional Black Caucus’ decision in the 1980s to focus on obtaining full integration within the Democratic Party’s power structure over more communal forms of politics, was the beginning of a rift between these elected leaders and a burgeoning African American underclass forming in America’s postindustrial cities during the same period. Smith writes:

In the post-civil rights era, virtually all of the talent and resources of the leadership of black America has been devoted to integration or incorporation into the institutions of the American society and polity. Meanwhile the core community that they would purport to lead has become increasingly segregated and isolated, and its society, economy, culture, and institutions of internal uplift and governance have decayed. There is a systematic or structural logic to these processes, one that was probably inevitable and is perhaps irreversible …. This predictable bifurcation of black leadership and community has been made worse by ongoing challenges in the economy and culture of the larger society that matured at roughly the same time as the civil rights revolution.Footnote 27

The concern that there is now a bifurcation between the goals pursued by African American leaders and specifically lower-class, rank-and-file African Americans, has also been a core theme within the quantitative studies of the roll-call votes of African American legislators that began to emerge in the 1990s. Swain highlighted this as an area of divergence, when she found that the roll-call votes of the median white and African American legislators within the Democratic Party’s caucus in the House of Representatives began to converge in the 1980s. For Swain, who is an avowed conservative political scholar, this finding meant that African American legislators were not representing the interests of their lower-class constituents any differently than white Democrats, and therefore, racially conscious public policies designed to boost the number of African Americans serving in the US Congress were unnecessary.Footnote 28

A second wave of literature on the roll-call behavior of African American legislators provides a strong counterargument to the charges of bifurcation within the African American community. This literature identified several ways in which African American legislators provide distinctive representation and unique benefits to their African American constituents. Katherine Tate’s analyses of the 103rd and 104th Congresses, for example, found that “Black Democrats’ voting behavior as measured by Poole and Rosenthal [was] significantly more consistent with the liberal Democratic party agenda than that of white and other minority Democratic legislators.”Footnote 29 In other words, despite voting with their party on most roll-call votes, African American legislators have demonstrated a persistent willingness to promote and defend more liberal policies on the floor of the House of Representatives. Moreover, several studies have shown that African American legislators are far more likely than their white counterparts to introduce and champion bills advancing the interests of African Americans in the House’s committees and on the floor.Footnote 30

But the fact that African American legislators as a group, have demonstrated a higher level of commitment to representing the interests of African Americans, does not mean that there is unanimity within the Congressional Black Caucus on every policy matter. On the contrary, a broad consensus is found in recent studies of the Caucus that the expansion and institutionalization of the group has led to greater fragmentation on policy matters.Footnote 31 Our conclusion holds that these varying studies and arguments demonstrate that even though “incorporation in the system has made Black legislative leaders less radical and more pragmatic,” African American legislators do continue to see value in providing representation to their constituents on racial issues.Footnote 32

Of course, it is important to note at this juncture, that the bifurcated class thesis is predicated on the behavior of the people and not their leaders. It is this segment of the equation where public opinion has the potential to shed light on the validity of the argument that African American communities are rising up against the middle- and upper-class elites who dominate policymaking in their communities. Once more, the literature on African American legislators is instructive. Public opinion surveys tell us that African American legislators remain very popular with their African American constituents.Footnote 33 Additionally, the same literature shows that African American legislators have a slightly higher reelection rate – more than 92 percent – than the model Democratic member of the House of Representatives.Footnote 34

It is also the case that four decades of public opinion research in the fields of political science and sociology have not produced much evidence of stable class, gender, and generational divides within the African American community on racial issues.Footnote 35 On the contrary, the consensus view which has emerged since the 1990s is that group consciousness binds African Americans together across social divides when it comes to racial issues.Footnote 36 Indeed, Dawson’s conceptualization of African American public opinion on racial issues as being determined by a “black utility heuristic” predicated on a strong sense of “linked fate” which cuts across class lines, is one of the main axioms of African American politics.Footnote 37

In light of the reelection rates of African American public officials and trends in public opinion studies of African Americans, the populism that Harris, Rickford, and Taylor see as generative of the BLM movement would be a sudden shock to the normal ecosystem of African American politics. Given the viral nature of the BLM protests that swept across the United States in 2014, this is certainly a plausible argument. It is also true that several public opinion studies have found that neighborhood contexts and other life experiences can shift the value that African Americans attach to having a linked fate with other members of their racial group.Footnote 38 Thus, it is possible that the lived experiences of marginalized African Americans in places like Ferguson and Baltimore have so diverged from those of their middle- and upper-income counterparts in the African American community that they may no longer view establishment leaders as representing their interests or believe that the American political system can address their grievances.

This chapter tests the populism argument through a public opinion survey to determine if African American attitudes about the BLM movement are indeed segmented by social status – with those occupying more marginal subject positions having more positive evaluations of the movement. There are two research hypotheses:

Hypothesis 1: African Americans with lower incomes are more likely to see the BLM movement as effective in promoting the collective interests of the Black community.

Hypothesis 2: African Americans with lower levels of educational attainment are more likely to see the BLM movement as effective at promoting the collective interests of the Black community.

Again, the markers of the elevated socioeconomic status have rarely proven to be significant predictors of African American public opinion on questions related to racial issues. Moreover, where differences have emerged, it has typically been better educated and more affluent African Americans who have demonstrated stronger commitments to group consciousness and held more nationalist viewpoints about the Black community’s development.Footnote 39 In light of this theoretical context, finding a socioeconomic divide between African Americans on how they see the BLM movement would challenge one of the dominant paradigms in the study of Black public opinion.


The data examined in this study is from an original internet survey conducted between September 22, 2017, and October 3, 2017. The Center for the Study of Diversity and Democracy (CSDD) at Northwestern University commissioned the survey from the research firm Qualtrics Panels. Qualtrics Panels recruited 815 subjects to take the twenty-five-item questionnaire using a census-matched recruitment strategy in thirty-nine states and Washington, DC, to maximize verisimilitude to a national probability sample. A recent meta-analysis conducted by Ansolabehere and Schaffner has demonstrated that this mode of data collection produces results that are as reliable as telephone and mail surveys.Footnote 40

The survey collected information about the respondents’ age, gender identity, Latino identity, level of educational attainment, and household income, in order to build a demographic profile of the sample. The census-matched recruitment strategy produced a sample that looks very similar to the national African American population across all demographic measures. Indeed, the only difference between the sample and national trends worth noting is that the poll skews slightly more male than the general African American population. While men comprise of 48 percent of the overall African American population, they are 50 percent of the respondents to the CSDD’s poll conducted for this study.Footnote 41

The survey also asked respondents about their politics and racial orientations in society. First, the CSDD survey asked the respondents to place their political ideologies on a standard five-point political scale of conservative, slightly conservative, moderate, slightly liberal, liberal. Next, the survey asked the respondents to rate how important being Black was to their sense of themselves on a five-point scale from “Not at all important” to “Extremely important.” Finally, the survey asked the respondents to describe how important it was for them to see their fate as a Black person as linked to the fates of other African Americans on that same five-point scale from “Not at all important” to “Extremely important.”

The question on the CSDD survey designed to glean the respondents’ attitudes about the BLM movement focused on their individual beliefs about the movement’s effectiveness: In general, to what extent do you believe the BLM movement is effective? The question utilized a five-point scale – ranging from “Not effective at all” to “Extremely effective” – for the response categories. Previous research has found that the BLM movement is very popular in the African American community when surveys ask about “support” for the movement.Footnote 42 The CSDD survey asked about effectiveness in order to get respondents to think more deeply about how they view the overall impact of the movement.


Before turning to the results of the regression analyses to understand how public opinion in support of the BLM movement is segmented, it is useful to consider some of the general findings from the CSDD survey. The first noteworthy result is that a majority of the respondents – 59 percent – had never participated in one of the first wave BLM movement protests that took place between 2014 and 2016. The respondents also reported relatively low-participation rates in other activities supporting BLM, such as posting on social media, attending meetings, or fundraising. But in spite of these low-participation rates, the respondents overwhelmingly deemed the BLM movement to be effective at promoting the interests of the Black community. Overall, 81 percent of the 815 respondents rated the BLM movement as at least “moderately effective.” These findings suggest that, in general, the African American community has a high approval of the performance of the BLM movement. The main question guiding our study is: How segmented is this belief in the movement’s effectiveness by socioeconomic status, as measured by income and educational attainment?

Table 11.1 reports the results of two OLS regressions of respondents’ views of the effectiveness of the BLM movement. Column 1 reports a model of the respondents’ attitudes toward the BLM movement based on demographic characteristics. The results of the model provide evidence that supports confirmation that (H1) lower income African Americans are more likely to see BLM as effective than higher income African Americans. (H2) African Americans with lower levels of educational attainment are also more likely to see the BLM movement as effective than those with higher levels of educational attainment.

Table 11.1 OLS Regression models of evaluations of BLM movements’ effectiveness

VariableModel 1 Regression CoefficientsModel 2 Regression Coefficients
Age–.067Footnote **
–.058Footnote **
Education–.103Footnote ***
–.052Footnote ***
–.154Footnote **
Hispanic Heritage.378Footnote ***
Income–.166Footnote ***
–.128Footnote ***
Black ConsciousnessX.135Footnote ***
Linked FateX.284Footnote ***
Constant4.06Footnote ***
2.87Footnote ***
Data Source: CSDD BLM Survey (2017)

* = p ≤ .10;

** = p ≤ .05;

*** = p ≤ .01.

Standard errors are reported in parentheses.

For every position moved up in the six-category income scale, there is a −.166 decline in the view that BLM is an effective movement. Similarly, a one unit move up the seven-category, ordinal scale for educational attainment results in a −.103 decline in the view that BLM is effective. Both of these results are statistically significant at the .01 level.

Table 11.1 also reports the results of a second model which includes ideological covariates. As the table illustrates, Model 2 also provides confirmation of H1 and H2. Indeed, the coefficients for both income (−.127) and educational attainment (−.048) remain negative predictors of attitudes about the effectiveness of BLM in this fuller model. Moreover, the coefficients of both variables remain significant at the .01 level. Finally, as we would expect, heightened levels of both group consciousness and linked fate with other African Americans are positive predictors of the belief that the BLM movement is effective. Figure 11.1 presents a more intuitive graphical representation of the impact of the regression coefficients on the respondents’ beliefs that the BLM movement has been effective.

Figure 11.1 Plot of OLS regression coefficients from Model 2 with 95% confidence intervals

The results of these regressions suggest that public opinion on the BLM movement is segmented by socioeconomic status within the African American community. This is a very unusual dynamic in African American public opinion. Indeed, as stated above, four decades of research on African American public opinion have failed to turn up stable divides over partisanship, policies, or social movements that track with demographic factors. Public opinion scholars will need to explore this dynamic more to determine the extent to which this is a secular trend or a trend that manifests itself only on public opinions about the BLM movement.


This chapter has examined African American public opinion about the BLM movement. As stated above, both the core activists who lead the movement and the main academic analysts who study it have proclaimed that the BLM movement has initiated a new phase of populist politics within African American communities. The mantra has become that the BLM movement is “centering the most marginal” voices in the African American community with their activism.Footnote 43 This chapter pursued the question: Can we see echoes of this populist approach in African American public opinion about the BLM movement? In other words, do we see that the groups that the BLM activists highlight in their communications express greater belief in the movement’s effectiveness than other African Americans?

The chapter tested two hypotheses to determine if there is evidence of segmentation along the lines of income and educational attainment. While the overall results showed that the vast majority of the 815 respondents to the survey believe the BLM movement is effective, there are differences in the sample population which confirm the two research hypotheses. African Americans with lower incomes and lower educational attainment were more likely to see the movement as effective than their counterparts with higher socioeconomic status. These findings suggest the populist messaging deployed by the core activists of the BLM movement is having a differential impact within the African American community.

The results are important not just because they shed light on the populist dynamics of the BLM movement. On the contrary, these findings also raise questions about the long-established axiom that middle-class African Americans are likely to be the vanguard of antiracist activism in the United States.Footnote 44 They also suggest the bonds of linked fate to downtrodden African Americans that Dawson demonstrated as the primary drivers of the political attitudes of middle-class African Americans in the 1980s and 1990s, may be loosening in response to the populist messaging generated by the BLM movement. If these dynamics hold up over time, and are shown in subsequent studies, they have the potential to fundamentally reorient our understandings of African American politics over the long term.

At the same time, it is important to read these results within the context of the dynamics of the first wave of BLM activism. As stated above, there have now been two sustained waves of protests for police reform under the banner of #BlackLivesMatter since 2013. While the first wave consisted largely of Black participants and their allies among young, urbane whites living in cities like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, the second wave of protests in the wake of the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd drew participants from every walk of American life. Moreover, by some accounts, the second wave of BLM protests was the largest sustained protest in the history of the United States.Footnote 45

Obviously, it is impossible to say how the shift in the dynamics of the movement will impact the class divide in public opinion that we have observed in the Black community over the BLM movement. My hunch is that an increase in participation among other ethnic and racial groups will likely normalize participation in the movement for African Americans with higher levels of socioeconomic status. I would urge social movement researchers to explore this line of questioning in subsequent public opinion studies. If this hypothesis were confirmed, it would suggest that there is indeed the potential for a progressive, multiracial, and socioeconomically diverse populist movement for police reform in America.


Description of independent variables and coding:

The coding schemes for the independent and dependent variables utilized in the regression analyses are listed below. The variables are listed in alphabetical order.

  1. 1) Age: This variable is constructed from an ordinal scale with eight categories – 18–24; 25–34; 35–44; 45–54; 55–64; 65–74; 75–84; 85 or older.

  2. 2) Black consciousness: This variable is constructed from an ordinal scale with five categories – not at all important; slightly important; moderately important; very important; extremely important.

  3. 3) Education: This variable is constructed from an ordinal scale with seven categories – less than high-school degree; high-school graduate (or GED); some college but no degree; associate degree in college (two-year); bachelor’s degree in college (four-year); master’s degree; terminal degree (PhD, EdD, JD, MD).

  4. 4) Gender: This is a dummy variable; coded 0 for male and 1 for female.

  5. 5) Income: This variable is constructed from an ordinal scale with six categories for annual earnings – less than $20,000; $20,000–$29,999; $30,000–$49,999; $50,000–$74,999; $75,000–$99,999; $100,000 or more.

  6. 6) Latino identity: This is a dummy variable; coded 0 for no Latino identity and 1 for persons with Latino identity.

  7. 7) Liberalism: This variable is constructed from an ordinal scale with five categories – conservative; slightly conservative; moderate, middle of the road; slightly liberal; liberal.

  8. 8) Linked fate: This variable is constructed from an ordinal scale with five categories – none at all; a little; a moderate amount; a lot; a great deal.

12 Popular Sovereignty and Recognition

H. Abbie Erler

The idea of popular sovereignty requires both that there exist a people that can consent to the actions of government and that this people is sufficiently defined and demarcated so that actions taken in its name are considered legitimate. A frequent criticism of populist demagogues, for example, is that they claim to speak for the people when they in fact do not (Müller, 2016). However, underlying this complaint is the assumption that there are a people for which a leader can in fact speak. A key question for any state that claims to be governed by popular sovereignty must necessarily be “Who are the People?” This “boundary problem” of who is part of the political community is particularly problematic for democracies as any procedural mechanism devised for answering that question depends on knowing a priori the identity of the people.Footnote 1 Popular sovereignty rests on a paradox in that it claims to embody the will of a constituted people, yet the people cannot be constituted prior to the act of constituting.Footnote 2

This chapter argues that any answer to the boundary problem is continually contested and renegotiated in a liberal democracy because any definition of the people in such a regime is endogenous to a specific political community that itself is not static either in terms of its membership or its political commitments. I argue that the problem that presents itself in the contracting moment is never solved but instead is continually present in political life. As Frank observes, “Both democratic history and democratic theory demonstrate that the people are a political claim, an act of political subjectification, not a pre-given, unified, or naturally bounded empirical entity.”Footnote 3 As such the people are made and remade not just in their initial moment of becoming but whenever they come together to exercise their will in their collective capacity, such as elections or through the crafting of legislation by their representatives. Further, I argue that the boundary problem is exacerbated by the need in a democracy for members of a political community to recognize and accept each other as members in the absence of a settled understanding of what qualifies a person as a full member of the community. As a result, liberal democracies renegotiate and redefine definitions of the people both formally, through laws governing citizenship, naturalization, and immigration, and informally, through redistributive policies and political rhetoric. This ongoing process of people-making presents opportunities both for creatively redefining political membership and for potentially justifying the reification of historical exclusions in the name of “We the People.” In this chapter, I examine this process of people-making by considering the claims for inclusion in “We the People” made by DREAMers and related efforts to remake definitions of “We the People” evidenced in the political rhetoric and policies of President Donald Trump. These two contemporary examples illustrate the ways that democratic majorities use both policy and political rhetoric to define the people and highlight the exclusionary nature of people-making through the democratic process.

