The Term Sovereignty Defines

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The term sovereignty defines


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The term ‘sovereign’ owes its origin to the Latin word ‘supra’ which later came to be known as ‘superanus’ during the medieval ages. It was first used in early French as ‘sovrains’ and appeared later as ‘souverain’. In Italian it was called ‘sovrano’, Etymologically, it simply meant one of various forms of superiority. With the emergence of medieval doctrine, sovereignty was defined as the supreme power to maintain internal order and external independence.

Hugo Grotius (1583-1645) who laid the foundation of modern international law defined sovereignty as that power whose acts are not subject to the control of another. According to him, sovereignty may reside either in a general subject, namely the body politic, or in a special bearer, that is the person or persons constituting the Government. In England, the claim for absolute sovereignty was modified in the seventeenth century and instead a system of parliamentary sovereignty evolved which remained England’s imposing contribution to the evolution of this concept. Thus the House of Commons, when debating the “Petition of Rights” in 1628, refused to mention royal sovereignty as inherent in the prerogative. It rather advanced the idea of parliamentary sovereignty which came very close to the notion of popular sovereignty in the subsequent years. These developments that took place in England inspired Emer de Vattel (1714-1767), a Swiss diplomat, to project the notion of popular sovereignty. Vattel was of the view that sovereignty was not absolute and it was bound by the constitution. He distinguished between internal and external sovereignty, considering every nation governing itself as a sovereign and equal state without dependence on any foreign power. With the enforcement of the American Constitution in 1789 and subsequently in the light of the philosophy of “Democracy” presented by Alexis de Tocqueville in 1835 and also under the impact of the early opinions of the American Supreme Court, the idea was substantially aided by the notion of a popular, limited, relative, legal sovereignty, and the corresponding rejection of an unlimited and absolute sovereignty. In the course of evolution of this concept, external sovereignty began to be claimed on behalf of the state as such. Internal sovereignty on the other hand, came to be claimed in the name of the people and rested on a constituted legal order of checks and balances.


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