The modern meaning of sovereignty (but not popular sovereignty) was introduced by Jean Bodin in 1576. According to the New Columbia Encyclopedia, sovereignty is "the supreme authority in a political community".
The origin of popular sovereignty, on the other hand, goes most directly back to what is called the social contract schoolof the mid 1600s to the mid 1700s. Popular sovereignty is the notion that no law or rule is legitimate unless it rests directly or indirectly on the consent of the individuals concerned.
Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), John Locke (1632-1704) and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) were the most important members of the social contract school. They all postulated that the nature of society, whatever itsorigins, was a contractual arrangement between its members. The reason men entered society was to protect themselves against the dangers of the "state of nature". But, their theories differed markedly in other respects.
Hobbes in Leviathan, published 1651, claimed that the first and only task of political society was to name an individual or a group of individuals as sovereign. This sovereignwould then have absolute power, and each citizen would owe him absolute obedience. Hobbes concept meant that popular sovereignty only existed momentarily. In modern terms we might say that it consisted of "one man, one vote, once".
Locke in his writings e.g. Second Treatise of Government, published 1690, claimed as Hobbes before him, that the social contract was permanent and irrevocable, but thelegislative was only empowered to legislate for the public good. If this trust was violated, the people retained the power to replace the legislative with a new legislative. It is unclear whether Locke deposited sovereignty in the people or in the legislative. Though he was less absolute than Hobbes, he clearly didn't intend popular intervention to be commonplace. If anything, Locke's vision isprobably closer to the British view of Parliamentary sovereignty.
Rousseau (e.g. The Social Contract, 1762) claimed that laws enacted by the legislature could only address the common good of the society's members and they could only extend the same rights or obligations to all citizens. Rousseau, however, didn't elaborate on what would happen if these conditions were violated, but he did proposemechanisms to find out what the "general will" was and he did see the legislative powers as vested in the people itself.
Thus there was a development in political theory from the very limited role played by the people in Hobbes' theories, to the more significant popular sovereignty of Rousseau.
Rule by consent in other fields of thought
Ideas and thoughts legitimizing the rule of consent also maybe found in many religious tracts. The Bible sums it up quite nicely and again not coincidentally: "Love your neighbor as yourself." (Mark 12, 31), and "And as you would like that men would do to you, do exactly so to them." (Luke 6,31). In other words; since you like to control your life, let others control theirs. The implied promise is that the individual and society will be happy and prosperousto the extent that this advice is followed and the people is given the maximum amount of individual and group liberty and sovereignty.
Contemporary psychologists as well, in their search for the sources of happiness and depression, have found the same result. Happiness, confidence and success are closely related to a belief in one's ability to influence one's own fate. Depression and failure arerelated to a feeling of inability to control one's own life, to a feeling of being controlled.
To most people these truths seem so self-evident that they need not be argued. However, more than 200 years after the American Declaration of Independence the individual "pursuit of happiness" that seemed self-evident to its framers, and that still seems self-evident to ordinary people today is still...