Citizenship laws are one way to define who is and who is not part of “We the People.” But, as the case of the United States shows, citizenship should not be equated with meaningful political membership. Prior to the Nineteenth Amendment, women were considered citizens but exercised no political rights, including the right to vote, a power that might be considered a necessary condition of being part of a sovereign people. The constitutional guarantee of suffrage in the Nineteenth Amendment did not immediately translate into effective political power or even full membership in the community given to the operation of coverture laws and the subordinate economic position of women.Footnote 4 A similar situation was faced by African Americans in the South prior to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The example of these two groups shows that individuals who legally may be citizens are often excluded from full membership in the political community, reduced to second-class status, through the withholding of political and civil rights or the denial of social status. As political theorist Elizabeth Cohen writes, it may be more useful to think of citizenship as “a political status that is gradient rather than binary.”Footnote 5 Citizens of a democratic polity have varying degrees of rights, privileges, and statuses. For example, children, individuals currently incarcerated, and former felons (in many states) are denied the right to vote although members of both groups may be citizens. Citizens who have been involuntarily committed to a mental hospital are ineligible to own a firearm although this right is constitutionally guaranteed to others. And a single mother who utilizes the Women, Infant, and Children (WIC) nutrition program has both a very different public identity and a claim to state benefits that may be seen as less legitimate than the public identity of a retired male wage earner and the claim that he has to his Social Security benefits.Footnote 6

If citizenship status is not sufficient to define the boundaries of the political community, then what is? This chapter argues that recognition is a crucial, yet often overlooked, component of popular sovereignty. People-making in a democratic state is an exercise of majority will. Any definition of who constitutes the people will be null operationally if members of a political community refuse to recognize certain groups of individuals as fellow members of the body politic, even if legally these individuals who are denied recognition are in fact citizens. If we take recognition seriously as an element of popular sovereignty, then citizenship status is insufficient to consider an individual part of the people, even if the laws that define citizenship are the result of the democratic process. In this respect, the idea of popular sovereignty relies on self-reflexivity. Popular sovereignty requires that the people recognize themselves as a people. I consider myself a part of a particular political community, for any number of reasons (e.g., citizenship status, taxpayer, law-abider, voter). To the extent that I recognize those qualities that I see as qualifying myself as part of the people in others, I will see them too as comprising part of the political community with me. These qualities may be defined in terms of ascriptive categories, performative acts, or adherence to ideological principles. For example, in his second inaugural address President Barack Obama describes “our celebration of initiative and enterprise, our insistence on hard work and personal responsibility” as “constants in our character.” Those individuals or groups who are not seen as sharing in these character traits are thus rhetorically excluded from membership in the American people. These exclusions gain greater force when they are “resonant,” coinciding with widely held views about a group (see Smith, Chapter 15, this volume) and when they are reinforced by policy.

The denial of recognition may force the withdrawal of individuals from the political life of the community. This isolation and diminished political activity that may result from a failure to be recognized is described in Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” in his castigation of the “do nothingism” of many in the black community. He describes those who subscribe to this view as “a force of complacency, made up in part of Negroes who, as a result of long years of oppression, are so drained of self-respect and a sense of ‘somebodiness’ that they have adjusted to segregation.” Denied the recognition of their full humanity both through formal mechanisms, such as Jim Crow laws enforced by state agents, and informal mechanisms, such as the prejudices and discriminatory practices of their white fellow citizens, these African Americans retreated from political life as far as possible. As such they operated in a liminal position neither inside nor outside of the political community. While the law had declared them citizens, granting them political rights and privileges, the refusal of their fellow citizens to recognize their status as members of the political community rendered their position more akin to that of noncitizens. This mass exclusion also rendered questionable southern states’ claim of democratic rule. Popular sovereignty cannot be said to be in operation if only one part of the citizenry is recognized as part of the people.

We see this exclusionary impulse at work in democratic governance practices, most notably political rhetoric and policymaking. I identify these two areas as the main sites where messages about belongingness, political membership, and recognition are disseminated. Electoral politics relies on the identification and construction of various social groups. Politicians running for election identify individuals with similar interests or circumstances, label them as such, and compete for votes by either appealing to members of that group or excoriating members of that group to gain advantage with another group of potential voters.Footnote 7 In other words, “We the People” are not simply an undifferentiated mass of individuals. Instead, we are organized into public identities, some of which are more salient than others and some of which have more political meaning than others and some of which are more enduring than others.Footnote 8 Political rhetoric labels these groups – calling them into being through these labels – and gives them politically meaningful characteristics. During election season, various groups are constructed that are thought to be politically relevant to winning the upcoming contest and sometimes beyond to future election cycles. In 1996, “soccer moms” emerged; in 2004 it was “security moms.”Footnote 9 We speak in common political parlance of the Jewish vote, the working-class vote, the black vote, the married women’s vote, and so on. This nomenclature not only denotes a shared interest among group members but also conveys a recognizable public identity. The heightened electoral attention they convey also privilege the interests of the group over that of other groups.

As Rogers Smith argues in this volume, presidential rhetoric creates stories of peoplehood. Political leaders, and would-be political leaders, frequently engage in the creation of public identities. Then-presidential candidate Hilary Clinton (in)famously divided those who were likely to vote for her opponent, Donald Trump, into two memorable camps: one half a “basket of deplorables” who are “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic” and the other half “those who feel that the government has let them down, the economy has let them down, nobody cares about them.” Mitt Romney described those who supported him as “makers” while supporters of his rival, President Barak Obama, were “takers”: “people who pay no income tax; who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.” Through the creation of these public identities, political leaders send signals about who matters for politics – whose interests, preferences, and concerns should be privileged in policymaking. The importance of the labeling of various groups in society goes beyond simple electoral gain. These group constructions can take on lives of their own, shaping public perceptions of these groups long after their origins have been forgotten. These constructions also shape policy directed at these groups, becoming embedded in the design of policy itself.

To make this case, I borrow insights from the literature on policy design in the field of public policy. Policy design approaches to public policy contend that policies contain messages about the deservingness of various groups within society. The social construction of target groups shapes the type of policy directed at that group.Footnote 10 Policymakers construct target populations in either positive or negative terms, and the design of policy reflects this construction. Positively constructed groups (e.g., small business owners, the elderly) will reap benefits from policy whereas negatively constructed groups (e.g., criminals, welfare mothers) will be subject to policies that impose burdens on them. Social constructions of target groups are disseminated to the general public through media representations, which help lend legitimacy to policy. For example, negative media images of mothers on welfare as lazy, unwilling to work, and overly fertile helped justify the strict work requirements and family caps found in Temporary Aid to Needy Families.Footnote 11 These constructions also have a feedback effect through their operation in policy on the group they are constructing, thus contributing to their hegemony. Individuals in the target population receive messages that reinforce the policy construction through their experience with policy and related programs. This feedback can shape future political activity by individuals in the target group.Footnote 12

Beyond justifying the distribution of benefits and burdens among groups in society, social constructions play a critical role in defining political membership and civic status both for those that are the target of policy and the broader public who are the audience for policy. These messages of belongingness are not simply confined to policy but become concrete through the implementation of policy by state agents. Every time a young black man is stopped and frisked by a police officer, every time a Latina mother is asked to show proof of her and her children’s citizenship status, they are being reminded by the state that they are not considered full members of the political community. Requiring a woman to sign a “Personal Responsibility Agreement” before she can receive much needed welfare benefits for herself and her children from the state sends the message that the political community does not view her as fully capable of governing herself and thus not worthy for inclusion in the people.

An example of contesting claims over who constitutes “We the People” can be found in the legislative struggle over the legal status of undocumented immigrants who entered the country as children. Known as “DREAMers,” this group has seen their political fortunes wax and wane since 2001. Their struggle for inclusion in the political community illustrates the politically contested and politically determined identity of the people as well as how inclusion into the community is based on claims of recognition and deservingness. The political rhetoric of President Trump, on the other hand, presents a competing claim for who constitutes “We the People” and which groups should have a privileged position on the governmental agenda and in policymaking. Trump’s resurrection of an old political identity reconfigured for a new political context finds expression in his description of “the Forgotten Man and Woman.” Here, I explore these two case studies of people-making in order to illustrate the ways that democratic majorities use both policy and political rhetoric to define “We the People” in terms that are potentially exclusionary and contrary to liberal principles.

The youth undocumented immigrant movement emerged in the mid-2000s.Footnote 13 It presented an opportunity to overcome the stalemate that had plagued the immigration debate by constructing a new category of recipients deserving of positive treatment. Known as DREAMers this group is comprised of young adults who have been brought across the United States’ southern border illegally by their parents when they were children. The group gets their name from the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, a 2001 piece of legislation which, if passed into law, would regularize this group’s immigration status. The original version of the DREAM Act signaled out for special legal consideration undocumented immigrants under the age of 21 who had lived in the country for at least five years, were enrolled in an institution of higher education, and were “a person of good moral character.” Later versions of the DREAM Act included DREAMers who joined the US military. DREAMers would be free from threats of deportation and would be granted conditional permanent residence status. The Act would have helped approximately 1.8 million young undocumented immigrants regularize their immigration status and bring them fully into the social and economic life of the nation. The Obama administration championed the positive economic benefits that the DREAM Act would have by allowing these youth to become responsible taxpaying adults. As Secretary of Education Arne Duncan stated, the Act will allow “these young people to live up to their fullest potential and contribute to the economic growth of our country.”Footnote 14 Others argued for the Act on humanitarian grounds, highlighting the injustice of deporting from this country individuals who have lived here their entire lives and have never called any other country home.

Part of the political appeal of the DREAMers was found in their ability to distinguish themselves from and present themselves as more deserving of citizenship than other groups of undocumented immigrants. Their deservingness rested both on their blamelessness for their lack of status as well as their widespread portrayal as “model” immigrants. Unlike their parents, they were not tainted with the “original sin” of illegal entry into United States since they had no choice in the matter. As Senator Orrin Hatch, Republican from Utah and one of the original cosponsors of the Act, described them, DREAMers are children “who have been brought to the United States through no volition of their own.”Footnote 15 Their lack of moral culpability draws a clear boundary between DREAMers and their criminalized parents who did engage knowingly in illegal behavior and sets the political fortunes of these two groups somewhat at odds with each other and with other groups of undocumented immigrants who cannot claim the same positive characteristics that the DREAMers possess.Footnote 16 This boundary work is clearly seen in Senator Patrick Leahy’s observation that “the DREAM Act recognizes that children should not be penalized for the actions of their parents.”Footnote 17 To use the language of policy design, DREAMers attempted to shift their social construction from the deviant category reserved for lawbreakers to the dependent (or possibly even advantaged) category. To do this, activists focused on the most “deserving” group of recipients.

DREAMers justified their claim for inclusion by highlighting aspects of their identity that they share with those who are considered citizens. Their claim is that American citizenship is under-inclusive in that it fails to include those within its terms who possess key characteristics of citizenship. As Keyes writes, DREAMers highlighted “the disjuncture between American citizenship as a formal legal status (something DREAMers clearly lack) and citizenship as American identity (something DREAMers have in abundance).”Footnote 18 DREAMers are “model” immigrants who have already fully assimilated to life in the United States and, in many cases, they are presented as extraordinary rather than simply ordinary.Footnote 19 In 2007 testimony before Congress one witness sought to erase any distinction between native born Americans and their DREAMer counterparts: “While living in the U.S. and being educated in our school system, these children become ‘Americanized’. They repeat the Pledge of Allegiance … root for their favorite baseball and football teams, and ponder their future.”Footnote 20 Senators in favor of the Act, echoed this argument. According to Hatch, DREAMers “have been raised here just like their U.S. citizen classmates. They view themselves as Americans, and are loyal to our country.” Senator Harry Reid stressed that many “don’t even remember their home countries … or speak the language of their home countries. They’re just as loyal and devoted to their country as any American.” These claims illustrate the role of self-reflexivity in people-making. We are being asked to recognize the similarities between aspects of our identity and those of the DREAMers, a group that appears part of “We the People” in every way except legally. It is this claim of equivalence on which DREAMers base their demand for inclusion. They force those of us who are part of “We the People” to question what difference that legality makes. As President Obama put it, DREAMers “are Americans in their heart, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper.”Footnote 21 TIME magazine ran a cover story on DREAMers in 2012 with the headline “We are Americans*” and “*Just Not Legally.” The absence of legal status reduced here to an asterisk or footnote – nonessential information to understanding the identity of this group.

This focus on their distinctiveness from their “illegal” parents and the abundance of narratives that present DREAMers not simply as model immigrants but as extraordinary immigrants raises questions of deservingness and undeservingness. DREAMers are “deserving” immigrants whereas others who may have entered this country illegally are “undeserving” in this narrative. The deservingness of the DREAMers is evident in the design of the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013. While the findings of the bill state that ours is “a Nation founded, build and sustained by immigration” they also note that “in order to qualify for the honor and privilege of eventual citizenship, our laws must be followed.” This piece of legislation would have created two pathways to citizenship: one for DREAMers who are not responsible for entering this country illegally and one for other immigrants who have entered the country illegally. Under the law, those who had entered the country illegally (and were not DREAMers) before 2012 would be eligible for registered provisional immigrant status (RPI) if they pay all past due federal income taxes, pay the application fee and fine of up to $2,000 for being in the country illegally, and pass a background check and interview. Immigrants with RPI status would be ineligible for federal means-tested benefits such as Medicaid, food stamps, and subsidies under the Affordable Care Act. RPI status would be good for six years and could be renewed for another six years if the immigrant has proof that she has been regularly employed without a gap of more than 60 days between employment periods. She would also need to prove that she has income or resources as least 100 percent of the federal poverty level. Immigrants with RPI status would be eligible to apply for Lawful Permanent Residence but only after ten years in RPI status. They would essentially be forced to “the back of the line”; they would only be eligible for this status change once immigration visas from those who had followed the lawful process had been approved. As President Obama described the process, the bill would require “going to the back of the line behind everyone who’s playing by the rules and trying to come here legally.” After three years of maintaining permanent resident status, an immigrant would be eligible to apply for US citizenship. Immigrants with criminal felony convictions and three or more misdemeanor offenses (excluding minor traffic offenses) would be ineligible for RPI status. The process for those who qualify under the DREAM Act, however, would be different. DREAMers were eligible to have their status adjusted from RPI to lawful permanent resident after only five years. This accelerated path to a green card is only available if the applicant entered the United States before she turned sixteen, has earned a high-school diploma or GED, has completed at least two years of college or four years of military service, and has passed a background check. As soon as they achieve lawful permanent resident status, DREAMers are eligible to apply for US citizenship. Unlike their parents, DREAMers do not have to go to the back of the line.

The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 never became law. Despite strong support in the Senate, including a bipartisan group of eight Senators (the Gang of Eight) who drafted the bill and fought to get it to the floor, the Republican-led House of Representatives never took up the Senate’s bill. Many hard-liners on immigration in the Republican caucus demanded the expulsion of those here unlawfully and stricter border security measures first before they would consider a bill with any type of status legalization. The bill was portrayed by right-wing talk show hosts and Tea Party activists as “amnesty” for those who had entered the country illegally. Conservative provocateur Ann Coulter declared the bill “the end of America” in a column that raised the fear of “20 million newly legalized illegal aliens” on welfare benefits giving birth to children who would automatically become citizens under the Fourteenth Amendment and eventually Democrat voters.Footnote 22 Rush Limbaugh warned that the bill “effectively wipes out the Republican Party” and that stricter border control measures and the ten-year waiting period would be eliminated by future Congresses. We’re going to hear from democratic politicians, he argues, about how “unfair having to wait 10 years is …. And of course others will readily agree because this will sound like it’s compassion and love, sensitivity and all these wonderful chickified things that our culture’s become, and, voila, there won’t be a ten-year waiting period.”Footnote 23

In this atmosphere of renewed attention to what constitutes American identity billionaire businessman Donald Trump’s candidacy flourished. Prior to his entrance into politics, Trump had come to symbolize the excesses of the American way of life and, in particular, its economic system. That Trump would seek to redefine the nation’s conception of “We the People” should, in retrospect, not come as a surprise. After all, Trump’s claim to political relevance before his run for presidency rested on questioning the claims of the nation’s first black president to be part of “We the People,” stating that there was “a real possibility” that Obama was not born in the country.Footnote 24 As a candidate, Trump made immigration the defining feature of his campaign. He announced his run for office by memorably labeling immigrants from Mexico as “people that have lots of problems. And they’re bringing those problems with us [sic]. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”Footnote 25 And he claimed that his political success was in part due to his willingness to talk about an issue – immigration – that the American people were concerned about but that politicians had ignored.

While DREAMers presented themselves as emblematic of the American Dream, Trump’s campaign rhetoric portrayed Latino immigrants as a threat to the way of life of white Americans.Footnote 26 In a campaign speech, Trump criticized the immigration system for serving the interests of “wealthy donors, political activists and powerful, powerful politicians” rather than the interests of the American people. “When politicians talk about immigration reform,” Trump stated, “they usually mean the following: amnesty, open borders, lower wages. Immigration reform should mean something else entirely. It should mean improvements to our laws and policies to make life better for American citizens.” Rather than focus on the hardships faced by those who must live in the shadows because of their undocumented status, Trump argued that the real immigration debate should be over the impact of immigration on the working class. He stated, “We have to listen to the concerns that working people, our forgotten working people, have over the record pace of immigration and its impact on their jobs, wages, housing, schools, tax bills and general living conditions.” Trump starkly presents the economic harm that “illegal immigrants” cause working-class citizens. “Most illegal immigrants are lower skilled workers with less education, who compete directly against vulnerable American workers, and that these illegal workers draw much more out from the system than they can ever possibly pay back.”Footnote 27 The message here is clear; any gains, whether economically or politically, that undocumented immigrants may make come directly at the expense of working-class citizens.

In addition, in Trump’s view, undocumented immigrants pose a threat to the lives of these very same citizens. Trump was notorious for campaigning with his “angel moms,” a group of women (and sometimes men) who had family members who had been killed by undocumented immigrants.Footnote 28 Trump starkly presented the existential threat that undocumented immigrants pose to citizens: “Countless American who have died in recent years would be alive today if not for the open border policies of this administration.”Footnote 29 Later in this same speech, he recounted the deaths of five Americans killed by an undocumented immigrant – a 90-old-man “brutally beaten and left to bleed to death,” a female Air Force veteran raped and beaten with a hammer, a convenience store clerk shot to death – and at the end of his speech invited eleven more family members on stage to present stories about the deaths of their loved ones at the hands of undocumented immigrants. It is hardworking American citizens that are the victims of the US immigration system, in Trump’s account, not those who were brought across the border as children or came searching for a better life for themselves and their families. “The media and my opponent discuss one thing and only one thing,” Trump declared, “the needs of people living here illegally. In many cases, by the way, they’re treated better than our vets … There is only one core issue in the immigration debate, and that issue is the well-being of the American people.”Footnote 30 While the rhetoric surrounding the DREAMers emphasized their commonalities with American citizens, Trump’s rhetoric presents the interests of these two groups as diametrically opposed.

Trump’s rhetoric clearly rejects the claim that immigrants – whether here legally or not – could ever be part of the “We the (American) People.” While the DREAMers’ rhetoric functioned to separate them from other less-deserving groups of immigrants, Trump’s immigration rhetoric performs a different type of boundary work. Namely, erasing the distinctions between different immigrant groups – DREAMers, those who have overstayed their visas, Syrian refugees, unaccompanied minors from Central America – and lumping them together and labeling them as a threat to the United States. One of Trump’s most repeated campaign tropes – “the Snake” – denies the possibility that immigrants can be assimilated and become part of “We the People.” On the campaign trail, Trump would frequently tell the story of a wounded snake that a “tender-hearted” woman takes into her home, cares for and nurses back to health, only to have it kill her. When she asks it why it treated her in such an ungrateful manner, the snake replies: “Oh shut up, silly woman, said the reptile with a grin. You knew damn well I was a snake before you took me in.”Footnote 31 While Trump first introduced this story in reference to the debate over whether or not the United States should open its doors to Syrian refugees, later in his campaign – and during his presidency – he described the snake story as a cautionary tale about immigration more generally. In his 2018 speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference he prefaced the snake story by saying: “So this is called – this is called the snake. And think of it in terms of immigration and you may love it or you may say isn’t that terrible?”Footnote 32 The lesson to be drawn from this story is that immigrants – no matter where they are from or why they have come to the United States – cannot be trusted and if allowed to stay in the country will destroy it from within. The danger that they pose to the prosperity and safety of the American people is too great to ever allow them to be part of “We the People.”

Trump’s rhetoric excludes immigrants from “We the People” while at the same time presenting a contrasting claim for who rightfully constitutes the people; namely, “the Forgotten Man and Woman.” This political identity hearkens back (whether intentionally or not) to an older rhetoric of class politics found in the works of William Sumner Graham and, more recently, the “silent majority” described in the speeches of President Richard Nixon.Footnote 33 This group symbolizes for Trump those who have been shut out of the economic and political successes experienced by other groups during Obama’s presidency. They have been forgotten by the economic and political elites of this country, although not by Trump. By describing them as “forgotten,” Trump contends that those in power have been paying attention to the wrong kinds of people. They have been both forgotten and ignored. Trump’s rise to power, in his view, signals the privileging of this group in politics and policymaking. As he states in his inaugural address: “The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer. Everyone is listening to you now. You came by the tens of millions to become part of a historic movement the likes of which the world has never seen before.”Footnote 34 For those who were not part of the “tens of millions” who voted for Trump, their place in the new political moment is less clear. Rather than an expansive view of American identity, this speech conflates the people who have asserted their popular sovereignty with Trump voters.

By proposing to give voice to this new group, Trump is engaged in the process of people-making. To do this, though, it is necessary to describe the boundaries of this group who will comprise the people. For Trump, their identity is solidly working class. He described his coalition of supporters during a speech in Erie, Pennsylvania: “That’s why the steel workers are with me, that’s why the miners are with me, that’s why the working people, electricians, the plumbers, the sheetrockers, the concrete guys and gals, they’re all – they’re with us.”Footnote 35 As Goodley and Lawthorn note, “Trump’s forgotten citizen is one ready and able to work.”Footnote 36 But their jobs are not those that require a college degree, they are jobs that require physical brawn over intellectual quickness; the very jobs that Trump promises to bring back to the United States rather than those in the technology or knowledge industries. Those workers, in contrast, are not part of the people that count for the Trump administration. The forgotten man and woman are those that have been left behind by globalization and international trade deals. They have seen their jobs sent overseas and factories in their hometowns closed. In his nomination speech to the Republican National Convention, Trump stated: “I have visited the laid-off factory workers, and the communities crushed by our horrible and unfair trade deals. These are the forgotten men and women of our country. People who work hard but no longer have a voice.”Footnote 37 This group has not shared in the wealth that the rest of the country has supposedly enjoyed and it is not their fault that they have been left behind while others have jumped ahead. A major component of Trump’s construction of “the forgotten man and woman” is their blamelessness for their condition and the destigmatization of their downward mobility. It is not the fault of the “forgotten woman” that she did not retool her skills or acquire additional education in order to compete in the new economy. It is instead the fault of the political elites that sold out her job in the name of free trade. Trump’s promise to this group is that he will return them to economic prosperity by bringing back their jobs. He promised in a campaign speech in Dimondale, Michigan, that under the Trump administration “millions of workers on the sidelines will be returned to the workforce.”Footnote 38 As he declared when he announced his run for president: “I will be the greatest jobs president that God ever created. I tell you that. I will bring back our jobs from China, Mexico, and other places. I will bring back jobs and our money.”Footnote 39

More than just bring back their jobs, however, Trump proposed to restore the dignity of the working class and grant them a privileged position in politics. As Lamont and her coauthors explain, many white working-class voters found Trump’s rhetoric appealing because it “fed a desire to reassert what they view as their rightful place in the national pecking order.”Footnote 40 Many working-class people believe that their contributions to the success of the nation have gone unrecognized and their values and way of life have been looked down on by coastal elites.Footnote 41 They are working hard and playing by the rules but not getting ahead, while others who do not exhibit similar characteristics of hard work and law abidingness are getting special advantages from the government.Footnote 42 Trump, however, positioned the working class at the center of political attention. While past administrations proposed policies that benefited immigrants, big business, and political elites, Trump claimed that his policies would serve the American worker first and foremost. At a signing ceremony for his “Buy American and Hire American” executive order, Trump redefined his message of “America First” to mean “America’s Workers First.” “For too long,” he stated, “we’ve watched as our factories have been closed and our jobs have been sent to other faraway lands …. But this election, the American people voted to end the theft of American prosperity. They voted to bring back their jobs – and to bring back their dreams into our country …. With this action, we are sending a powerful signal to the world: We’re going to defend our workers, protect our jobs, and finally put America first.”Footnote 43 He used similar language in support of a newly negotiated trade deal with Mexico and Canada: “We’re proudly defending our most important national resource: the American worker. That’s what it is. It’s pretty amazing how the American worker has just really – there’s nobody like our American worker.” In addition, to framing many of his policy initiatives in terms of their effects on the working class, Trump also accorded this group a privileged position in policy, singling them out as an advantaged group. Time and again, he presents his policy decisions as being guided by his concern for the working class. According to Trump: “We’ve powered our economic turnaround by following two fundamental rules: If it hurts American workers, we don’t do it. It’s very simple. And if it helps American workers, we definitely do it and we do it quickly. It’s very simple.”Footnote 44 To employ Lamont’s idea of “recognition gaps,” Trump’s rhetoric aims to help a low-status group in society gain recognition and worth vis-à-vis other groups.Footnote 45 But even more than raising the status of the working class, his rhetoric has positioned this group as the sine qua non of the political community.

These two case studies illustrate the process of democratic people-making through policy and political rhetoric. They also highlight the dangers of democratic people-making. Namely, democratic majorities and their leaders cannot be counted on to define “We the People” in accordance with liberal principles. One might argue that the commitment to liberalism found in the United States restrains the majority’s ability simply to define the people according to its will. Our liberal principles of equality, inclusion, and respect for individual rights help prevent the exclusions that majoritarian people-making based on ascriptive characteristics, prejudices, and other such factors might lead to.Footnote 46 While any definition of the people is necessarily exclusionary, in that defining who is part of a political community also requires specifying who is outside of the community, liberalism helps cast the net as wide as possible. Liberalism’s impulse is to confer rights on all autonomous individuals and in the process abstract “from diverse identities to create the homogenizing identity of the citizen” free from all the markers of membership in a particular group or political identity.Footnote 47 We see this impulse in the text of the Fourteenth Amendment, which defines all those born in the United Sates as citizens, a very wide net indeed. Past exclusion in the United States based on ascriptive characteristics of race, ethnicity, and gender are often taken as violations of liberalism’s principles, a relic of the “bad old days,” when we failed as a nation to live up to our ideals.

However, as others have noted, liberalism’s appearance of universality and inclusion is not what it seems.Footnote 48 Liberal theory proposes seemingly minimal qualifications for being a member of the political community. Individuals in the state of nature join together with each other to remove themselves from “inconveniences of the state of nature.”Footnote 49 The requirements for those consenting to this contract are found in human nature itself; individuals must be equal, free, and rational. However, while these minimum requirements appear universal and non-exclusionary, they assume anthropological capacities that might not be recognized to obtain universally. As Mehta explains: “What is concealed behind the endorsement of these universal capacities are the specific cultural and psychological conditions woven in as preconditions for the actualization of these capacities.”Footnote 50 It is not sufficient for an individual to meet the minimum qualifications necessary for entry into the social contract. Others who are parties to the contract must also see her as meeting these qualifications. There is an element of recognition that is required for political membership even in a liberal state.

But what exactly must be recognized by others in order to be included in a liberal political community? What are the key characteristics or public virtues necessary to be considered part of “We the People”? The universal reach of liberalism derives from the capacities that it defines as common to all human beings. Even theories of liberalism that are neither grounded in a fixed concept of human nature nor rely on a pre-political state of nature define the subject of liberalism in a universalizing manner. Namely, these deontological versions of liberalism presume an autonomous choice-making individual able to determine his or her way of life. By prioritizing rights over a conception of the good, liberalism leaves it up to individuals to pursue their own version of the good life. In this way, liberalism helps guarantee maximum liberty, for each individual supposedly knows best what is in his or her interest. Inclusion in a liberal political community is contingent on being able to determine one’s life course free of the dictates of others. While liberal theorists argue that all human beings share this capacity qua human beings, certain groups have been denied the recognition that they are in fact capable of self-rule. This ability to rule oneself is frequently conflated with the ability to participate in the economic marketplace, with those groups who cannot do so subjected to the second-class status that comes from protective legislation and welfare handouts.Footnote 51 The case studies above illustrate this. When undocumented immigrant youth are portrayed as future productive workers and taxpayers, their claims for inclusion in “We the People” are more readily accepted. When they are portrayed as just another immigrant group draining resources from the public treasury and threatening the economic fortunes of American-born workers, their political fortunes wane. As Trump’s acting director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services described the type of immigrants who would be considered favorable candidates for citizenship: “Give me your tired and your poor – who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge.”Footnote 52

13 Populism, Popular Sovereignty, and Periphery

Julia R. Azari and Alexis Nemecek

Populism has proven to be a ubiquitous, yet elusive, concept in discussions about the fate of democracy. The idea carries with it the promise of popular sovereignty – the potential for ordinary people to overthrow corrupt elites. However, it also poses a danger to political institutions and crucial elements of the liberal order, sometimes merging with anti-immigrant sentiment. This chapter addresses the challenge of populism in the US context, with specific focus on the role played by the rhetoric of antagonism in populist appeals. We argue that (1) antagonistic claims are central to understanding what distinguishes populism from other forms of popular appeals, (2) the US context is somewhat distinctive in that historically, populist appeals have incorporated antagonism across geographic regions, and (3) the nationalization of American politics has led populist rhetoric to seek other targets, fundamentally changing its relationship to political institutions.

We know that politicians use antagonistic rhetoric toward Washington, DC, political systems and institutions, and economic elites, and that this has been a recurring feature of American political discourse associated with the left and the right. Geographically speaking, this anti-Washington sentiment takes the form of populist rhetoric that invokes an elite core and a morally superior periphery. In this chapter, we examine the ways in which populist rhetoric in American politics has exploited the definitional ambiguity of populism in order to incorporate critiques of institutions into mainstream communication.

We begin by explaining the connection between populism and popular sovereignty and the debate about the relationship between populism and liberal democracy. We then identify factors in the US case that make the politics of populism distinct in this case, including the nature of the presidency and a decentralized political system often characterized by regional conflict. The next section assesses recent use of populist and antagonistic rhetoric by presidents and presidential candidates. Based on this evidence, we argue that while the nationalization of politics and the emergence of new political outsiders created a populist moment in 2016, populist rhetoric also has origins in the tropes of mainstream political discourse.

Populism and Popular Sovereignty

The forthcoming analysis of American populism is linked to the broader questions of popular sovereignty in this volume in several ways. Richard Boyd’s chapter highlights the need to creating a fictive “people” as a prerequisite for popular sovereignty.Footnote 1 Populism addresses this task, often controversially, by highlighting a unified people and specifying the threats to the political community. In the case of the United States, there are many overlapping relevant political communities – regional, state, and other geographic identities like urban and rural. Studying populist rhetoric in historical context helps us understand how these identities have been manipulated differently as the country’s politics have become increasingly nationalized.Footnote 2 Alvin Tillery’s chapter in this volume features two themes present in this analysis: the complexity of intersecting identities in thinking about power and populism and the use of populism to challenge the failures of representative institutions.Footnote 3 Our chapter attempts to understand the use of populist rhetoric in contemporary presidential politics as both a means of articulating important criticisms of power structures and also disingenuously manipulating the idea of popular sovereignty in order to gain political power.

The scholarly literature on populism has a complex normative orientation. In this section, for the sake of clarity, we divide this body of scholarship into two bluntly differentiated camps: those that see populism as compatible with democratic claims and aspirations and those that primarily depict populism as a threat to liberal democracy. These two schools of thought also differ in their diagnoses of the cause of populist insurgencies within consolidated democracies. Approaches that view populism as compatible with democracy tend to ascribe its rise to intrinsic tensions within the practice of democracy, or the inevitable gap between ideals and practice. Those that see populism as a threat to liberal democracy have generally instead attributed populist movements to failures by mainstream political actors or other systemic malfunctions, rather than as a natural byproduct.

While praise for populism is not confined to the American politics literature, there is a strain that identifies populism as an important part of the American political tradition. Writing about the populist tradition in American politics, historian Michael Kazin argues that “populism in the United States has made the unique claim that the “powers that be” are transgressing the nation’s founding creed, which every permanent resident should honor.”Footnote 4 Kazin’s account suggests that populist rhetoric and persuasive argumentation emerge from the American political tradition, even as they have been harnessed by political actors with varying ideologies. Charles Postel conceptualizes the populist movement of the late nineteenth century as a complicated and dynamic one that incorporated multiple racial, economic, and regional interests. Postel, in what might be seen as a contradiction in terms in other contexts, depicts the American populists as a kind of modern and populist movement. Perhaps because of this particular history in the US case, discussions of American populism tend to associate the term with sincere efforts to resist economic exploitation and oligarchy.Footnote 5

Democratic theory also links populism to the features of democracy. Margaret Canovan’s assessment of populism broadens the theoretical relationship between populism and democracy. Rejecting the notion that populism emerges from contradictions inherent in liberalism and democracy, Canovan suggests instead that populism is the result of two competing facets of democracy itself. She argues that populism arises from the tension between the “redemptive and pragmatic” faces of democracy. The pragmatic component of democracy requires institutions and procedures, while the redemptive face is “romantic” and offers a vision of “salvation through politics.”Footnote 6 Critically, she points out that populism is typically characterized as a rejection of authority, but, in fact, it draws on an established source of authority: the people.

A different body of literature, much of it coming from contemporary comparative politics, takes a much dimmer view of the normative prospects for populism. In the European context, twenty-first-century populism is also associated with far-right parties. Claims to represent the interests of a unified and undifferentiated people have merged with anti-immigrant sentiment. Jan-Werner Muller identifies the opposition to pluralism as the defining feature of populism.Footnote 7

In addition to an illiberal disregard for pluralism, populist parties have also been associated with disrespect for the essential institutions of liberal democracy. Anna Grzymala-Busse describes populist parties in Poland and Hungary as having governed by attacking both the formal institutions of democracy and the informal norms that allow it to function.Footnote 8 In these accounts, populists’ claims to represent the “true people” become weaponized against the institutions like the judiciary and the news media. Populist actors who are antagonistic to the very existence of liberal democratic institutions undermine democracy even as they claim to speak for the people.

In sum, there is no clear scholarly consensus about the relationship between populism and democracy. By definition, populist rhetoric offers a critique of those in power. Scholars have in some instances deemed these targets worthy of criticism, as in the case of the late nineteenth-century US Populist movement’s condemnation of the excesses of industrial capitalism. In other cases, scholars have warned that the institutions denigrated by populists are essential to the function of democracy. Populism can draw illiberal boundaries around the political community and undermine necessary institutions. At the same time, it can also serve as the basis for movements aimed at breaking up concentrated economic (and sometimes political) power. This leaves scholars of populism with many questions. Under what conditions does populism take the form of a necessary critique against the powerful? When does it take a corrosive form? How are existing subnational identities and conflicts mobilized? How do these questions map onto populism of the left and right? Can the targets of populism be both essential and corrupt?

The analysis of populist rhetoric in this chapter examines how this ambivalence manifests in the rhetoric of presidents and presidential hopefuls. While it certainly does not begin to address all of the major questions about populism and its relationship with healthy liberal democracy, the findings presented here offer some suggestions about the ways in which the populist moment of the 2016 election represented continuity and change in the treatment of populist themes in American presidential politics. The rhetoric of presidential hopefuls and their surrogates also illustrates the ways in which populist claims against elites and institutions are also mixed with defenses of these institutions and even appeals to reject populism.

The American Political Landscape

Scholars of comparative politics have identified populism as a “thin-centered ideology,” with few firm ideas about “the nature of man and society.”Footnote 9 In the comparative context, this allows populism to attach itself to various other ideologies. However, in the US case, scholars have often noted the thinness of ideology as a matter of course in party politics. Previous iterations of the American party system were criticized by political scientists for being insufficiently ideological.Footnote 10 The two major parties have frequently channeled multiple, not particularly compatible interests. In the late twentieth century, politics has undergone a dramatic shift with regard to ideological division. It is in the context of partisan sorting and polarization that populist appeals have resurged. In light of this history, what makes the resurgence of populism in the twenty-first century distinct?

The unique structure of separation of powers has also shaped the backdrop of populism. Modern American presidents wield a great deal of real and symbolic power. The Trump presidency has uniquely merged this power with the grievance element of populism. The growth of presidential power has relied on the development of legitimacy claims rooted in populist ideas. Some scholars have linked the interpretation of elections to evolving institutional legitimacy.Footnote 11 Presidential claims to electoral mandates have accompanied expanding presidential power.

We draw a conceptual boundary around the idea of grievance against a corrupt elite as the operative characteristic of US populism; simply claiming popular authority is not sufficient to count as populist rhetoric.Footnote 12 This allows us to distinguish from other forms of plebiscitary appeals, especially at the presidential level, and to put twenty-first-century American presidential populism into a distinct and meaningful category.

Finally, American politics is becoming increasingly nationalized, with voting behavior oriented toward national figures, political divisions, and media.Footnote 13 We examine the nature of populism in this new nationalized context, arguing that this constitutes a break with the history of more regionally based US populism. If the defining characteristic of populism is grievance, then the objects of that grievance are likely to shift in a nationalizing political environment.

The Populist Presidency

As the previous section indicates, the American presidency is a distinct institution that offers unique opportunities to make public appeals and pronouncements about other institutions. The rhetoric analyzed in a later section looks at presidents and presidential candidates. But it is not just about the distinctiveness of the American presidency as an institution. There are also questions about the unprecedented presidency of Donald Trump.

There are a few important differences between past situations and the Trump administration. Even the most populist or paranoid presidents have been surrounded by people who remind them of the constitutionality of their office, and the power that it wields. Populist appeals have typically been primarily on behalf of others. At Trump’s 2017 inauguration, he promised the crowds of supporters, “I will be your voice.”Footnote 14 However, his practice of populist rhetoric has deviated from this standard style. Instead, the grievances the president expresses are focused on himself. For example, in June 2019, the forty-fifth president declared that no president in history had been “treated worse” than he had. The president’s surrogates have complained about unfair treatment from the news media, as Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel did on the anniversary of D-Day. The news media is a consistent target of contemporary, nationalized populism. The beginning of an impeachment inquiry in fall 2019 has provided opportunities for Trump’s team to insist on their persecution by political opponents, including the press.

At the same time, a peculiar political logic obtains in the age of Trump. The politics that led to his presidency have created the conditions for a partisan presidential politics of grievance. Trump’s unconventional path to the Republican nomination, in which he beat candidates with more establishment support and yet went on to win mainstream support as the party standard bearer has created an unusually strong “team” feeling. As Lilliana Mason has described, partisan politics has come to symbolize more than mere policy disagreements; party labels also align with salient social identities.Footnote 15 Under these conditions, fellow partisans identify strongly with Trump and attacks on him are plausibly also attacks on them.

The political environment bolsters these claims. Because of the closeness of partisan competition, it is possible for either side to credibly argue that it is at a political disadvantage, exploited by a corrupt elite that is affiliated with the other side. The arousal of populist anger becomes part of the dynamic between parties as well as within them. It is not difficult for the president, his surrogates, and his supporters to find evidence of significant and concerted opposition. Any action or statement is likely to elicit criticism and mockery; even the party that controls government can point to powerful and vociferous political adversaries. Furthermore, while Trumpist political forces control much of the federal government (as of 2019), the cultural establishment has been consistently critical of the administration. Partisanship is a compelling but incomplete explanation. The ferocity and ubiquity of Trump criticisms – which range from substantive policy arguments to mockery of the president’s body, hair, and eating habits – provide material for a narrative about elite opponents even as the administration pursues a conventional Republican economic agenda rather than one more commonly associated with populism.

The significance of this turn is twofold. First, Bonikowski and Gidron note in a study of populist campaign rhetoric among presidential candidates that populist appeals have generally been the domain of outsider candidates with less experience as professional politicians.Footnote 16 In other words, populism has been an electoral appeal of challenger candidates, which fits with Trump’s status during the 2016 campaign. However, the dynamics of these arguments shifted when Trump assumed the power of the presidency. As Lieberman, Mettler, Pepinsky, Roberts, and Vallely have observed, the Trump administration has demonstrated a willingness to use the tools of the executive branch to punish political adversaries.Footnote 17

While Trump has no clear historical antecedent, we pose the question of whether his populist rhetoric in 2016 and beyond was truly a departure from the language of previous presidential aspirants. We find that while Trump has uniquely used the language of anti-pluralist populism to delegitimize his opponents, language that incorporates broad criticisms of various institutional targets has not been uncommon in recent presidential politics.

Left Populism of the Rural West

In this section, we turn to the political geography of American populism in historical context. Differences across the major regions of the United States has driven recent political conflict, although contemporary populism has not been examined explicitly through this lens.Footnote 18 Perhaps the work that comes closest to this theme is Katherine Cramer’s The Politics of Resentment, which examines the attitudes of rural Wisconsin residents toward public employees and urban areas in their state.Footnote 19 The literature on American populism also highlights the importance of periphery and outsider status. Bimes and Mulroy argue that, “presidential populist leadership has been closely linked to wider changes in the relationship between presidents and governing institutions.”Footnote 20 They find that while nineteenth-century Democratic presidents employed populist rhetoric to push back against a national government dominated by special interests (156), Republican populism in the twentieth century has adopted similar anti-statist themes, but with tamer rhetoric. In other words, as the presidency has come to be understood as part of a larger national administrative apparatus, the employment of antagonistic populist rhetoric has been a more difficult fit. Similarly, Bonikowski and Gidron find that a presidential candidate’s “perceived distance from the federal political elite,” as measured by previous offices held and length of political career, is linked to use of populist rhetoric.Footnote 21

Populism as a distinct political movement emerged in the 1890s in the United States, although many of its ideological roots can be traced back to the early nineteenth century and before. Charles Postel has described at length the complexity of the movement’s structure and ideas, noting that grassroots organization took place throughout the country. While Postel emphasizes the geographic diversity of the Populist movement, its merger with mainstream politics also shifted focus to a more explicitly regional reach and strategy. The electoral map from 1892, when the Populist Party ran its own candidate, James Weaver, and from 1896, when the Democratic Party nominated the populist William Jennings Bryan (who was subsequently nominated by the Populist Party), illustrates the geographic nature of this movement. After substantially merging with the Democratic Party in 1896, nominating their candidate, William Jennings Bryan, populists found their electoral fortunes still largely concentrated in “under-developed regions … whose residents had long nursed an anger against the urban, moneyed East.”Footnote 22

The best-known populist rhetoric of this era probably comes from the convention speech of William Jennings Bryan, accepting the Democratic presidential nomination in 1896. While the line about the “cross of gold” and the implications for the party’s shift on monetary policy are frequently cited, the speech also invokes many themes about economic elitism. This includes the urban–rural divide that both animated populist claims and limited the success of the movement. Bryan described the “producer” vision of agrarian populism in apocalyptic terms:

You come to us and tell us that the great cities are in favor of the gold standard; we reply that the great cities rest upon our broad and fertile prairies. Burn down your cities and leave our farms, and your cities will spring up again as if by magic; but destroy our farms, and the grass will grow in the streets of every city in the country.Footnote 23

The economic populism embraced by Democrats in this era reappeared in New Deal rhetoric.Footnote 24 Other themes, including geographic resentments and uneasy integration with mainstream party politics, have also recurred. Yet, as we will see in a later section, changing context has altered populism on the left, altering its regional content and orientation toward institutions.

Right Populism of the Segregated South

Defining the conservative populism of the South is more complicated. The focal point for the merging of a populist political messaging style and the substance of southern anti-integration was Alabama governor and presidential candidate George Wallace. The conservative populism of the late 1960s differed from the economic populism decades earlier; it focused on the middle-class and “ordinary” Americans. This emphasis was part of a political strategy to break away from the party’s disadvantage relative to Democrats with working- and middle-class voters, as well as an effort to capitalize on post-Civil Rights racial resentment.Footnote 25

Wallace biographer Dan Carter contrasts the segregationist governor with more “authentic” populist voices genuinely concerned with reform, and suggests that both the slippery definition of the term and Wallace’s own lack of conformity to received ideological categories drove the use of this label.Footnote 26 Nevertheless, conservative populism can trace its anti-elite, antigovernment and, to use Joel Olson’s phrase, “white ordinariness” roots to a geographically segmented system of politics.Footnote 27 The targets of this strain of populism were also less straightforward. While the literal targets of populist anger were intellectuals and elites, sometimes with a geographic component, the implied targets were racial minorities seeking rights and protections. Populism in this form becomes not only complicated but also insidious, as it makes one set of claims about elites in order to oppress the already disadvantaged.

Populist Rhetoric in the Twenty-First Century

Here, we turn to the question of how twenty-first-century presidents and presidential aspirants have used populist appeals. We draw on several sets of speeches from the American Presidency Project. The 136 speeches analyzed in this section come from several different categories: speeches given by candidates and former presidents during the 2016 nomination campaign, speeches given by the major candidates in fall 2016, and speeches given by Trump during his early months in office. As with previous analyses of populist rhetoric, we relied on both automated and hand-coding methods. The text was analyzed by first creating a dictionary using the software program Diction (v. 7.1.3). This dictionary differed from some past efforts to assess populism because it did not include language about a unified people. Rather, it included words associated with frequent targets of American populism. These words included banks, bureaucracy, bureaucrats, cities, coasts, Congress, corporations, east, educated, elites, experts, interest groups, media, politicians, powerful, rich, special interests, system, Washington, wealthy.

In the hand-coding portion of the analysis, we eliminated references that were irrelevant, and drew qualitative assessments of the relevant references. These are presented in the following sections, and, as we will show, were not clearly classifiable into positive and negative references. Instead, we found that the praise and criticism for institutions of power were in many cases bound together or at least presented in the same speech.

The approach here departs from some previous studies, which hold individual politicians as the unit of analysis and compare them. For example, using a sophisticated, multipart measurement for populist speech, Eric Oliver and Wendy Rahn demonstrate that Trump and Sanders use more populist rhetoric than other 2016 contenders.Footnote 28 They also illustrate how the two candidates use forms of populism most typical for their respective parties. Trump employed political populism while Sanders used more economic populism. It is now well established that some politicians draw on more populist tropes while others use them more sparingly. However, we begin this analysis from the premise that most politicians use some populist frameworks, and that this language can be embedded in other types of political appeals, or spoken alongside opposing frameworks. Furthermore, the focus of this analysis is on the ways in which populist rhetoric is directed at institutions and other targets of antagonism. The method developed assesses how populist language about institutions, social groups, and ideas compares with other discourse about these same things.

The pursuit of the presidency has a distinct political geography. Nomination seekers and their surrogates (like George W. Bush speaking on behalf of his brother Jeb) concentrate their efforts in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. These locations are relevant to the regional populisms that have historically shaped American politics, especially as they still hold identities as peripheral, rural areas excluded from the urban cultural core. Fundraising, especially for Democrats, happens in these urban centers, often not located in competitive or strategic states. For example, Obama’s fundraiser comments are concentrated in Chicago, Illinois, Seattle, Washington, and Los Angeles, California. However, the relatively small number of speeches makes it difficult to draw serious inferences about regional patterns in presidential and candidate populism. We discuss our findings with regard to the politics of periphery in the next sections.

The 2015–2016 Nomination Campaign

The surveyed period included twelve speeches delivered by Barack Obama, then the sitting president, at fundraisers for various organizational wings of the Democratic Party as well as for specific candidates. This period also featured several speeches by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, whose left-wing populist tendencies have been documented in previous research.Footnote 29 Comparison between these two politicians’ use of rhetoric about common populist targets illustrates the ways in which populism is both integrated into mainstream political discourse, as well as the contrast between its mainstream uses and more overt populist appeals.

Many of Obama’s references to Congress, Democrats, and politicians were positive or neutral. A frequently repeated line was “And so our unfinished business doesn’t depend on me or Congress or even the next Democratic President, it will depend on us.” Obama also referred to politicians in a matter-of-fact way, conceding the realities of politics while drawing a comparison between Republicans and Democrats: “Democrats are politicians too. You’ve to worry about constituencies and polls and trying to get reelected. But we tend to pay attention to facts, and we tend to pay attention to evidence, and we actually listen to reason and arguments.”

The forty-fourth president’s comments on other populist targets, Washington and the media, were less positive. A typical comment from Obama about the media emphasized its role in exaggerating and rewarding political conflict: “And we’ve got a media that likes to concentrate on conflict, and you get attention, you can cash in by saying the most outrageous things – a system that rewards people trying to score political points rather than actually get things done.”Footnote 30 These comments were linked to a critique of the “system” that rewards “division and polarization and short-term thinking.” At a fundraiser in Seattle for Senator Patty Murray, Obama quipped about the dysfunction of the nation’s capital: “Now, I know sometimes in the other Washington, our politics doesn’t always reflect the decency and the common sense of the American people.”Footnote 31

Expressions of exasperation and willingness to blame the country’s problems on “the system” and elites in Washington made some sense given Obama’s political history. As Cinar, Stokes, and Uribe point out, Obama’s initial entry into presidential politics drew on his status as a political outsider.Footnote 32 Furthermore, as a politician who ran on the idea of changing the system and making major policy change, he had been thwarted by structural features – especially a polarized landscape and outrage-based conservative media – throughout his eight years in office.

Obama’s comments about some of the frequent targets of populism – the media, Washington, “the system” – differed a great deal in tone and frequency from those delivered by Trump and Sanders. Nevertheless, they also contained some common kernels with more bombastic populist rhetoric. In contrast with Trump, Obama never referred to the media as “the enemy of the people” or accused them of lying. Yet, he did consistently point to their role in creating a polarized and dysfunctional political system. These statements implied that the “system” and the media sometimes fostered division at the expense of a more unified national public, conforming to a mild logic of populism. In another regard, Obama’s comments were consistent with some of the research on polarization, which suggests that the news media has been pivotal in shaping the tone and hostility in partisan politics and that the importance of belonging to a winning “team” has come to drive polarization.Footnote 33 Nevertheless, they did contain some of the same targets as later and more forceful uses of populism.

However, these comments also combined criticism of institutions with a defense of mainstream politics. For example, Obama’s Seattle remarks later included a more complex point about anti-Washington cynicism: “And look, it’s comfortable to just say Washington doesn’t work anymore, everything is dysfunctional, just to turn away.” His comments also suggested that while it was understandable that people might become frustrated and disengage because of the “system,” the only path to political progress also lies with engagement in the system. For example: “And as frustrating as Washington can be – and I promise you, it can be frustrating – [laughter] – the system has a way of, over time, just jiggering and going down blind allies and hitting bumps, but if we are determined to change it, it changes.”Footnote 34 Similarly, at a Democratic Hope Fund dinner, Obama acknowledged the prevailing anti-system attitudes of the moment. “And I know that we live in a cynical time, and you’re seeing in our election cycle right now the expressions of a lot of anger and frustration. Some of it is manufactured for political purposes. Some of it is hype that we see in the news cycle, in the media, in the age of Twitter. But the frustrations are there, and they’re real.” In many of Obama’s communications, critiques of institutions were often interconnected with messages of hope and encouragement about the potential to work for change within the political system.

Sanders’ use of populist rhetoric made him stand out not only from other Democrats (namely, Obama and Clinton) but also from populists on the right like Trump. Oliver and Rahn observe that Sanders’ 2016 primary rhetoric featured a high score on “economic populism, blame attribution, and invocations of ‘America’ but employs a more complex and sophisticated language. Nor does he score high in the use of ‘we–they’ collectivist rhetoric. Thus while Sanders may be ‘populist’ in a strictly economic sense, his language is not nearly as ‘of the people’ as either Carson’s or Trump’s.”Footnote 35 Cinar, Stokes, and Uribe identify Sanders as a left populist, observing that “Sanders’s words of disparagement are aimed at traditional populist targets: Wall Street, bankers, the super-wealthy. Except for the absence of complaints about the railroads and the gold standard, he sounds a lot like American populists of the late nineteenth century.”Footnote 36

Importantly, however, Sanders’ economic populist rhetoric, at least in the brief period surveyed here, was closely tied to his criticisms of the political system. For example, at the 2015 Jefferson–Jackson Day dinner, Sanders offered an indictment of economic and political elites alike: “After I came to Congress, corporate America, Wall Street, the administration in the White House and virtually all of the corporate media pushed for passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement.” The same speech also criticized the media, along with the “political establishment,” for their support of the Iraq War in 2003. After his victory in the Iowa caucuses, Sanders took aim at several of the typical populist targets. His words emphasized the parallels across different seats of power, noting “As I think about what happened tonight, I think the people of Iowa have sent a very profound message to the political establishment, to the economic establishment, and by the way, to the media establishment.” Sanders also reminded his audience that “experts” had doubted the electoral chances of Barack Obama eight years earlier. In an address at Georgetown University, Sanders once again explained the connection between political and economic power.Footnote 37

Analyses of Sanders’ populist rhetoric that classify it as solely economic populism omit a critical aspect of his message. His critiques targeted economic elites in ways that were not entirely out of step with past democratic ideas and were, as we see in the next section, possible for Hillary Clinton to incorporate into her messages.Footnote 38 Populist ideas about the failures of the political system offer a different set of challenges for mainstream politicians. Such complaints have become a routine feature of political rhetoric, in the form of anti-Washington messages or those that decry the “system” as a corrupting force. However, Sanders’ merging of the two kinds of populist set his messages apart, and drew on existing frameworks to criticize the status quo in ways that were difficult for mainstream politicians to respond to or adopt.

Clinton Versus Trump

As the 2016 campaign came to an end, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump both spent a great deal of time in highly competitive states throughout the country – Colorado, North Carolina, Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Trump also expanded his geographic reach a bit, adding Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona, and Nevada to the list. Clinton also spoke in New Hampshire and at the Alfred Smith dinner in New York City.

Like Obama, Clinton often married populist and anti-populist, pro-institution themes in her speeches. “Washington” was often a soft target, with critiques implicit in statements like, “That’s what we need more of in Washington, people like Patrick who are going to get up every day and go to work for you, a better life for you and your families, instead of blocking progress at every turn, listening to the special interests and powerful forces that really are not interested in what it’s going to take for every one of you to get ahead and stay ahead.”Footnote 39 In Daytona Beach a few days later, Clinton urged voters to elect Murphy because “we need people in Washington who are problem-solvers, not problem-makers.”Footnote 40 Similarly, in a speech in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Clinton said of Senate candidate Deborah Ross, “She will be an independent voice for the working families in this state, and she will help break through the gridlock in Washington.”Footnote 41 While these were campaign statements in support of Congressional candidates, they also drew on familiar tropes about the problems of government, the established system, and the incumbent politicians.

These kinds of statements seem at first glance to be political boilerplate. Yet, the very ordinariness of such reflexive anti-Washington statements, tied in with party politics and campaign rhetoric, reveals how populist anti-institutional ideas are woven into American political communication. Politicians voice these sentiments alongside defenses of the system and its institutions. Furthermore, the expectation that criticism of “Washington” will be a mainstay of campaign discourse helped to create the foundation for more overtly populist appeals. These anti-Washington remarks mingled both accurate critiques of the system’s lack of responsiveness and empty tropes about “breaking through gridlock” that cast political conflict as a problem rather than a natural occurrence in a democracy.

Clinton’s remarks in October 2016 differed from Obama’s in another critical way. While Obama sometimes castigated the media for their role in rewarding political division, Clinton praised the role of the press. These statements were embedded in the specific context of the general election against Trump. In her Coconut Creek speech, Clinton drew a contrast between herself and her opponent: “And we don’t punish newspapers or journalists that try to cover the news or are critical of politicians, or threaten to restrict the First Amendment, because our democracy depends on a free press.”Footnote 42

Clinton’s speeches featured notably more economic populism than Obama’s, however. By October, she had adopted some version of Bernie Sanders’ economically populist talking points, speaking about the abuses of corporations and banks. Her statements implicating “the wealthy” often tied tax cuts and other policies intended to benefit rich Americans to her opponent. In this sense, Clinton and Sanders were not so different in their use of populism, and both fit into an established, if not ubiquitous, tradition in the modern Democratic Party. When it came to other targets, Clinton both embraced populist critiques of established power and defended important, if powerful, institutions like the press and the political system in general. Some of her economic populist rhetoric was aimed at her opponent. As we shall see, Trump returned the favor in his frequent anti-system populist claims.

By the end of Donald Trump’s presidency, his penchant for delegitimizing rhetoric against democratic institutions, perhaps most infamously the news media, had become a familiar aspect of American politics. However, it is worthwhile to consider the messages of antagonism that Trump used on the campaign trail in 2016. Our analysis of his October 2016 communication is consistent with other scholars’ findings that Trump’s populism took the form of political, rather than economic, antagonism. In contrast with Clinton and Sanders, Trump’s speeches rarely included negative references to the banks, corporations, or the wealthy. Trump often ended speeches by talking about making America wealthy again. Instead, the targets of his criticism were politicians, the system, and Washington. Populist attacks on the media included complaints about their lack of coverage of preferred issues (such as the allegation of paid protesters at Trump rallies), and accusations that they were part of the Clinton campaign. Many of the statements about the corrupt Washington establishment or the mistakes of career politicians were directly linked to Clinton.

One distinct aspect of Trump’s populist rhetoric is the extensive list of targets employed in nearly every campaign speech in October, 2016. In addition to talking about the media, Trump offered a comprehensive critique of the American political system in some speeches, decrying career politicians in Washington and the role of special interests. The political establishment was implicated in failing to enact adequate border policy or listen to the public on trade. The “Drain the Swamp” stump speech also called for Congressional term limits, a popular idea but also one within the populist domain.

It is difficult to assess the impact of specific campaign rhetoric on the hearts and minds of voters or the outcome of the election. However, examining how antagonistic populist rhetoric often works alongside mainstream political speech, with criticisms of groups and institutions often presented with defenses of different aspects of the political system, helps to illustrate how the populist turn in 2016 built on existing tropes. Sanders combined economic populism with broad institutional critiques. Clinton was able to pick up on that populism, but refrained in general from political populism. Trump, however, adopted anti-Washington rhetoric used by mainstream outsider candidates like Obama, and even invoked mildly by Clinton. Trump increased the intensity of this rhetoric, without tempering it with defenses of the system, and offered his own candidacy as the solution.

Conservative Populist Rhetoric in and Out of the White House

The previous section illustrates how populist and anti-institutional campaign rhetoric built on mainstream language used by democratic politicians. This section looks at how Trump’s rhetoric, this time on the road as a newly elected president, compared to that of the most recent Republican president, George W. Bush, during his first 100 days in office in 2001. While existing research suggests that proximity to power makes a difference for how politicians use populist rhetoric, we also know that lines between governing and campaigning have increasingly blurred. This has been especially true for Trump, who has continued to hold campaign-style rallies throughout this presidency and to launch populist attacks against opponents and especially the news media.

Recent conservative populism has had a distinct rhetoric of political geography. During the 2008 campaign, Sarah Palin drew criticism for referring to North Carolina as “real America.” In an article on possible democratic challenges to Donald Trump, a Republican spokesperson was quoted saying, “[Trump’s 2020 opponent should be] Somebody who speaks to common-sense American values – that is what the Democrats need. I’m not sure who that person is, but I am pretty sure she or he does not reside in New York, Massachusetts or California.”Footnote 43

We have seen how the electoral map creates a politics of periphery that is evident in the rhetoric of populist antagonism among presidential candidates. How does this manifest once the president is in office? This section takes up the question with a specific focus on Republican presidents, comparing Donald Trump with George W. Bush. Both presidents undertook some travel during their first 100 days in office, with Bush making forty speeches and Trump making twenty-one, as archived by the American Presidency Project. The political geography of each president’s travel was somewhat different; Trump spent a higher percentage of his time in the South (thirteen speeches, not counting those delivered in Washington – adjacent areas of Virginia), including Florida. Bush also spent considerable time there (seventeen speeches, including two in Virginia outside of the DC area). Both presidents spoke in Wisconsin and Michigan. But Bush also traveled to other parts of the Midwest, interior West, and border regions, including Montana, North Dakota, Iowa, and Missouri.

One of the central purposes of Bush’s speaking tour in early 2001 was to promote education reform. In promoting this initiative (what would eventually be the No Child Left Behind bill), Bush frequently talked about the idea of local control and not allowing “Washington” to determine local education policy. (The contradiction between these statements and the passage of major legislation that increased federal involvement in education is perhaps another discussion entirely.) These comments often took the form of soft anti-Washington populism, as in an address in Omaha, Nebraska: “Even though I have a Washington, DC, temporary address, I want you to know I strongly believe in local control of schools. I believe the people who care more about the children of Nebraska are the citizens of Nebraska. And we must work together, the Congress and the executive branch must work together to pass power out of Washington to provide flexibility at the local level. One size does not fit all when it comes to educating the children of our country.”Footnote 44

Bush often repeated this line about having a Washington address but placing value on getting out of Washington (Atlanta, GA). Some stronger anti-Washington rhetoric appeared in two speeches in North Dakota. Speaking about the budget in Fargo, Bush said, “And that means the folks are overtaxed, and if you’re overcharged for something, you ought to demand a refund. And I stepped in front of the Congress and demanded a refund on your behalf.” (Bush also talked about refunds in Atlanta, but he used the word “remind” instead of “demand.”)Footnote 45 In Sioux Falls, he also implicated Congress, stating, “I also don’t trust the Congress to pick winners and losers in the Tax Code.” Further comments about government spending included, “But if you listen to the voices of those who would rather keep your money in Washington, DC, they say we can’t meet the needs. I’m telling you, we can meet the needs with the right kind of priorities.”Footnote 46

Bush’s anti-Congress rhetoric in these sets of remarks stands apart from some of his other communications, which often mentioned Congress in a more neutral or even positive way. These comments included statements about legislation he had sent Congress or noting that he hoped Congress understood ideas about local control or fiscal responsibility. In the two North Dakota speeches, however, Bush adopted a classic populist presidential stance. The presentation of the president as the true representative of the people’s interests against a Congress that represents power and special interests is a classic presidential populist appeal. Although we have too few observations to draw any clear inferences, it is notable that Bush used this rhetoric for an audience in one of the most peripheral – geographically and culturally removed from coastal elite politics – destinations during his early 2001 travels.

The general orientation of Bush’s messages was much what we might expect from a mainstream conservative politician and newly elected president. As with Obama in 2016, Bush alternated between criticizing and defending powerful governing institutions, generally avoided invoking economically populist rhetoric, and offered mostly mild jabs at the political establishment “in Washington.” It is possible to see how this style of rhetoric set the stage for more intense and bombastic populist antagonism nearly two decades later, while also differing substantially from the later style.

Trump’s 2017 rhetoric took aim at a narrower range of targets than the speeches during the campaign. While campaign appeals attacked “politicians” and the political system, sometimes even invoking economic populist language against the influence of the wealthy in the political system, the tone changed once Trump took office. This is unsurprising, as Trump likely came to the realization that he would need allies in Washington in order to pursue his agenda. Some of the outsider anti-Washington rhetoric continued in these speeches, usually connected with Trump’s signature policy issues. In Ypsilanti, Trump criticized “Washington” for not acting on trade policy; in Harrisburg, this was connected to immigration. Other anti-Washington critiques were linked to Andrew Jackson, whom Trump referenced in his Ypsilanti speech as well as one in Nashville, Tennessee (the latter address was at an event honoring Jackson’s birthday). However, the target that came up in one-third of the speeches during this period was the media. These speeches often contained multiple references to the media, calling them “dishonest” and “fake” accusing them of neglecting to report facts about immigration and crime.Footnote 47

Scholars of comparative politics have discussed the use of the populist label to describe far-right anti-immigrant parties and movements. In the case of Trump, a striking feature of his governing rhetoric is the shift of emphasis from populist antagonism against a wide array of institutional targets to a more explicitly nationalist rhetoric framework. For example, when signing an executive order on trade in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Trump made references to keeping jobs in the United States. A similar theme dominated a speech in North Charleston, South Carolina. The focus in this essay on antagonism against institutions and other targets helps to illuminate the difference between these two forms of appeals.Footnote 48

The political geography of Trump’s populist antagonism did depart from Bush’s in several significant ways. Trump’s speeches were more heavily concentrated in the South, with fewer visits to the Midwest and none to interior West states like North Dakota or Montana. Second, when Trump spoke about the problems with “Washington,” he invoked policy failings or contrasted the nation’s capital, implied to be filled with establishment elites, with the wisdom of the electorate in general. Bush’s claims, on the other hand, contrasted Washington with the knowledge found at the local level. While Trump sometimes referred to the “Washington media” on the campaign trail, his later anti-media comments were less specific. Instead, the media serve as a flexible target of populism, amenable to connections with other elites and with periphery politics, or as a separate target all their own.


Several features of recent rhetoric from American presidents and presidential hopefuls prompt new questions about populism. The communication choices of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders stand out, not for the unique targets of their antagonism, but for the tone and combination of populist critiques of institutions. Other politicians combined praise for targets like Washington, “the system,” or the media with ordinary rhetoric and even defenses of these institutions. The usage of populist rhetoric in this context challenges Canovan’s argument that populist politics exist outside of ordinary politics. The ordinariness of populist rhetoric, incorporated into mainstream speeches, is consistent with the distinct features of American politics such as federalism and decentralization, the downplaying of ideology, and a plebiscitary presidency.

Two major differences between early and contemporary populist rhetoric on the left are evident. While the Populist movement of the Bryan era reconciled itself to a powerful state as a counterweight to the growing power of industrial capitalism, the contemporary populist approach to state power is more complicated. The practical policy agenda calls for regulation and government expansion, building on conventional Democratic Party priorities and extending their scope. However, the distinguishing factor between Bernie Sanders’ campaign rhetoric and Hillary Clinton’s in 2016 was not their orientation toward economic elites but toward the political system. Populism on the left contains a contradiction between its advocacy for an expanded state and its condemnation of a corrupt system of political power. This contradictions can, of course, be resolved through systemic reform and, crucially, replacement of governing elites – this is where the remedies of populism come in. Nevertheless, the approach to state power is not entirely consistent. In the 2020 Democratic nomination contest, tensions between the party’s “establishment” and its populist critics briefly animated the debates between Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden.

Second, the persistent political geography of populism presents a conundrum. As we have noted, populism is historically rooted in a politics of periphery, with the regions like the West and South mobilized against “elites” located in the nation’s power centers, usually depicted as coastal cities. The electoral map has created a new, durable politics of periphery. While candidates stop in major cities for fundraisers, the nomination process emphasizes a handful of states: Iowa, in the Midwest, South Carolina, in the South and New Hampshire, which is in the Northeast but still carries a strong rural identity. Candidates employ anti-Washington rhetoric for these audiences. Similarly, the general election map in 2016 sent candidates to the South – North Carolina and Florida – and the Midwest – mostly Ohio. The rhetoric of populist periphery makes sense given this geography. However, the base of the Democratic Party is located heavily in coastal and urban areas. This presents a dilemma for populism on the left. Of course, this dilemma is not entirely new – nineteenth-century populists also struggled to form a multiracial coalition and to expand their appeal into the cities. The persistence of periphery rhetoric highlights the tension between the political geography of the presidential selection process and the base of the Democratic Party. For Republicans, this emergent urban–rural divide has presented new opportunities to employ core-periphery rhetoric as a racist dog whistle. After the 2020 elections, Trump took geographical populist rhetoric in a new direction, claiming without evidence that voter fraud had occurred in cities with large Black populations, such as Detroit, Milwaukee, and Philadelphia.

Populist rhetoric integrates more seamlessly into some typical Republican tropes, such as distrust of the national government and valorization of the “ordinary” at the expense of experts and elites.Footnote 49 At the same time, the contrast between Trump’s rhetoric and that of other presidents and presidential candidates illustrates how much of a departure it is from standard political messages. The shift in Trump’s own rhetoric from campaigning to governing illustrates this distinction as well. The comparison between Trump and Bush also suggests that, even as multiple political structures – the Electoral College, the nomination process – encourage a politics of periphery, the nationalization of politics might prompt populists to address different targets and adopt different language. Such a development may be especially dangerous if it involves attacks on the news media. Another possibility raised by the 2020 election and its aftermath is that attacks will be sustained on the election administration apparatus, even beyond what we have already seen. It is not difficult to imagine the rhetoric of such attacks invoking ideas like local control against election administrators who are part of the political establishment.

American populism has evolved with changing institutions and ideological developments. It is also interconnected with mainstream politics and political rhetoric in a way that highlights what is different about the most recent populist turn. Questions remain about the normative implications of populism. Critics assail populism as at odds with liberal democracy, sometimes problematically defining “the people” in ways that are exclusionary. But populism also invokes criticisms of institutions, which are both essential to democracy and sometimes ripe for critique. An examination of contemporary populist rhetoric in the United States highlights this ambivalence, illustrating the ways in which populism reflects back routine anti-institution rhetoric. Yet, when intensified and mixed with other political developments, populist rhetoric can take on a new, destabilizing dimension.


6 “As God Rules the Universe” Reflections on the People and the State in Early America

1 This essay originated in the Pitt Professor Inaugural Lecture I delivered on January 25, 2018, at the University of Cambridge. For their thoughtful suggestions based primarily on that text, I owe keen thanks to the three editors of this volume and to the participants in the SSRC Swarthmore College project conferences in which my views were rigorously tested. Particular appreciation, in that group, goes to Richard Boyd, my formal interlocutor, whose challenging comments led to much reconsideration. I also am in debt for reading and commenting to Bentley Allan, Hannah Dawson, François Furstenberg, Eric Foner, Gary Gerstle, Nicholas Guyatt, Robert Lieberman, David Runciman, Adam Sheingate, and Vesla Weaver.

2 Rosanvallon, “Inaugural Lecture,” 39; Homer, The Odyssey, 105.

3 Morgan, “Problem of Popular Sovereignty.”

4 Tocqueville, Democracy in America [Goldhammer edition], 64, 65.

5 Tocqueville, Democracy in America [Goldhammer edition], 63.

6 Bancroft’s wide-ranging and influential History of the United States, From the Discovery of the American Continent was published across four decades, from the 1830s to 1870s.

7 Bancroft, Oration Delivered on the Fourth of July 1826 at Northampton, 9, 11, 22, 18–20.

8 Greenstone, The Lincoln Persuasion, 42.

9 Kramer, The People Themselves, 5, 54.

10 Madison, “General Defense.”

11 Cited in Kramer, The People Themselves, 6–7.

12 Israel, Expanding Blaze, 15, 17, 21, 24, 76, 77. This regime model manifestly affected and motivated revolutionaries in France, Haiti, and across the Americas, where European settlers separated their colonies from Spain and Portugal. For a discussion, see Fernandez-Armesto, The Americas, 94–95; and the classic volume by Palmer, The Age of the Democratic Revolution.

13 Tocqueville, Democracy in America [Goldhammer edition], 316–18, 339.

14 Tocqueville, Democracy in America [Goldhammer edition], 418. Similarly, Louis Hartz argued that in liberal societies the issue of race has a decisive character. As the inclusion of the racial other would “require full equality, during the era of slavery he is totally excluded by theories of either property or race,” which makes what he designated as “liberal slavery” especially harsh. Yet, “once humanity is conceded, the liberal ethic … demands completely equal treatment.” Hartz, “Development of the New Societies,” 17.

15 Calhoun, Works of John C. Calhoun, 112, 508. Calhoun was still working on final revisions of “Discourse” when he died on March 31, 1850. Referring to “the people,” Calhoun continued “the governments of the several States and of the United States were created by them, and for them,” adding how the powers that were conferred by the people to these governments “are not surrendered but delegated; and, as such, are held in trust, and not absolutely,” 112.

16 For a powerful overview of the role of slavery in shaping tension within America’s civil traditions, see Furstenberg, “Freedom and Slavery.” For an important treatment of how disputes about popular sovereignty were, from the beginning, entwined with slavery and westward expansion, see Childers, Failure of Popular Sovereignty.

17 No other American war has cost so many military fatalities. see also, Hacker, “Human Cost of War,” and “Census-Based Count.”

18 For discussions of popular sovereignty’s origins and lineage, see Morgan, Inventing the People; Bourke and Skinner, Popular Sovereignty in Historical Perspective; and Canovan, The People.

19 For a broad treatment that includes these aspects as well as a variety of early modern European sources, see Lee, Popular Sovereignty in Early Constitutional Thought.

20 Loughlin, Political Jurisprudence, 47.

21 Kramer, The People Themselves, 24, 30, 45, 55.

22 Billings, The Old Dominion in the Seventeenth Century, 147.

23 An important treatment of New England and New York in the seventeenth century is Lipman, The Saltwater Frontier.

25 Hofstadter, America at 1750, 31.

26 Bailyn, Peopling of British North America; Jacobs and Roper, Worlds of the Seventeenth-Century Hudson Valley; Groth, Slavery and Freedom in the Mid-Hudson Valley; Lavin, Dutch and Indigenous Communities in Seventeenth-Century Northeast America.

28 Zolberg, A Nation by Design, 52, 53.

29 Beiler, “Dissenting Religious Communication Networks and European Migration.” For compelling overviews, see Pestana, Protestant Empire; Farrelly, Anti-Catholicism in America.

31 Schlesinger, “American Revolution Reconsidered,” 65, 67.

32 Nash, Unknown American Revolution; Tycko, “Captured Consent.”

33 Greene, Peripheries and Center, 165–74.

34 Rawls, Political Liberalism, xlv, 15, 25, 141–50.

35 I am not knowledgeable enough to confidently evaluate Eric Nelson’s revisionist claim that places a Royalist theory of representation at the center of the Revolution, which he describes, privileging the presidency, as an effort to render compatible “the rule of one with the sovereignty of the people.” Nelson, The Royalist Revolution, 8.

36 Hobbes, On the Citizen [Tuck and Silverthorne edition], 91.

37 Hobbes, On the Citizen [Tuck and Silverthorne edition], 137.

38 Having “repositioned fundamental sovereignty in the people themselves as an entity separate from Parliament,” as the legal scholar Andrew Kilberg has put the point, the founders designated “We the People” as more than persons and citizens, but also as an abstract people with constituent powers “out of and above the government itself.” Kilberg, “We the People,” 1072.

39 Hobbes, On the Citizen [Tuck and Silverthorne edition], 142–43.

40 Tuck, Sleeping Sovereign, 197. The first constitutional referendum of free men took place in Massachusetts in May 1778, when the nays dominated.

41 Schlesinger, “American Revolution,” 74. He notes how “in closely divided provinces like Pennsylvania and South Carolina their voice [favoring the radicals] was undoubtedly the decisive factor,” 74.

42 “When he who has the right to reign wishes to participate himself in all judgments, consultations and public actions, it is a way of running things comparable to God’s attending directly to every thing himself,” a situation of human hubris and overreach that he thought to be “contrary to the order of nature.” Hobbes, On the Citizen [Tuck and Silverthorne edition], 143.

43 Locke, Two Treatises of Government [Cambridge 1990], 354, 363, 382. With Jefferson’s Declaration of 1776 having been written in terms that drew directly on Locke’s Second Treatise, we should not be surprised to learn that Locke was “cited more than any other thinker in American newspapers of the revolutionary era.” Brewer, “Slavery, Sovereignty, and ‘Inheritable Blood,’” 1039.

44 Hamilton, Political Writings of Alexander Hamilton, 48.

45 For a discussion of the making of institutional liberalism with republican raw materials, see Kalyvas and Katznelson, Liberal Beginnings, 88–114.

46 Dahl, Preface to Democratic Theory, 45.

47 Hobbes, On the Citizen [Tuck and Silverthorne edition], 24, 25, 29, 30.

48 “Declaration of Independence”; Hamilton, Jay, and Madison, The Federalist, 149; Jóhannesson, “Securing the State”; Edling, “Peace Pact and Nation.”

49 Locke, A Letter Concerning Toleration, 26, 55.

51 This aspect of Tocqueville’s thought has been notably stressed by Kahan, Tocqueville, Religion, and Democracy. For a significant summary, see Hutson, Church and State in America.

53 Locke, Two Treatises of Government [Cambridge 1990], Treatise II, para. 49.

54 Arneil, John Locke and America. See especially ch. 5, which chronicles Locke’s close attention to the minute details of colonial life in Carolina between 1668 and 1675, when he served as secretary to the Lords Proprieter.

55 For Judith Shklar, the antinomy of black chattel slavery and white freedom was a fundamental driver generating common bonds of identity among white Americans, notwithstanding their various dimensions of diversity. I broadly share this view, but also argue that the constellation of ideas I have identified principally with Hobbes, Locke, and Madison, shaped the character and content of popular sovereignty in the United States in basic ways.

56 Madison explained in Federalist 54 why, for purposes of political representation, a slave would count as 3/5 of a person: “In being compelled to labor, not for himself, but for a master; in being vendible by one master to another master; and in being subject at all times to be restrained in his liberty and chastised in his body, by the capricious will of another, the slave may appear to be degraded from the human rank, and classed with those irrational animals which fall under the legal denomination of property. In being protected, on the other hand, in his life and in his limbs, against the violence of all others, even the master of his labor and his liberty; and in being punishable himself for all violence committed against others, the slave is no less evidently regarded by the law as a member of the society, not as a part of the irrational creation; as a moral person, not as a mere article of property. The federal Constitution, therefore, decides with great propriety on the case of our slaves, when it views them in the mixed character of persons and of property. This is in fact their true character.” Continuing, Madison noted that slaves had been transformed into property by law, so that “if the laws were to restore the rights which have been taken away, the negroes could no longer be refused an equal share of representation with the other inhabitants.” Madison, The Federalist, 349–50.

57 Conlin, Constitutional Origins of the American Civil War, xxiii, xix.

59 Debates of the Convention of Virginia, 322. As a wilfully ambiguous document that stopped short of formally endorsing slavery yet facilitated its existence while securing a system of liberties that could be claimed by persons excluded, the Constitution permitted slavery to thrive. When ratified, slavery still had a nontrivial northern presence, nearly 15 percent of the population in New York and 10 percent in Rhode Island. Starting in Pennsylvania with a gradual abolition Act in 1780, abolition bills nearly eliminated slavery north of the Mason–Dixon Line by 1840, decisively by 1850.

60 “Borders of belonging” is the phrase designated by Welke, Law and the Borders of Belonging. For a prior treatment, see Muller, “Bonds of Belonging,” 29–58.

61 The figures are cited in Edling, “Peace Pact,” 300.

62 After adjustments with Spain in 1819, the claim was reduced to 883,046 square miles, constituting 565,149,377 acres. Lee, “Accounting for Conquest,” 932, 936.

63 Edling, “Peace Pact and Nation,” 296; Edling, “United States Expansion and Incorporation,” 445. The Northwest Ordinance banned slavery, but southerners believed that once states would be crafted out of these lands popular sovereignty would determine whether enslaved persons could be present (as indeed they came to be in Indiana and Illinois).

64 For discussions, see Bergmann, American National State and the Early West; DuVal, Independence Lost.

65 Anderson, George Washington Remembers, 31; also see Calloway, The Indian World of George Washington; Mann, George Washington’s War on Native America; Schmidt, Native Americans in the American Revolution.

66 Tocqueville, Democracy in America [Goldhammer edition], 386.

67 Prucha, American Indian Policy in the Formative Years, 2.

68 Section 14, Article 3.

69 White, The Middle Ground, 1991.

70 Washington, “Fifth Annual Address.”

71 See Keyssar, The Right to Vote.

72 Wilentz, Chants Democratic, 173–74; Weber, Essays in Sociology, 77–128; Huntington, Political Order in Changing Societies, 91.

73 Opal, “General Jackson’s Passports,” 69, 71.

74 Opal, “General Jackson’s Passports,” 77. In 1811, Jackson personally had experienced and deeply resented the demand that he show a passport to enter Choctaw territory in Mississippi to collect a group of slaves a business partner had failed to sell on the Gulf Coast.

75 Hammond, “The High Road to a Slave Empire,” 357.

76 Secretary of War William H. Crawford to Major General Alexander Macomb, Detroit, January 27, 1816, in Carter, Territorial Papers of the United States, 619.

77 Truett, “Settler Colonialism,” 438.

78 Edling, “United States Expansion,” 446–51.

79 Tocqueville, Democracy in America [Goldhammer edition], 376.

80 “General Jackson’s Letter to Mr. Dawson of Alabama,” in Southern State Rights, Anti-Tariff & Anti-Abolition, 29 ( On Indian resistance, see Dinwoodie, “Evading Indian Removal,” 17–41.

81 A first-rate study is Saunt, Unworthy Republic.

82 Caitlin Fitz, “People Who Profited Off the Trail of Tears.”

83 A classic study is Foreman, Indian Removal.

84 Hammond, “The High Road to a Slave Empire,” 349. On the role of national state power, see Fehrenbacher, The Slaveholding Republic. An important contemporaneous overview of southern slavery in the 1850s is Olmsted, A Journey in the Seaboard Slave States.

85 Abraham Lincoln to William H. Seward, February 1, 1861:;view=fulltext.

86 The literature on abolitionism is immense. Particularly compelling, and focusing on black voices, is Sinha, The Slave’s Cause. On demands by free black Americans for citizen rights, see Jones, Birthright Citizens.

87 Calhoun, A Disquisition on Government and A Discourse on the Constitution and Government of the United States, 140. Discourse was in handwritten form, on loose sheets, when Calhoun died in 1850, and is likely to have been written principally in 1849, between congressional sessions, when he was serving as a member of the Senate from South Carolina.

88 Edling, “A More Perfect Union,” 400.

89 There is a very considerable literature. See, as instances, Childers, Failure of Popular Sovereignty; Woods, Bleeding Kansas.

90 For this important understanding, see Fitz, Our Sister Republics.

91 Summaries of the legislation and the historiography of its implications can be found in Russel, “What Was the Compromise of 1850?” and Woods, “Compromise of 1850.”

92 “I bite my lip and keep quiet,” Lincoln added. Bassier, Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, 320.

93 For the legislative history, see Russel, “Issues in the Congressional Struggle Over the Kansas-Nebraska Bill”; Dean, “Stephen A. Douglas and Popular Sovereignty.”

94 Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, 239, 255, 266.

95 The classic consideration remains Fehrenbacher, The Dred Scott Case; also see Graber, Dred Scott and the Problem of Constitutional Evil.

96 Morgan, “Popular Sovereignty,” 112–13.

97 Woods, “What Twenty-First-Century Historians Have Said about the Causes of Disunion,” 429.

98 Tocqueville, Democracy in America [Goldhammer edition], 11, 62.

99 For a useful discussion of the framing through popular sovereignty of limited powers in constitutional states, see Pasquino, “Popular Sovereignty,” 144–58.

100 Key, Public Opinion and American Democracy, vii, 535, 536.

101 Key, Public Opinion and American Democracy, 548, 549, 558.

102 Saunt, Unworthy Republic, 10.

103 Morgan, “Problem of Popular Sovereignty,” 113.

7 The Sovereign People and the Liberal Democratic State

1 Hansard, July 14, 1847, 3rd Series, vol. 94, c. 316.

2 “I can certainly call myself an anti-democrat,” explained Gaetano Mosca, “but I am not an anti-liberal; indeed I am opposed to pure democracy precisely because I am a liberal.” Finocchiaro, Beyond Right and Left, 146.

3 Weyland and Madrid, When Democracy Trumps Populism; Müller, What Is Populism?; Mudde, “The Populist Zeitgeist.”

4 By public philosophy, I mean the “legal and moral basis, or principle, on which the power of the political class rests,” and not any particular system, such as that called for by Lippmann. Mosca, The Ruling Class, 70; Lippmann, Essays on the Public Philosophy, 101; Lowi, “The Public Philosophy,” 5.

5 Hill, God’s Englishman, 207.

6 Biagini, Liberty, Retrenchment, and Reform; Bateman, Disenfranchising Democracy.

7 Butler, “We the People,” 50–51.

8 Liberal constraints that allow collectives and individuals to determine their own priorities and objects in life and to build extensive and/or intensive relationships in order to achieve these, that require individuals be treated as equal, that require “the people” to think twice before pursuing certain actions, have each stabilized popular sovereignty by broadening its appeal and making its actions more deliberate. This provides the force to arguments that “democracies” that do not abide by certain liberal principles have no claim to the title. Müller, What Is Populism?; Grzymala-Busse, “Foreword.”

9 Hartz, Liberal Tradition; Smith, Civic Ideals.

10 Conti, Parliament the Mirror of the Nation, 7.

11 See Erler, Chapter 12, this volume.

12 Influential British liberals regularly argued that the Irish were not yet fit for liberal principles, and John Stuart Mill justified the rule of his paymaster, the East India Company, in similar terms: “Despotism,” he wrote, “is a legitimate mode of government in dealing with barbarians, provided the end be their improvement, and the means justified by actually effecting that end.” Mill, “On Liberty” and Other Writings, 13–14. Mehta, “Liberal Strategies”; King, In the Name of Liberalism.

13 Liberals were comfortable with distinctions that rested on fantasies of accomplishment, talent, and meritorious contribution. “Odious” distinctions, by contrast, allocated rights or social privileges on the basis of artificial and arbitrary criteria, which because they were arbitrary, were expected to produce resentment and disdain, respectively, on the part of those disadvantaged and favored by the laws. Distinctions of religion and race were regularly listed as among the most odious, though the supposedly scientific elaboration of racial hierarchy would recast this as a natural and thus acceptably liberal distinction. One British author succinctly captured this constructed difference between a natural and an odious distinction: “all the domestic intercourse of the whites with the blacks [in America] is one continued series of what we in Europe would reckon insults, every one grosser than another. It is in vain … to palliate these odious distinctions, by comparing them to those which separate the higher from the lower classes in Europe. In every community, the foundation for distinctions is laid in those inequalities of wealth, rank, or talent, which every where prevail. These distinctions are inevitable; they necessarily arise out of the very nature of human society …. No heart-burnings are produced by these distinctions, because no positive or peremptory line is drawn between the different classes.” Edinburgh Magazine, “A View of Society and Manners.” See Bateman, “Transatlantic Anxieties.”

14 Bateman, Disenfranchising Democracy.

15 Kahan, Liberalism in Nineteenth-Century Europe.

16 The exclusion of women was justified on the basis of their supposed qualities and capacities and on a supposedly natural distinction that rendered women not properly participants in the “public sphere.” Such justifications could be compatible with both liberalism – so long as they arose from god and nature – and popular sovereignty – so long as the “people” was understood as that fraction of the population whose proper sphere encompassed the public and political affairs.

17 Bateman, Disenfranchising Democracy, 118.

18 Best, “The Protestant Constitution,” 109; Bateman, Disenfranchising Democracy.

19 Parry, Rise and Fall of Liberal Government, 4. Hansard, March 4, 1850, 3rd Series, vol. 109, c. 337; February 9, 1852, 3rd Series, vol. 119, c. 261.

20 Chung, “From a Protectionist Party to a Church Party,” 274. Hansard, December 16, 1847, 3rd Series, vol. 95, cc. 1248–49.

21 Hansard, February 11, 1848, 3rd Series, vol. 96, c. 493.

22 Hansard, December 16, 1847, 3rd Series, vol. 95, c. 1272.

23 Hansard, May 1, 1848, 3rd Series, vol. 98, cc. 621–22, c. 646.

24 Hansard, July 17, 1851, 3rd Series, vol. 118, c. 862.

25 Morley, Life of Ewart Gladstone, 128.

26 Sperber, Europe, 63.

27 Arnold, Culture and Anarchy, 36–37.

28 “The People’s Petition”

29 Hansard, February 22, 1841, 3rd Series, vol. 56, cc. 825–26; Moore, Charles Wood’s Indian Policy, 6–8.

30 Hansard, May 27, 1852, 3rd Series, vol. 121, cc. 1184–85; Hansard, May 3, 1865, 3rd Series, vol. 178, c. 1439.

31 Hansard, June 5, 1849, 3rd Series, vol. 105, c. 1218.

32 Hansard, June 24, 1847, 3rd Series, vol. 93, c. 864.

33 This is a choice often posed in comparative politics and economic studies of democratization. Acemoglu and Robinson, “Democratization or Repression.”

34 Hansard, July 8, 1842, 3rd series, vol. 64, cc. 1205; The Spectator, “The Old Parish Constables”; Saville, British State and the Chartist Movement; Swift, “Policing Chartism.”

35 Epstein, “Rethinking the Categories of Working-Class History,” 204; Taylor, “Rethinking the Chartists,” 490; see the remarks by W. P. Wood, Hansard, February 28, 1850, 3rd series, vol. 109, cc. 179–80.

36 Hansard, July 6, 1848, 3rd series, vol. 100, c. 210; Epstein, “Rethinking the Categories of Working-Class History,” 204.

37 Cowling, Disraeli, Gladstone and Revolution, 2; McClelland, “England’s Greatness,” 101; Evans, Parliamentary Reform, 41; Harrison, “Teetotal Chartism.”

38 Hansard, May 3, 1865, 3rd series, vol. 178, c. 1439; July 15, 1867, 3rd series, vol. 188, c. 1543–49.

39 The administrative difficulty was how, given the complexity of the municipal taxation system and county landholding arrangements, to set a new qualification that would enfranchise only relatively well-off working-class households without also disenfranchising substantial numbers of middle-class householders.

40 See, for example, Russell in Hansard, August 2, 1839, 3rd Series, vol. 49, cc. 1159–60.

41 Hansard, July 8, 1842, 3rd Series, vol. 64, c. 1205; Hansard, May 3, 1842, 3rd Series, vol. 63, c. 49.

42 Hansard, July 15, 1867, 3rd series, vol. 188, c. 1549.

43 See Katznelson, Chapter 6, this volume.

44 Wood, Creation of the American Republic; Zagarri, The Politics of Size and “The American Revolution and a New National Politics”; Squire, The Right of Instruction and The Evolution of American Legislatures; Amar, America’s Constitution.

45 Fischer, Revolution of American Conservatism.

46 Parkinson, Common Cause.

47 See also Gilhooley, Antebellum Origins.

48 Agg, Proceedings and Debates, vol. 10, 23, 76; Bishop and Attree, Report of the Debates and Proceedings, 1032.

49 Its appeal no doubt varied. For whites invested in slavery or who hoped to be, the “white man’s republic” committed the political order to the defense of the institution. In places with growing free Black populations, whites uninterested in slavery might be given a meaningful contrast to define the foundation of their own civic inclusion. Roediger, Wages of Whiteness. And whites uninvested in slavery and who gained little from juxtaposing their status to that of free Blacks were warned that the mere suggestion of racial equality would imperil the Union and all the emotional and financial investments these implied. Claims of natural racial inferiority were also frequently, and increasingly, invoked.

50 Bateman, “Transatlantic Anxieties”; Guyatt, Bind us Apart.

51 Many were disenfranchised persons of color and/or disenfranchised on the basis of sex.

52 Some, such as Thomas Earle, refused to believe that “the people, as a body, are bigotted, but a portion of the people are always so,” and it was easy for the “aspiring politician, the demagogue” to pass off theirs as the voice of the people. Agg, Proceedings and Debates, vol. 12, 81–82; Stewart, Holy Warriors, 112.

53 “Since the 1830s the attainment of equal rights for Negroes had been an essential corollary to the abolitionist crusade for freedom.” McPherson, “Civil Rights Act of 1875,” 493; Bateman, “Partisan Polarization.”

54 Tillery, “Reading Tocqueville Behind the Veil” and “Tocqueville as Critical Race Theorist.”

55 Jones, Birthright Citizens.

56 For a recovery of this strand of rhetoric as deployed by Republican politicians, see Nabors, From Oligarchy to Republicanism.

57 In this regard, they were different from some other, more elite, reformers at the time, though their ranks could certainly overlap. Ryan, Civic Wars.

58 Malvin, Autobiography, 41.

59 On elite security pacts, see Dahl, Polyarchy; Albertus and Menaldo, Authoritarianism and the Elite Origins of Democracy.

60 Valelly, The Two Reconstructions.

61 These included ostensibly race-neutral criteria, such as literacy tests or property requirements. The obvious discrimination in their application could be justified by liberals on the basis of new, scientific criteria of “racial” capacities, which (since natural and not artificial) was appropriately accommodated in public policy.

62 Grossman, The Democratic Party and Negro.

63 Du Bois, Black Reconstruction; Richardson, Death of Reconstruction.

64 The deployment of the army during military reconstruction was likely not a sustainable alternative to building the national legal and institutional infrastructure to establish democratic rights. Downs, After Appomattox; Valelly, “Party, Coercion, and Inclusion” and “Slavery, Emancipation, and the Civil War Transformation of the US State;” Lieberman, “The Freedman’s Bureau.”

65 Afonso and Rennwald, “Social Class and the Changing Welfare State Agenda.”

8 Three Vignettes Popular Sovereignty in French History

1 Morgan, Inventing the People, is an essential work on this topic and an important theoretical context for other chapters in this collection.

2 Zolberg, “Moments of Madness,” 184.

3 Cobb and Jones, The French Revolution, 29–30.

4 Sieyès, “What Is the Third Estate?,” 63–70.

6 “Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen,” 77–79.

7 Olympe de Gouges, “The Declaration of the Rights of Woman.”

8 Cobb and Jones, The French Revolution, 139.

9 Certainly there were strong leaders in the postrevolutionary period. However, within the republican French tradition, the perceived problem and therefore absence of strong leadership was not “resolved” until the Fifth Republic. By that time the idea of reenacting popular sovereignty in the streets or an embeddedness of collective memory, as Zolberg phrases it, was so well established that even the strong presidency established by the Fifth Republic could not counteract the French cultural and political culture of distrust of mediation between the will of the people and the government.

10 See Katznelson, “As God Rules the Universe” and Shani, Chapter 9, in this volume.

11 The Cartel of the Left was a political alliance between the so-called Radical-Socialist Party, the French branch of the Workers’ International (SFIO), and smaller left-republican parties.

12 Milza, “L’Ultra-Droite des Années Trente,” 164; Berstein and Berstein, Dictionnaire Historique, 449. Milza, Berstein, and Berstein give different estimates of membership (between 100,000 and 300,000).

13 At the dissolution of the leagues in 1936 La Rocque created the Parti Social Français, which had close to 800,000 members before the war. See Soucy, French Fascism: The First Wave and French Fascism: The Second Wave; Irvine, “Fascism in France.”

14 Soucy, French Fascism: The First Wave and French Fascism: The Second Wave.

15 Like all the leagues, the work of the group was publicized through a paper owned by Coty, L’Ami de Peuple, founded in 1928, and an eponymous publication, La Solidarité Française. The group claimed to have 300,000 members in 1934, although, like all the leagues, there is great variation in league membership statistics. Milza, “L’Ultra-Droite” and Milza, Fascisme Français, 146. René Rémond also places the membership of SF at no more than 10,000. Rémond, The Right Wing in France, 282. Milza argues that they never had more than 10,000, of which no more than 4,000–5,000 were active militants. Soucy, also noting the Solidarité Française’s exaggeration of its membership, cites the police estimate of 180,000 members in February, with 80,000 in Paris. Soucy provides a breakdown of the membership of the SF as different historians estimate it: “Zeev Sternhell has estimated that the SF had no more than 20,000 members in 1934, with only 3,000 shock troops in Paris. Jean-Paul Brunet has described the SF as a groupuscule with no more than 1,500 members in all of France … Richard Millmann, accepts the official police estimate of 180,000 … but concludes that SF activists were far less numerous, with fewer than 2,000 participating.” Soucy, French Fascism: The Second Wave, 61.

16 Various pamphlets and paper, AN F7 series.

17 Passmore, “The Construction of Crisis,” 151–52.

18 Passmore, France in the Era of Fascism, 173.

19 Journal des Débats, 5, January 13, 1934, as cited by Passmore, France in the Era of Fascism, 188.

20 Bernard and Dubief, The Decline of the Third Republic, 219–28; Soucy, French Fascism: The Second Wave, 30–33; Wright, France in Modern Times, 356–60.

21 “Rendre a la France sa souverainte nationale. Vers une Europe des nations independantes, au service des peoples.”

22 See the introduction to this volume, p. 5

23 RIC website and Paris Soir.

24 Mairie de Paris site.

9 The Founding of India and Popular Sovereignty

1 His Highness’ Government Gazette, Patna, Extraordinary Proclamation of His Highness Maharaja Shreeman Shree Shree Rajendra Narayan Singh Deo, Maharaja and Ruler of Patna State, October 24, 1947, pp. 1–2, AICC I Inst., F. 2 (II) (noncategorized files), 1947, NMML, Delhi.

2 ‘India: Statement by the Cabinet Mission,’ Hansard (HL Deb), May 16, 1946, vol. 141, cc. 271–87,, accessed 4.4.2020.

3 Quoted in a letter from the Secretary to His Excellency the Crown Representative to the Residents of 13 States and groups of States, August 19, 1946, India Office Records (hereafter IOR)/R/1/1/4466, British Library (hereafter BL), London. The residents were the representatives of the British Government in the states. The chamber was a forum of the princes that represented them on all-India matters; 242 states had representation in the chamber at the time; 135 rulers of states were members in their own right, and another 107 states were represented through ten representatives. Bhargava, The Chamber of Princes, 60.

5 “Resolution on Aims and Objectives,” Constituent Assembly Debates (hereafter CAD), December 13, 1946, This resolution was adopted on January 22, 1947. All references to the CAD hereafter are from The Indian Constituent Assembly, which was entrusted with the task of writing a constitution for free India, convened for the first time on December 9, 1946, six months before Britain declared the partition plan of the subcontinent. The constitution-making process took three years. The first draft constitution, prepared by the constitutional advisor was ready in October 1947. The second draft, prepared by the Constituent Assembly Drafting Committee was published in February 1948. The assembly adopted the final constitution on November 26, 1949. It came into force on January 26, 1950.

6 “India: Statement by the Cabinet Mission,” clauses 14, 19 (II). The Cabinet Mission stipulated 292 seats for the Provinces of British India.

7 “Text of Resolution Passed at Princes Meeting Held on 29 January 1947,” CAD, April 28, 1947 ( It is noteworthy that the Government of India Act, 1935, provided for a Federation of India comprised of the provinces and the Indian states. But that part of the Act required the accession of the Indian states in sufficient numbers for this federation to come into effect. That threshold was never reached.

8 This is contrary to a previously prevalent view that the destruction of the princely states was inevitable. Indeed, historical works in recent decades argue that there is little empirical evidence to suggests that the states were about to disintegrate. Yet, on the whole, these studies conclude their historical investigation at independence. For a broad review of the historiography of the princely states until 1947 see Groenhout, “The History of the Indian Princely States.”

9 Representative institutions existed before independence. These institutions, however, were largely a means of co-opting ruling elites and strengthening the colonial state. The representation was based on “weightage” and separate electorates, wherein seats were allotted along religious, community, and professional lines, and on a very limited franchise. For a recent analysis of the difficulty the colonial perception of Indians’ inability to qualify for self-rule posited to Indian national leaders see Sultan, “Self-Rule and the Problem of Peoplehood.”

10 See Nehru, “Report of the All Parties Conference,” 91–94.

11 See, e.g., Sarkar, “Indian Democracy.”

12 Of the more than 550 princely states that ultimately merged with India, there are two exceptions to the argument proposed in this chapter: Hyderabad and Kashmir. The Indian government annexed Hyderabad by force in September 1948. A war between India and Pakistan over Kashmir in 1947–1948 ended with a ceasefire mediated by the UN. For a history of Hyderabad and Kashmir states at independence see Raghavan, War and Peace in Modern India; Sherman, Muslim Belonging in Secular India; Hussain, Kashmir in the Aftermath of Partition, Chapters 1 and 2.

13 Ezrahi, Imagined Democracies.

14 See Copland, State, Community and Neighbourhood, 76–77. Also see Copland, The Princes of India; Ramusack, The Indian Princes and Their States; Jeffrey, People, Princes and Paramount Power.

15 The Tribune 29.X.46, IOR/R/1/1/4411, BL, London.

16 “Main Political Resolution,” Gwalior State Congress, 27th Annual Session, Guns, November 4–6, 1946, AISPC papers F. 59, 1946–47, NMML, Delhi.

18 It is noteworthy that the Indian Constituent Assembly did not actually represent the whole people of (British) India. Its members were, in the main, representatives of the elite, chosen by the legislative assemblies of the provinces of British India, which were themselves elected in the 1946 elections on the basis of a very limited franchise, and an electorate that was structured along religious, community, and professional lines, according to the colonial 1935 Government of India Act (for about fifth of the population).

19 Letter from the Working President of the Kolhapur State Praja Parishad to the Special Officer, Political Department Government of India, IOR/R/1/1/4466, BL, London.

20 Letter form Gopalaswami Ayyangar to Nehru, November 18, 1947, Rao, Framing of India’s Constitution, 588.

21 “A Note by the States’ Peoples Conference,” February 24, 1947; Rao, Framing of India’s Constitution, 628.

22 “Summary of Discussions at the meeting of the States Peoples’ Negotiating Committee,” February 5, 1947; Rao, Framing of India’s Constitution, 612–14.

23 Report of the committee appointed to negotiate with the States Negotiating Committee, April 24, 1947, CAD, April 28, 1947.

24 For the distribution of the ninety-three seats among the states see CAD, April 28, 1947.

25 AICC I Inst., F. SP-24, NMML, Delhi.

26 These Instruments of accession were reached through pressed negotiations conducted by the last Viceroy Mountbatten and India’s Minister of States Sardar Patel.

27 The states even retained exclusive authority over the states forces because these armed forces were “excluded from the scope of ‘defence.’” Menon, The Story of the Integration, 429.

28 Proclamation of His Highness Maharaja Sri Jayachamarajendra Wadiyar Bahdur of Mysore, October 29, 1947, p. 1, AICC I Inst. (Part II), F. 25 (II), 1947, NMML, Delhi.

29 Constituent Assembly of Mysore, Third Session, “Resolution re: Aims and Objects,” May 10, 1948, Bangalore, AICC I Inst. (Part II), F. 25 (II), 1947, NMML, Delhi.

31 Ministry of States (hereafter MoS), F. 12 (49)-P, 1948, “Supplementaries [sic] to Q [Question] No. 539,” March 1, 1948. National Archive of India (hereafter NAI).

34 Cover letter from Jaswant Singh, Prime Minister of Bikaner state, to the Joint Secretary of the Constituent Assembly of India, “Note containing the views of the Bikaner State in regard to the Draft Constitution of the Indian Union,” April 9, 1948, MoS, F. 590-P/48, NAI.

35 “Note containing the views of the Bikaner State in regard to the Draft Constitution of the Indian Union,” April 9, 1948, MoS, F. 590-P/48, NAI. Also see, e.g., “List of Amendments to the Draft Constitution of India to be moved on behalf of the Indian States,” MoS, F. 590-P/48, NAI; V. T. Krishnamachari, Jai Dev Singh, B. H. Zaidi, and Sardar Singh of Khetbi, Memorandum on the Draft Constitution of India, March 22, 1948, p. 12, MoS, f. 414(I)-P, NAI.

36 See Jayal, Citizenship and Its Discontents, 55–56.

37 Constituent Assembly of Mysore, “Report of the Fundamental Rights Committee,” September 25, 1948, MoS, F. 444-P/49, NAI.

38 CAD, November 4, 1948. By that time, 206 Indian states merged with provinces of India, twenty-three were merged and constituted as centrally administered areas, and 255 units amalgamated into independent Unions of States.

39 “Report of the Committee for the Drafting of a Model Constitution for the Indian States,” New Delhi: Manager Government of India Press, 1949 (May 30, 1949), MoS, F. 414-P, NAI, New Delhi.

40 For the history of the making of the universal franchise in India, see Shani, How India Became Democratic.

41 Submission of return of progress ending November 30, 1948, from the Additional Secretary to the Government of Orissa (Home (Election) Department), to the Secretary of the Constituent Assembly Secretariat, December 31, 1948, CA/1/FR/49-I, Election Commission of India Record Room (hereafter ECIR), Delhi.

42 Letters from the Chief Secretary to the Government of Kolhapur to the Under Secretary of the Constituent Assembly Secretariat, November 23, 1948, and December 2, 1948, CA/1/FR/48-V, ECIR, Delhi.

43 Draft letter from the Joint Secretary of the Constituent Assembly Secretariat to the Chief Secretary Government of Travancore, August 23, 1948, CA/12/FR/48, ECIR, Delhi.

44 Letter from the Chief Secretary Government of Travancore to the Joint Secretary of the Constituent Assembly Secretariat, November 27, 1948, CA/12/FR/48, ECIR, Delhi.

45 The united states of Travancore and Cochin merged with India on July 1, 1949. In September 1949 the government of the united states of Travancore and Cochin published an order, which stipulated the inclusion of “citizens of India who were not included in the original electoral rolls since they were not subjects of Travancore” on the electoral roll.

46 Letter from the Dewan of Manipur State to the Joint Secretary of the Constituent Assembly, July 30, 1949, CA/1/FR/49-II, ECIR, Delhi.

47 S. note 101, August 18, 1949, CA/1/FR/49-II, ECIR, Delhi.

48 Letter from the President of the Constituent Assembly of Mysore, to the President, Indian National Congress, Pattabhai Sitharamiya, August 22, 1949, Bangalore, AICC I Inst. (Part II), F. 25 (II), 1947, NMML, Delhi.

49 See, e.g., Dahl, Democracy and Its Critics; Dahl, On Democracy.

50 Sarnoff, Chapter 8, in this volume.

51 Katznelson, Chapter 6, in this volume.

52 Shani, How India Became Democratic, 122.

53 See introduction in this volume.

10 The “Other” Boundary Problem Fictions of Popular Sovereignty at the State’s Edge

1 Rousseau, Basic Political Writings, 196.

2 Connolly, Identity/Difference, 68.

3 Anderson, Imagined Communities, 19.

4 Whelan, “Democratic Theory and the Boundary Problem”; Goodin, “Enfranchising All Affected Interests.”

5 Whelan, “Democratic Theory and the Boundary Problem,” 40.

6 Wolin, “Fugitive Democracy” [in Democracy and Difference], 33.

7 For a more detailed treatment of this empirical material, see Longo, The Politics of Borders.

8 Locke, Two Treatises of Government [2014], 427.

9 Rousseau, Basic Political Writings, 158.

10 Dahl, On Democracy, 10.

11 Dworkin, Sovereign Virtue, 1.

12 Cohen, “Deliberation and Democratic Legitimacy,” 89.

13 Habermas, Between Facts and Norms, 306.

14 Spatial logics were not discussed by the early social contract theorists. In the modern political philosophy canon, it only really emerges in Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, in his discussion of administrative decentralization and the New England townships – a structural (and spatial) feature of US democracy that made it a ripe domain for equality.

15 Luttwak, Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire, 78.

16 Lattimore, Inner Asian Frontiers, 239–40.

17 Sahlins, Boundaries, 27.

18 Wolin, “Fugitive Democracy” [in Democracy and Difference], 32–33.

19 Scott, Seeing Like a State, 19.

20 Connolly, Identity/Difference.

21 Derrida, “On Forgiveness,” 57.

22 I develop this point at length in Longo, Politics of Borders.

23 For an explication of this method of using empirical and specifically ethnographic research – sometimes referred to as research with an “ethnographic sensibility” – for the purpose of advancing arguments in political theory, see e.g., Longo and Zacka, “Political Theory in an Ethnographic Key,” and Zacka et al., “Political Theory with an Ethnographic Sensibility.”

24 Gilbert, “Cooperative Efforts between Mexico, Canada and the U.S. in Law Enforcement and Prosecution.”

25 Padilla, Investing in Proven Technologies.

26 King, “Filling a Need.”

27 Southwest Microwave Advertisement, “Integrated Perimeter Security Solutions.”

28 Senstar, “The Trusted Choice for Perimeter Security Technology & Products.”

29 Jeffrey Scott Kirkham, Nogales police chief. Personal interview, Nogales, AZ, March 20, 2012.

30 Padilla, “Investing in Proven Technologies.”

31 RECONYX, “Wireless Remote Trigger & Illuminator.”

32 John Appleby, Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency, Science & Technology Directorate, DHS. Personal interview, Washington, DC, May 17, 2012.

33 Bonner, “Perspectives on Border Security.”

34 Fisher, “Testimony of Michael J. Fisher,” 2; Fisher, “Securing Ports of Entry.”

35 Nowrasteh and Eddington, “How Effective Is Border Security?”

36 Bonner, “Terrorism and Transnational Criminal Organizations.”

37 Quoted in McCarter, “287(G) Vital to Immigration Reform.”

38 Quoted in McCarter, “Napolitano Outlines DHS Priorities for 2010.”

39 Chavez, “2012–2016 Border Patrol Strategic Plan.”

40 Fisher, “Securing Ports of Entry.”

41 Shiffman, “Patrolling the Border.”

42 “2012–2016 Border Patrol National Strategy,” 20–21.

43 Quoted in Leggiere, “Beyond the One-Way Alert,” 11.

44 The link between narrative and practice in the study of popular sovereignty is treated extensively by Rogers Smith, Chapter 15, in this volume.

45 Locke, Two Treatises [2014], 400–401.

46 Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, 288.

47 Derrida also comments on police taking the law into their hands after World War I: “The police became omnipresent … once they undertake to make the law, instead of simply contenting themselves with applying it and seeing it observed” (On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness, 14).

48 Schmitt, Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty, 6–7.

11 The #BlackLivesMatter Movement and Black Public Opinion A New Populist Divide in the Black Community?

* = p ≤ .10;

** = p ≤ .05;

*** = p ≤ .01.

1 Garza, “A Herstory of the #BlackLivesMatter Movement”; Hockin and Brunson, “The Revolution Might Not Be Televised.”

2 Bonilla and Rosa, “#Ferguson”; Freelon, McIlwain, and Clark, “Beyond the Hashtags”; Taylor, From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation; Jackson and Welles, “#Ferguson is Everywhere.”

3 Ransby, “The Class Politics of Black Lives Matter”; Rickford, “Black Lives Matter.”

4 Horowitz and Livingston, “How Americans View the Black Lives Matter Movement”; Neal, “Views of Racism.”

5 Gusfield, “The Reflexivity of Social Movements”; Zald, “Looking backward to Look Forward”; Harris, “The Next Civil Rights Movement”; LeBron, Making of Black Lives Matter; Lindsey, “Post-Ferguson”; Ransby, “The Class Politics of Black Lives Matter”; Rickford, “Black Lives Matter”; Taylor, From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation; Tillery, “What Kind of Movement is Black Lives Matter?”

6 Harris, “The Next Civil Rights Movement,” 37–39; Lindsey, “Post-Ferguson”; Rickford, “Black Lives Matter,” 36–37; Taylor, From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation, 153–91.

7 Rickford, “Black Lives Matter,” 36; Taylor, From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation.

8 Clark, “White Folks’ Work”; Harris, “The Next Civil Rights Movement”; Rickford, “Black Lives Matter”; Taylor, From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation; Tillery, “What Kind of Movement is Black Lives Matter?”

9 Harris, “The Next Civil Rights Movement,” p. 35.

10 Rickford, “Black Lives Matter.”

11 Harris, “The Next Civil Rights Movement”; Ransby, “The Class Politics of Black Lives Matter”; Rickford, “Black Lives Matter”; Taylor, From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation.

12 Harris, “The Next Civil Rights Movement,” 33.

13 Ransby, “The Class Politics of Black Lives Matter.”

14 Harris, “The Next Civil Rights Movement,” 37.

15 Taylor, From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation, 80–83, 100, 101–103.

16 Taylor, From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation, 143.

17 Taylor, From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation, 75–107, 146.

18 Ionescu and Gellner, Populism.

19 Mudde and Kaltwasser, “Studying Populism in Comparative Perspective,” 2.

20 Ignazi, “The Silent Counter‐Revolution”; Kitschelt and McGann, Radical Right in Europe; Betz and Johnson, “Against the Current.”

21 Mudde, Populist Radical Right Parties in Europe.

22 Mudde and Kaltwasser, “Studying Populism in Comparative Perspective,” 5.

23 Mudde and Kaltwasser, “Populism,” 150.

24 Canovan, Populism, 294.

25 Mudde and Kaltwasser, “Studying Populism in Comparative Perspective,” 6.

26 Marable, “Beyond Racial Identity Politics”; Smith, We Have No Leaders; Wilson, Declining Significance of Race; Wilson, Truly Disadvantaged.

27 Smith, We Have No Leaders, 278.

28 Swain, Black Faces, Black Interests.

29 Tate, Black Faces in the Mirror, 85.

30 Canon, Race, Redistricting, and Representation; Gamble, Black Political Representation; Grose, Congress in Black and White; Minta, Oversight: Representing Black and Latino Interests in Congress; Minta and Sinclair-Chapman, Diversity in Political Institutions; Tate, Black Faces in the Mirror; Tillery, “Foreign Policy Activism and Power in the House of Representatives”; Whitby, The Color of Representation.

31 Bositis, Congressional Black Caucus; Singh, Congressional Black Caucus; Tate, Black Faces in the Mirror; Tate, Concordance; Tillery, Between Homeland and Motherland.

32 Tate, Concordance, 4–5.

33 Tate, Black Faces in the Mirror.

34 Tate, Concordance.

35 Huckfeld and Kohfeld, Race and the Decline of Class; Parent and Steckler, “Political Implications of Economic Stratification in the Black Community”; Welch and Combs, “Intra-racial Differences in Attitudes of Blacks”; Dawson, Behind the Mule.

36 Gilliam, “Black America”; Dawson, Behind the Mule; Tate, From Protest to Politics.

37 Dawson, Behind the Mule, 57–63; Gay, Hochschild, and White, “Americans’ Belief in Linked Fate”; Hajnal, “Black Class Exceptionalism”; McClain and Stewart, Can We All Get Along?

38 Tate, From Protest to Politics; Hochschild, Facing Up to the American Dream; Gay, Putting Race in Context; Hajnal, “Black Class Exceptionalism.”

39 Brown and Shaw, “Separate Nations”; Hochschild, Facing Up to the American Dream.

40 Ansolabehere and Schaffner, “Does Survey Mode Still Matter?”

41 Rastogi et al., The Black Population.

42 Bunyasi and Smith, “Do All Black Lives Matter Equally to Black People?”; Horowitz and Livingston, “How Americans View the Black Lives Matter Movement.”

43 Garza “A Herstory of the #BlackLivesMatter Movement.”

44 Hochschild, Facing Up to the American Dream.

45 Kaiser Family Foundation, “Health Tracking Poll.”

12 Popular Sovereignty and Recognition

1 Dahl, Polyarchy; Whelan, “Democratic Theory and the Boundary Problem.”

2 See Althusser, Politics and History; Ochoa Espejo, The Time of Popular Sovereignty.

3 Frank, Constituent Moments, 3.

4 Cott, The Grounding of Modern Feminism; Shklar, American Citizenship; Ritter, The Constitution as Social Design.

5 Cohen, “Dilemmas of Representation,” 2; see also Cohen, Semi-Citizenship in Democratic Politics.

6 Hancock, “Contemporary Welfare Reform”; Mettler, “The Stratification of Social Citizenship”; Orloff, “Gender and the Social Rights of Citizenship.”

7 Kam and Kinder, “Ethnocentrism as a Short-Term Force in the 2008 American Presidential Election”; Kinder and Dale-Riddle, The End of Race?

8 Hancock, “Contemporary Welfare Reform.”

9 Carroll, “The Disempowerment of the Gender Gap”; Elder and Greene, “The Myth of ‘Security Moms’ and ‘NASCAR Dads.’”

10 Ingram and Schneider, “Social Construction”; Schneider and Ingram, “Social Construction of Target Populations.”

11 Hancock, “Contemporary Welfare Reform.”

12 See, e.g., Campbell, How Policies Make Citizens; Mettler and Stonecash, “Government Program Usage and Political Voice”; Soss, “Lessons of Welfare.”

13 Nicholls, The DREAMers.

14 Miranda, “Get the Facts on the DREAM Act.”

15 107th Cong. Rec. S8580, 2001.

16 Sirriyeh, “Felons are also our family.”

17 Congressional Record, 153 (2007), part 20, Senate, p. 28095.

18 Keyes, “Defining American.”

19 Odio, “Latinx Populations and Jus Nexi Claims.”

20 U.S. House, “Testimony on the Future of Undocumented Immigration Students.”

21 Obama, “Remarks on Immigration Reform.”

22 Coulter, “If Rubio’s Amnesty Is So Great, Why Is He Lying?”

23 Limbaugh, “We’ve Been Played on Immigration.”

24 Gustini, “The Today Show Gives Donald Trump a Birther Platform.”

25 Trump, “Donald Trump Announces His Presidential Candidacy.”

26 Vidal, “Immigration Politics in the 2016 Election.”

27 Trump, “Immigration Speech.”

28 Golshan, “Trump Keeps Highlighting ‘Angel Moms.’”

29 Trump, “Immigration Speech.”

30 Trump, “Immigration Speech.”

31 Klein, “The Snake.”

32 Trump, “Remarks at the Conservative Political Action Conference.”

33 Plotica, “The Return of the ‘Forgotten Man.’”

34 Trump, “The Inaugural Address.”

35 Trump, “Remarks at Erie Insurance Arena.”

36 Goodley and Lawthorn, “Critical Disability Studies, Brexit, and Trump.”

37 Trump, “2016 RNC Draft Speech Transcript.”

38 Trump, “Donald Trump Remarks in Dimondale, Michigan.”

39 Trump, “Donald Trump Announces His Presidential Candidacy.”

40 Lamont, Park, and Ayala-Hurtado, “Trump’s Electoral Speeches.”

41 Cramer, Politics of Resentment; Williams, White Working Class.

42 Hochschild, Strangers in Their Own Land.

43 Trump, “Remarks on Buy American, Hire American Executive Order.”

44 Trump, “Remarks on Supporting the Passage of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement.”

45 Lamont, “Addressing Recognition Gaps.”

46 Smith, Stories of Peoplehood.

47 Young, Justice and the Politics of Difference, 97.

48 Mehta, “Liberal Strategies of Exclusion”; Pateman, The Disorder of Women.

49 Locke, Second Treatise of Government [1980], 48.

50 Mehta, “Liberal Strategies of Exclusion,” 430.

51 Smith, Welfare Reform and Sexual Regulation; Soss, Fording, and Schram, Disciplining the Poor.

52 Forgery, “Trump Immigration Official Offers Rewrite Statue of Liberty Poem.”

13 Populism, Popular Sovereignty, and Periphery

1 Boyd, Chapter 4, in this volume.

2 Hopkins, The increasingly United States.

3 Tillery, Chapter 11, in this volume.

4 Kazin, Populist Persuasion, 2.

5 Postel, Populist Vision.

6 Canovan, “Trust the People!,” 10.

7 Mudde, “Populist Zeitgeist”; Muller, What Is Populism?

8 Grzymala-Busse, “How Populists Rule.”

9 Kaltwasser and Mudde, Populism.

10 Rosenfeld, The Polarizers.

11 Azari, Delivering the People’s Message; Ellis and Kirk, “Presidential Mandates.”

12 Bimes and Mulroy, “The Rise and Decline of Presidential Populism.”

13 Hopkins, The Increasingly United States.

14 Trump, “The Inaugural Address.”

15 Mason, Uncivil Agreement.

16 Bonikowski and Gidron. “The Populist Style in American Politics.”

17 Lieberman et al., “Trumpism and American Democracy.”

18 Hopkins, The Increasingly United States; Mellow, State of Disunion.

19 Cramer, The Politics of Resentment.

20 Bimes and Mulroy, “The Rise and Decline of Presidential Populism,” 138.

21 Bonikowski and Gidron. “The Populist Style in American Politics,” 1603.

22 Kazin, Populist Persuasion, 42; Postel, Populist Vision.

23 Bryan, “Democratic Convention Address.”

24 Gerring, Party Ideologies in America.

25 Mason, Richard Nixon and the Quest for a New Republican Majority, 220.

26 Carter, The Politics of Rage, 344.

27 Olson, “Whiteness and the Polarization of American Politics.”

28 Oliver and Rahn, “Rise of the Trumpenvolk.”

29 Cinar, Stokes, and Uribe, “Presidential Rhetoric and Populism”; Oliver and Rahn, “Rise of the Trumpenvolk.”

30 Obama, “Remarks at a Democratic National Committee Fundraiser in Los Angeles.”

31 Obama, “Remarks at a Fundraiser for Senator Patricia Murray.”

32 Cinar, Stokes, and Uribe, “Presidential Rhetoric and Populism.”

33 Grossmann and Hopkins, “Placing Media in Conservative Culture”; Young, Irony and Outrage; Mason, Uncivil Agreement.

34 Obama, “Remarks at a Democratic National Committee Fundraiser in Chicago.”

35 Oliver and Rahn, “Rise of the Trumpenvolk.”

36 Cinar, Stokes, and Uribe, “Presidential Rhetoric and Populism,” 251.

37 Sanders, “Remarks at Georgetown.”

38 Gerring, Party Ideologies.

39 Clinton, “Remarks at Broward College’s North Campus.”

40 Clinton, “Remarks at the Dickerson Community.”

41 Clinton, “Wake Forest University.”

42 Clinton, “Remarks at Broward College.”

43 Cohen, “Trump’s Road to 2024.”

44 Bush, “Remarks in Omaha.”

45 Bush, “Remarks at North Dakota State University” and “Remarks at Fernbank Museum.”

46 Bush, “Remarks in Sioux Falls.”

47 Trump, “Remarks at the American Center for Mobility.”

48 Trump, “Remarks at the Boeing Company Manufacturing Facility.”

49 Gerring, Party Ideologies.

Figure 0

Figure 6.1 “President’s Levee, or all creation going to the White House,” by Robert Cruikshank

Figure 1

Table 11.1 OLS Regression models of evaluations of BLM movements’ effectiveness

Data Source: CSDD BLM Survey (2017)
Figure 2

Figure 11.1 Plot of OLS regression coefficients from Model 2 with 95% confidence intervals